Whitestone Gallery Hong Kong is excited to present an exhibition of Shozo Shimamoto and AU (Art Unidentified), in special collaboration with Shozo Shimamoto Association. Founded in Italy and Japan in 2007, the association is promoting and supporting the artistic research of Shozo Shimamoto as well as organising and managing the artist’s archive. Entitled ‘VIBRANT: Shozo Shimamoto x AU’, the exhibition showcases Shimamoto’s vibrant pieces between 1952 and 2011, including works that have never been exhibited. In parallel with Shimamoto’s works, a selection of artworks of the AU group, influenced by Shozo Shimamoto and the spirit of Gutai is exhibited.
Born in 1928 in Osaka, Japan, Shozo Shimamoto was graduated from the Kwansei Gakuin University in 1950. Prior to his graduation, Shimamoto attended the studio of Jiro Yoshihara. Despite never officially earned a degree in art, Shimamoto won the Asahi Prize for the Kansai Art Exhibition. In 1954, Shimamoto co-founded the avant-garde art group ‘Gutai’, with Jiro Yoshihara and other students. The name ‘Gutai’ was suggested by Shimamoto, to reifies the abstract while emphasizes the relationship between the body and the material. Since the inauguration of Gutai, Shimamoto was able to create a significant name as an avant-garde artist experimenting with various media, challenging the concepts of time and space, liberating the brush to focus on the materiality of paint itself. The process of creation goes hand in hand with destruction in Shimamoto’s creative practices. Influenced by war, Shimamoto destructs to render materials a new life, this working method is evident in his first series, Ana (Hole) in 1949.
Throughout the years, Shimamoto continued this artistic approach which embodies the philosophy of Gutai, to pursue originality and freedom in the creation of art. During the second Gutai Exhibition in 1956, Shimamoto developed his special modus operandi and performed his signature technique for the first time. Shimamoto smashed bottles with colored pigments on a large canvas to create a spectacle of sensations, leaving behind traces of paint, glass and the artist’s vibrant energy. The artist had been invited to perform ‘Bottle Crash’ in 1993 at the 45th Venice Biennale and would return two other times in 1999 and 2003. Shimamoto’s ‘Bottle Crash’ paintings would set the benchmark of action painting. In addition to their performative nature, Shimamoto’s paintings are also defined by their large scales. In the early 1990s, Shimamoto created several large paintings that are inspired by Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No.8, one of the largest-scale choral works in the classical concert repertoire. Due to the enormous size, Shimamoto often divided the work into pieces after the performance, Untitled-128 in this exhibition is the only work that remains in its original size. Colors, power and spontaneity, all encapsulated in a seven metre long canvas work.
Subsequently, the artist arrived at other unconventional methods to transfer the paint onto the canvas, such as shooting paint out of a cannon or balloons. From 1960s, Shimamoto experimented with the pouring technique, the ‘Whirlpool’ series in this exhibition (Untitled-124 and Untitled-125) is a magnificent example of this method. Shimamoto meticulously dripped the paint, enamels and oils converging on the canvas which results in an organic and semi-automated vortex of vibrant colors.
Shimamoto has been the subject of many solo exhibitions such as the first ever exhibition at Pinacoteca Gutai in 1962, solo exhibitions at the Venice Biennale in 1993, 1999 and 2003, as well as performances at momentous venues like Trevi, where he threw paint on large canvases from a helicopter in 2005. Shimamoto also participated in important group exhibitions ‘Japanese Art after 1945: Scream against the Sky’, in Museum of Art of Yokohama, Guggenheim Museum in New York, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco between 1994 and 1995. Shimamoto passed away in 2013 in his birthplace, Osaka, at the age of 85.
Shimamoto was furthermore a renowned Mail artist. Mail art is an artistic movement developed out of Ray Johnson’s New York Correspondence School and the Fluxus movement. The experiments with art in the mail started as early as 1943, exchanging small artworks through the postal service. Shimamoto was later voted to become the Secretary General of the Artist Union, founded by Yoshinobu Yoshimura in 1975, with a group of Modern artists who were active since the 1960s. Shimamoto took part in AU activities and created tabloid prints to send overseas. AU and other Mail art members were exchanging works for many years. Similar to the spirit of Gutai, AU embraces young artists and welcomes them as a soil for new creations. Since ‘union’ was often mistaken for an activist movement, the group changed its name to Art Unidentified, abbreviation AU, in 1980. Throughout the years, AU has collected more than 100 members.