Yoshio Katoh (Director, Takarazuka Arts Center / Visiting Professor at Osaka University of Arts / Curator / Art Critic)

‘A Relentless Quest for Intuitive Abstraction’

 The question of “why we paint?” is an eternal one for humankind. In the past, painting was developed as an image that spoke to the illiterate in order to reveal the meaning of religious stories. In modern times, painting has been used as a way of visualizing one’s interiority as a means of self-expression and self-realization. Painting provided a way of depicting emotions and feelings; a cry of the soul that could not be expressed in words. Today, painting is seen as a traditional and obsolete means of expression and has been replaced by photography and film. However, there is no doubt that there are still painters and people who rely on painting as a source of inspiration, even though the world has been digitized by photography and video.

 Painting is a form of expression that stimulates the sensory functions of the human body. Perhaps it is because the painter feels a direct connection between their perception and their head and hands when painting and that feeling coincides with the joy of living. Painting is a way of expressing life, a way of living. On the other hand, the viewers of a painting may see different images of the same painting depending on their ethnicity, religion, history, culture, education or generation. The viewer is inspired by the image that the painter creates. The image may be realistic, depicting the surrounding environment, or it may be abstract. In my opinion, painting, whether figurative or abstract, is an abstract entity.

   The Dutch pioneer of geometric abstraction, Piet Mondrian (1872-1944), was influenced formally by Cubism and ideologically by the mystical ideas that permeated his work as a reaction against positivism. What Mondrian sought was not the outward appearance of things, but the essential principles that lie behind them. Abstract painting all began with the question of whether visible reality is all that is real. 

   Reflecting a worldview in which the horizontal is feminine and material, and the vertical masculine and spiritual, the artist aimed for universality, using vertical and horizontal lines and the three primary colors as the basic building blocks. In any case, asymmetrical painting, or abstraction, was the preferred method of expressing phenomena and beings beyond the human, and the visible beginning of the world. One of the goals of 20th-century art was to make painting flat and pure.

 The Act of Painting, a group of artists based in the Netherlands, has been thinking about abstract painting and examining the act of visualizing the inner self through the subconscious and ‘intuition’.

 Their second exhibition in Japan, “The Act of Painting” presents abstract paintings on paper. The participating artists are mainly from the Netherlands, but also from Germany, Sweden, the USA and Japan. The paintings range from abstract expressionism (hot abstraction) to geometric (cold abstraction). The materials used include acrylics, oil pastels, pencils, inks, markers, ballpoint pens, nail polish, and collage. The diversity of materials can be considered as the diversity of expression. What do people think and do on the flat surface? Does the body move before thinking, or does the body react to the thought of movement? It seems to me that the body reacts before the brain gives the command. In art history, physicality, or painting of action, was first became known by Jackson Pollock (1912-1956), the American “horseman” of Abstract Expressionism. Inspired by Native American (Indian) sand painting, he used dripping and polling as a method of painting without the brush touching the canvas, and created all-over paintings without a center of focus by dancing around a canvas placed on the floor with the snap of the wrist.

 Among the artists represented in this exhibition who are close to Pollock’s style are Raymond Cuijpers, Cole Verhoeven, Romme van Oers and Charlotte Warsen. It’s “The Act of Painting.” Cooper Cuijpers, son of the organizer Raymond Cuijpers, painted an interesting piece when he was four years old. His abstract expressionist style is marked by the natural randomness of a child’s work. A museum curator once told me the following story:  The members of Gutai, a group of avant-garde artists in post-war Japan, got many hints from children’s paintings. The members of Gutai became judges of children’s art exhibitions in order to get inspiration from children’s paintings. The children were their teachers.

 The intuition, another name for inspiration, which is the result of an unconscious, randomness and innocent feeling, is at odds with the conceptualism that has dominated contemporary art until today. However, it is clear that intuition has the unexpected power to bring out the latent creative power in people and to lead to a source of creativity that cannot be guessed by the mind. Intuition is a wonderful ability to move before thinking, and it is one of the sensitivities that allows us to reach the heights of art.

        Yoshio Katoh (Director, Takarazuka Arts Center / Visiting Professor at Osaka University of Arts / Curator / Art Critic)

Note: Gutai Art Association (GUTAI)

The internationally renowned post-war Japanese avant-garde art group, “Gutai” was founded in 1954 in Ashiya, Hyogo Prefecture, with Jiro Yoshihara as its leader, and was active continuously until 1972. However, with the sudden death of Yoshihara in 1972, the 18 years of activity came to an end and the Gutai group was dissolved. The young people from the Hanshin area who gathered under Yoshihara’s leadership put into practice his teachings of “Never imitate others” and “Create something that has never been done before”, used action painting and performance as their artistic expression. The name of the group is an expression of the desire to “present a concrete proof of the freedom of our spirit”.






 オランダを中心に活動する美術家集団 The Act of Paintingは、これまで抽象絵画を考え、さらに人の潜在意識と「直感」による自己の内面を視覚化する行為を検証してきた。

 日本で2回目の「The Act of Painting 展」は、紙を支持体とした抽象的絵画を紹介している。参加作家はオランダを中心にドイツ、スウェーデン、アメリカ、日本で構成されている。それらの絵画表現は、熱い抽象と言われる表現主義的なものから、冷たい抽象と言われる幾何学的抽象と幅広い。さらに画材はアクリル絵の具、オイルパステル、鉛筆、インク、マーカー、ボールペン、マニュキア、コラージュなど多様性に富んでいる。素材の多様性は表現の多様性とも考えられる。平面という地平に人は何を思い行動するのか。考える前に体が動くのか動くことを考えて体が反応するのか。脳が指令を出す前に身体は反応しているとも感じられる。身体性、いわゆる行為の絵画は美術史的には、米国の抽象表現主義の騎手、ジャクソン・ポロック(1912-1956)から生まれた。ネイティブアメリカン(インディアン)の砂絵をヒントにキャンバスに筆が触れずに描く方法としてドリッピングやポーリングを多用し、手首のスナップを効かせて床置きにしたキャンバスの周りを踊るように描くことで中心のないオールオーバーな画面を制作した。

 本展でポロックの作風に近いところでは、レイモンド・ケホパーズRaymond Cuijpers、コール・バーホーベンCole Verhoeven、ロメー・ヴァン・オアーズRomme van Oers、シャーロット・ウォーセンCharlotte Warsenがいる。まさにThe Act of Paintingといえよう。主催者のレイモンド・ケホパーズRaymond Cuijpersの息子クーパー・ケホパーズCooper Cuijpers、4歳の頃に描いた作品が興味深い。その抽象表現主義的な作風は、子供の自然な無作為さが際立っている。以前ある美術館学芸員からこんな話を聞いた。戦後日本の前衛芸術家集団である「具体美術協会(グタイ)★注」のメンバーは、子供たちの絵画作品から多くのヒントを得ていたという。かつて具体のメンバーたちが子供の絵画公募展の審査員をしていたのは、子供の絵から創作のヒラメキを受ける目的があったという。子どもたちが先生だったわけだ。