Not many artists can claim to have starred in an Oscar-nominated movie. Cutie and the Boxer, a 2013 documentary film by Zachary Heinzerling, followed the life and practice of Ushio Shinohara, the so-called “Warhol of Japan.” The title references Shinohara’s signature “boxing paintings,” which he made by dipping handcrafted boxing gloves in paint, then punching an unstretched canvas.
Shinohara (nicknamed “Gyu-chan) was born in Tokyo in 1932, though he has been living in New York since 1969. The height of his career, as the Warhol comparison suggests, was in the ’60s, when he was a prominent member of Japanese avant-garde group the Neo-Dada Organizers. Stripped to the waist, he would cut up his own t-shirt and wrap his hands with the cotton, striking the studio walls with his “gloved” hands for a lively, irreproducible mashup of painting and performance.
Alexandra Munroe, curator of Asian Art at the Guggenheim, has said, “When we think of Tokyo in the 1960s, we think of Shinohara with his Mohawk and his boxing paintings, his complete freedom, wild antics, and refutation of conformity or convention of any kind.”
But that doesn’t mean his famous boxing paintings are relics of the past. Shinohara has been developing his practice for decades, publicly reviving it at Osaka’s National Museum of Art in 1991 and again at the Getty Center in Los Angeles in 2007, among other venues.
This past summer, at Deborah Colton Gallery in Houston, he was the subject of “ACTION! Boxing Paintings and Sculptures,” a solo exhibition of his colorful work created between 2009 and 2016.
Several of the paintings recall his earlier work and splashy, Rorschach-style inkblots. His whimsical and grotesque sculptures, meanwhile, are testaments to a passion for gesture and feeling over pure aesthetics.
At the start of his career, those pursuits put Shinohara on the map as a pioneer and provocateur. This latest exhibition proves his practice has a notable past, but also an intriguing future.
“Ushio Shinohara: ACTION! Boxing Paintings and Sculptures” was on view at Deborah Colton Gallery, Houston, May 7–Jul. 2, 2016.