Jiro Yoshihara - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale New York Sunday, November 8, 2015 | Phillips

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  • Provenance

    Private Collection, Aichi
    Private Collection, Tokyo

  • Catalogue Essay

    Jiro Yoshihara, the founder of the Gutai Art Association in 1954, was a self-taught avant-garde painter whose career crossed over from the prewar vanguard moment to the postwar art scene in Japan. An heir to a cooking oil wholesaler in Osaka, Yoshihara was groomed since childhood to possess the qualities of a leader and, in 1954, established Gutai with some fifteen young painters who gathered together around this charismatic vanguard figure. Yoshihara led the group until his death in 1972 with a motto of “doing what nobody has done before” and proclaimed in the group manifesto that Gutai pursued the essence of material, shedding all preconceived notion of art, matter, and man in his milieu.

    As a painter, Yoshihara’s status had been solid in the Japanese art world since the 1930s. Solo exhibitions presenting his early paintings in the mode of Surrealism and geometric abstraction won critical acclaim not only in the Kansai region in western Japan but also in Tokyo, the center of the Japanese art world. The motif of the circle, which later became known as Yoshihara’s life’s work, had already appeared in some of the early compositions as one of the variation of forms he was investigating. However, it was not until the mid-1960s that Yoshihara began his examination of the motif in earnest. For an exhibition catalogue of his solo exhibition in 1967, he wrote, “I have been painting circles, and circles only these days. They are convenient.” After years of experiments in style, composition, color, and texture, he purged all extraneous concerns and reached the simple line of a circle that can embody infinite potentials for expression.

    One of the first important instances in which the motif of the circle acquired a significant meaning for the artist, as well as to Gutai as a group, was the use of his 1962 circle painting as a sign for the Gutai Pinacotheca, a warehouse in Osaka converted into an exhibition space for the group artists’ works. Yoshihara’s decision to position this motif as such indicates the crucial importance of the circle for him. In fact, he began the series of circle paintings soon after the opening of Pinacotheca. Some of the early circle paintings carried over the touch of Art Informel characteristics; gestural as well as textual in rendition in oil on canvas. The surface and the line began to be smoothed out, approaching a more graphic sensibility in works after 1964.

    In this sublime work, Untitled, the deep ochre circle starkly floats on the pitch dark background, representing one moment of sublimation of this motif in Yoshihara’s decade-long obsession with it. Upon close observation, one can clearly detect traces of brushstrokes within the thick line of this circle. Unlike the calligraphic movement in lines that Yoshihara used in his 1950s abstract experiments, this work exposes a much slower passage of time through the accumulation of strokes; Yoshihara was painting rather than writing. According to Mr. Koichi Kawasaki, former Director of the Ashiya City Museum of Art and History, Japan, and a leading authority on Gutai, the painting was executed circa 1965. It also carries a Certificate of Authenticity Registration issued by the Japan Art Dealers Association. As a number of his last works used stroke shapes of Japanese letters, mostly Kanji characters, one can only assume that in his last years Yoshihara was searching for the thin line between painting and writing.



circa 1965
oil on canvas
19 5/8 x 24 in. (50 x 61 cm)
Signed "Yoshihara" lower right.

$500,000 - 700,000 

Contact Specialist
Kate Bryan
Head of Evening Sale
New York
+ 1 212 940 1267

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

New York Auction 8 November 2015 7pm