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  • Provenance

    IAO Gallery, Tokyo
    Acquired from the above by the present owner

  • Exhibited

    Tokyo, Minami Gallery, Takeo Yamaguchi, 1965

  • Literature

    Takeo Yamaguchi, The Works of Takeo Yamaguchi, Kodansha, Tokyo, 1981, no. 247, n.p. (illustrated)

  • Catalogue Essay

    Rich ochre quadrants conjoin and interlock over a striking black background in a signature painting by Takeo Yamaguchi, a coveted pioneering figure of the Japanese modern art movement. Yamaguchi singularly created his own language of post-Cubist minimalist painting that has actively shaped definitions of post-war and contemporary Asian art. The imposing yet strict and concise forms of Ko create a sense of limitless expansion as the sculptural weight of the impasto invigorate and ground the work with body and depth, an impression that characterises Yamaguchi’s investigation into non-representational expression. Executed in 1965, the present lot epitomises not only the peak of Yamaguchi’s esteemed career but also a distinctive transition from paintings he produced in the 1960s that illustrate an increase of rectangular planes to works that defined his style in the 1970s, as his abstract shapes gradually dominated the canvas.

    The ebb and flow of Yamaguchi’s career is fascinating from a historical standpoint. Having studied western painting at the Tokyo Art school, Yamaguchi was influenced early on by Cubism’s flat and monochromatic compositions. After graduation in 1927, Yamaguchi moved to Paris to broaden his exposure to European avant-garde styles. “Arriving in Europe, I felt suspicious of what I had been doing up to that point. I started to consider throwing away the past and restarting from scratch,” admits the artist. (Takeo Yamaguchi quoted by Taka Ishii Gallery, accessed October 10, 2018) While naturalistic “western-style” painting attracted many Japanese artists at the time who regarded the technique as a standard to be emulated, Yamaguchi walked his own path and would eventually develop a wholly unique language.

    Through his exchanges with Yuzo Saeki and Ossip Zadkine while in Paris, Yamaguchi began making works fuelled by the aim of apprehending not just the physical appearance, but the underlying substance of objects. He was incredibly moved by Saeki’s intentions of expressing “the personality” intuitively assessed from an object in addition to Zadkine’s interest in the “framework” of objects. Yamaguchi illustrates, “gradually, I put greater and greater value on the real or tangible existence (of the object) and the ability actually to touch it. For this reason, I could do without atmosphere. Well, it became clear that of all the senses touch was the basis (of all understanding).” (Takeo Yamaguchi quoted by Miki Tamon, “Yamaguchi Takeo and Horiuti Masajazu—Two Distinctive Artists," exh. cat. Yamaguchi Takeo, Horiuti Masakazu, National Museum of Modern Art: Tokyo, 1980, p. 19.)

    In 1931, Yamaguchi returned to Tokyo where artists were categorised as either Western or Japanese painters. Dissatisfied with either classification, Yamaguchi submitted work on the recommendation of Ikuma Arishima to the powerful Nika-kai association, one of several alternative art groups that arose out of a need for a more permissive environment in which artists like Yamaguchi could continue working and exhibiting. Excluding the wartime and post-war years, Yamaguchi exhibited with the Nika-kai until 1962. During World War II, Yamaguchi’s creative endeavours were completely bisected as the growth of avant-garde art in Japan diminished to a halt.

    Despite his circumstances, Yamaguchi viewed this moment as an opportune time to completely reinvent his work. The mature style exemplified by Untitled that emerged from this period exhibit pared down forms rendered in a signature palette of ochre yellow and Venetian red arranged against a black backdrop. As portrayed in the present lot, Yamaguchi often implemented a palette knife to move, spread, and carve thick paint to create a captivating texture of swaths and lines of pigment on plywood. In Untitled, Yamaguchi removes extraneous elements from previous works including the narrow black lines he would often apply to juxtapose the coloured planes from the backdrop. Yamaguchi is celebrated for his use of a severely minimal palette of saturated earth tones and geometrical shapes as a method to depict the essential forms found in nature. He explains, “I don’t particularly like geometrical forms for abstract painting. Rather, I deny the use of inorganic things as subject matter even though they easily become abstract configurations and advocate taking as the foundation an expression of a sense of nature, an ordinary sense of beauty.” (Takeo Yamaguchi quoted by Miki Tamon, “Yamaguchi Takeo and Horiuti Masajazu—Two Distinctive Artists," exh. cat. Yamaguchi Takeo, Horiuti Masakazu, National Museum of Modern Art: Tokyo, 1980, p. 19.)

    Far from merely emulating the styles transplanted from Europe to Japan, Yamaguchi deftly configured aspects of Eastern minimalism with western mediums to create a unique visual language that earned him the status of both pioneer and individualist. For his indisputably unique work, he has been selected time after time by prestigious institutions across the globe as a definitive component of all major representations of the development of Japanese art. At the time Untitled was created and as a testament to the high calibre of his work and well-deserved international acclaim, Yamaguchi had shown his work at the São Paolo Biennial (1955, 1964), the Venice Biennale (1956), the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (1956) and the New York Museum of Modern Art (1964). His protégé includes the great Korean artist, Lee Ufan who openly accredits Yamaguchi’s influence on his work and thought. Yamaguchi’s attention to materiality and process has proven to be markedly ahead of his time, while his iconic style continues to resonate with quiet sophistication and unwavering strength.

20

Ko

1965
signed, titled and dated '"Ko" July 1965 Takeo Yamaguchi [in Kanji]' on the reverse
oil on board
90.2 x 91.2 cm. (35 1/2 x 35 7/8 in.)
Executed in July 1965.

Estimate
HK$800,000 - 1,200,000 
€89,800-135,000
$103,000-154,000

Sold for HK$1,750,000

Contact Specialist
Jonathan Crockett
Deputy Chairman, Asia and Head of 20th Century & Contemporary Art, Asia
+852 2318 2023

Isaure de Viel Castel
Head of Department
+852 2318 2011

Sandy Ma
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2025

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 25 November 2018