Jiro Yoshihara

Born in Osaka, Japan to a family of vegetable oil wholesaler, Jiro Yoshihara (1905-1972) is regarded as one of two the founder of the Japanese avant-garde movement, ‘Gutai’ (‘gu’ for tool and ‘tai’ for body, literally meaning “concreteness” together). Although he received formal education in Economics from the Kansai Gakuin University in 1928, Yoshihara persisted on pursuing an artistic career, which he held his first solo exhibition at the Asahi Hall in Osaka in the same year.

Yoshihara Jirō was probably the most international figure of the group. He received guidance in the practice of art from Kamiyama Jiro, a professor of European art and philosophy as well as Tsuguharu Foujita, who then lived in Paris. First interested in the works of Giorgio de Chirico and Joan Miró, or Wassily Kandinsky, in the 1920’s and 1930s, he created works in a surrealist manner, then a trend among Japanese avant-garde artists. He then explored geometric abstraction. With the exception of the outbreak of the war, Jiro Yoshihara radically changed his practice towards abstract painting. In 1951 in Osaka, he established an artists group, Gendai Bijutsu Kondan Kai (Contemporary Art Discussion Group), which aim was to bridge the Eastern and Western, as well as traditional and modern, forms to create new aesthetics. Yoshihara was already exhibiting abroad, at the Salon de Mai in Paris in 1952. He was then inspired by Jackson Pollock as well as Zen calligraphy, which marked this departure away from Japanese modernism and formal abstraction. The Gutai Art Association was co-founded in 1954 and subsequently two years later, Yoshihara wrote the ‘Gutai Manifesto’, where he proclaimed ‘“Gutai art does not change the material but brings it to life. It does not falsify the material. In Gutai art the human spirit and the material reach out their hands to each other.”

In 1958, Yoshihara is exhibited in Paris again and in 1961 in New York. Yoshihara was also part of the avant-garde calligraphy movement ‘Bokujin-kai’. The Circle series was his later and most dedicated artistic pursuit. He recognized the infinite potential of the ‘circle’ because of its simplicity and would repetitively paint circles of extensive variations, almost reminiscent of the Japanese Buddhist term ‘satori’ (meaning awakening). Yoshihara was very responsive to the new emerging Western artistic trends, which was translated in his constantly changing art style. As a result, the Gutai group became a group with an unparalleled originality that sought to cultivate unprecedented relationships between materiality, artistic creativity, freedom and modernity. Its intent was not to adhere to a fixated style but to challenge the entrenched framework of representative Japanese artistic traditions and widen the horizon of artistic possibilities. The Gutai Art Association was dissolved in 1972.

Due to his pioneering achievements in employing new and radical expressions in art, Jiro Yoshihara had received several awards. From the 1960s to the 1970s, he received the Hyogo Prefectural Cultural Award, Kobe Newspaper First Award for Peace, the First Golden Prize at the Indo-Triennale in New Delhi, India, awards from the Osaka Preceture and the Japanese Government.

Many gallery and institution exhibitions for Jiro Yoshihara were held posthumously. His latest solo exhibitions are: Ashiya City Museum of Art and History, Ashiya, Japan (2002); Osaka Contemporary Art Center, Osaka, Japan (2005); Jiro Yoshihara: A Centenary Retrospective 1905-1972, ATC Museum, Osaka, Japan (2005). Due to his firmly entrenched association within the Gutai group, Yoshihara’s works have been prominently featured in several significant Gutai exhibitions: Circles in Motion, Sakurado Fine Arts, Tokyo, Japan (2016); GUTAI: The Eternal Avant-garde, Parkview Art, Hong Kong (2015-2016); Gutai: Splendid Playground, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA (2013); Gutai: The Spirit of an Era, National Art Center, Tokyo, Japan (2012); Gutai: dipingere con il tempo e lo spazio, Museo Cantonale d’Arte, Lugano, Switzerland (2010); In-finitium, Palazzo Fortuny, Venice, Italy (2009); Fare Mondi, Fifty-third Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy (2009); Under Each Other’s Spell, Pollock-Krasner House and Study Center, New York, USA (2009).