Intimate Industrialization: The Early Sculptural Paintings of Yoshishige Furukawa
As with a number of 20th-century Japanese artists, Yoshishige Furukawa’s work was severely underrepresented Stateside for much of his lifetime. This despite his presence as a significant figure both in New York City’s painting scene throughout the 1960s and ’70s and in his native country for decades thereafter.
Now, with growing interest in the Japanese postwar movements of Mono-ha and Gutai, Furukawa’s minimalist sculptural paintings have garnered him significant posthumous attention. His “Black Rubber Sheet” series, created primarily during the ’70s in New York, is a particularly potent example of his artistic development.
Though he enjoyed significant recognition in Japan early in his career, Furukawa’s life was significantly colored by World War II. Drafted into the navy, he watched most of his paintings—and his parents’ home—destroyed in an air raid in Fukuoka. Furukawa visited New York in 1963, only to exchange his ticket and make the city his home for the next four decades. During his time in New York, he mingled with Jasper Johns and Isamu Noguchi and was inspired by the minimalist-painting scene that loomed over the city.
“When I am out walking,” he later wrote, “I may see a road, a construction site, working people, a tree, or the sky, and I try to incorporate the feeling of these visual physical things in my work. All of them have the power to cause me to ponder the relationship between the physical shape or material and mental reaction.”
Indeed, while working on the “Black Rubber Sheet” series during his early years in New York, Furukawa was influenced as much by the gritty urban atmosphere as by his recent past. With their layers of rubber, gesso, metal, and oil, the large-scale canvases equally recall the pliable nature of human skin and the mechanized materials of industrialized America. Unsettling and oddly anthropomorphic, they exist in a space between sculpture and painting, an area Furukawa deftly explored for most of his life.