Kazuo Shiraga was born in 1924 in Amagasaki, Japan. After studying Nihon-ga (Japanese-style painting) in Kyoto and growing frustrated with the stylistic and material confines he found in Nihon-ga, Shiraga participated in Gendai Bijutsu Kondankai (Contemporary Art Discussion Group) with several other students and began experimenting with making oil paintings using his hands and fingers. Shiraga found the viscosity of tube-ready oil paint more “free” than the inconvenient and thin ink-based pigments he had used in painting school. In 1954, Shiraga joined renowned Japanese avant-garde collective Gutai and was inspired by Gutai’s leader, Jiro Yoshihara, to further push his performative, material-driven painting practice in order to “make something that never existed” before. During his time as a member of Gutai, Shiraga simultaneously pursued oil painting and performance, often integrating the two practices in performance-painting pieces as Challenging Mud (1955), in which the artist used his entire body to manipulate mud as if it were thick, pliable paint, and Ultramodern Sanbaso (1957), in which he wore a dramatic red costume with elongated and wing-like arms, his movements creating slashes of color against the stark black backdrop of the stage. Shiraga continued this exploration of the relationship between body and material over the course of his career, and is best known for the large-scale foot paintings he made well into his eighties. The foot paintings explore themes of Japanese history, Chinese mythology, and Buddhism while preserving the explosive movements of an artist who continuously sought a dynamic and collaborative relationship with his medium.
Installation view of Body and Matter: The Art of Kazuo Shiraga and Satoru Hoshino at Dominique Lévy in New York, 2015