Gutai Great Shozo Shimamoto Celebrated in a Spirited Solo Show
Though pioneering postwar Japanese artist Shozo Shimamoto is no longer alive, his exuberant energy is as palpable as ever in the works on view in a solo showing at De Buck Gallery. Focusing primarily on paintings made later in his long career, the show provides a taste of his radical approach to art making and how he countered the destruction of World War II with unbounded creativity.
Shimamoto was a co-founder of the Gutai Art Group, a collective of artists that developed out of the rubble of postwar Japan. In a country devastated by its own imperialism and its ultimate defeat by the Americans and their unprecedented atomic bombs, Shimamoto and his fellow artists turned the energy of war into that of a brand new kind of art. Through performance, experimentation, and play, they strove to break down the boundaries between art and life. This was art for everyone, often made in unexpected ways and taking some surprising forms.
Action painting (most often associated with the Abstract Expressionists) was among the art forms that Shimamoto pioneered. This approach stemmed, in part, from his interest in toeing the line between chance and control and in exploring new ways to work the surface of a painting. Among the ways he did this was by laying large expanses of canvas on the ground, and then throwing glass and plastic bottles brimming with paint at them—preferably, in front of an audience of onlookers. The show includes a suite of these so-called “Bottle Crash” paintings.
Some of these paintings have bits of shattered glass riddling their surface. True to how they were made, they are composed of explosive splashes and splatters of vividly colored paint. To stand in front of one of these large-scale works is to feel engulfed by a field of energy made material. In fact, Shimamoto considered these works to be not only stand-alone paintings but also records of his actions, evidence of what happens when life blurs into art.