Chirisei Kyubiki – Kazuo Shiraga

There is something intrinsically beautiful about raw emotion.  Ok, it can be hard to deal with if it is directed at you, but when it is used in an expression of artistic intent, it gives the viewer or reader an honest and open idea of what the artist was feeling at the time of creation.  Of course, emotions like art are open to interpretation, and may not always be received as the artist intended/person intended.

Shiraga died in 2008, leaving behind him a legacy of performance which left a lasting imprint through the paintings which he created during his performance.  This work was only internationally acknowledged after his death (as happens so often).

Shiraga was born in 1924, and in the 1940s he studied Nihonga at the Kyoto City University of Arts. In 1953 he founded the group “Zero Kai” with Akira Kanayama, Atsuko Tanaka and Saburo Murakami which merged with Gutai in 1955. Shiraga created and defined a technique of “mud paintings” by using his whole body to leave impressions in wet mud.

This pushed the way forward for the performance technique that he used for over tens years, from 1956 to 1966, which this particular piece is part from.  To create these pieces Shiraga would suspend himself from the ceiling on ropes, after piling paint on the canvas, then pushing the paint around with his feet, taking the energy of his body movements to create arcs of patterns.  To me this feels like Shiraga’s emotions demonstrated in a form of aerial dance which is so raw.

Shiraga’s art is a constant negotiation of space, both in its making and its reception. Photographs of the artist at work are integral in understanding his works and the Louvre could have done with some of these next to the picture to give a further feel for what the artist went through as it would add to the viewing experience. Captured while swinging on ropes hung from the ceiling and brushing the canvas with paint-dipped feet, it is in these images that his method truly comes to light. Looking at his paintings in light of this context lends a certain sensuality and tactility to the textures and forms, which become grounded in a profound sense of the artist’s character, creating unique and unrepeatable compositions.


This particular painting, is currently in the Louvre Abu Dhabi, and on first seeing it, before I read what the curator had written about it, I instantly felt that it was a Japanese warrior riding a horse in to battle.  The extremely limited palette leads to a feel of a violent battle, red paint splattered across the perceived horse and its riding, almost indicating a tumultuous struggle, despite there being no opponent.

The curators notes were as follows:-

“The movement captured in the work convey Shiraga’s spiritual energy.  He conceived the work as a struggle between himself, colour and matter.”

Ok, so they aren’t overly insightful, but I found it interesting that the artist conceived this work as a struggle, and it so strongly comes through to me as an image of battle.  Perhaps this is a show of what the subconscious can do.

I do have to stand back and admire this as I am clumsy, and should I ever feel the urge to hang myself from the ceiling and paint with my feet, firstly, I think it would look like a local farmer had brought his muck spreader around, and secondly I would probably fall from the ropes, just leaving a body print in the paint.  This is possibly why I am so taken with this piece.  The definition of multiple reds are still visible which gives an amazing depth of field to this piece, which to me appears as movement, almost frenzied.  The way in which the paint has been pushed around the canvas and then dried, creating a landscape of the colour, ridges and crevices, which add to the feeling of conflict.

Shiraga was quoted to have said “I want to paint as though rushing around a battlefield, exerting myself to collapse from exhaustion.” I think he absolutely achieved his goal.

Shiraga’s work has a very clear avant garde feel to it, pushing a movement of performance painting to new horizons at the time he created them.

In December 2014, 6 years after his death, Shiraga’s prime-period 1961 abstract, “Chijikusei Gotenrai,” was sold for 3.25 million euros, about $3.7 million, placing him in to a relevant part of international art history.  You can view more of Shiraga’s work here.

What do you see when you look at this piece?  Why not tell me in the comments?  Like this post? Why not share it?

Want to see more of what inspires me or what I am working on?  Find me on Facebook/Instagram/Twitter by searching WidowCranky.




9 thoughts on “Chirisei Kyubiki – Kazuo Shiraga

Add yours

  1. I really enjoyed this article and found it to be insightful and illuminating. I confess to not having heard of this artist but will explore his work.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I have always found critique to abstract art very dull and uninformed. But this was so beautiful. The critique was with proof, respect for the art form, knowing its purpose and what it represented. Loved reading it, Shiraga would have been proud. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. “Shiraga, when do you call a painting done?”
    “When my arms get tired.”

    Art is where you find it.

    Do you think there are any other creatures on the planet that have ever, at least conceptually, used the words beautiful or grotesque? Do birds and fish, those that use color and display for mating, use such classification subjectively or innately?

    I was looking at a sunset the other day and thought, only humans would consider that appealing. A dog, elephant or porpoise could never qualify something as lovely or ugly. Or could they?

    Would that be the definition of an alien intelligence — one that could discern beauty from the universe around them?


    1. I’m pretty sure birds and fish use them subjectively. When it comes to mating they go for the one with the greatest display, therefore they must have an ideal in mind to go for, meaning that they are subjectively choosing their mate on the basis of their creativity… I think you underestimate the animal kingdom as many of them use a sunrise as a signal, which then denotes they have some appreciation of it…

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I see your point.
        I wonder if animals ever qualify a sunrise though, “mmm, not great, I think I’ll stay in my nest.” I believe it’s simply the increasing, decreasing light as a trigger, a diurnal/nocturnal signal.
        The subjective consideration of color and display — I still doubt it exists in those animals. I’d have to guess that there is an ideal pattern that is genetically pre-programmed, the closer a suitor comes to that pattern the more likely the mating will occur. And if a suitor exceeds the conditions (within limitations) the better. One could imagine a male peacock with a tail so large, heavy and garish that it would be a burden to the point of danger — and selected against.
        I suppose it gets down conscious analysis or programmed analysis.
        I’ll have to keep my eye out for evidence of bonobos or dolphins or ravens exhibiting quiet contemplation of a scene.


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