My Life With The GUTAI – Part Two (具体美術協会と私)

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Yasuo Sumi

In Part One of this mini “series” I introduced everyone to Master Shozo Shimamoto, along with Jiro Yoshihara, co-founder of the legendary Japanese art collective Gutai Bijutsu Kyokai, the “Concrete Arts Association.”

Much GUTAI art could be characterized by gestural/bodily abstraction in the leaving of various types of traces, including the use of nude female assistants covered in ink directed across the canvas (Japan: nyōtaku). My friend Miyuki Nishizawa was one of the nyōtaku women, and she helped Master Shimamoto create some of what I consider to be the best works in the genre. Though other women were as helpful, I consider Nishizawa (also known as Shinbun Onna [“Newspaper Woman”] after her practice of improvising dresses out of newsprint-as-performance art) to have been the most effective; her rolling and slithering across the canvas with her body fully inked was delicate yet primal, gender neutral yet powerfully sensual.

She had worn a special homemade cup helmet (along with a full women’s choir – singing while all wearing cup helmets!) – inspired by Shozo – at the Heiwa No Okashi event in 1999, and I ended up wandered the length and breadth of his then-new gallery in Takarazuka (Hyogo Prefecture) in 2001, sporting this same, vision-obscuring helmet. In the picture taken at the 2001 event, Miyuki and I pose with the helmet, me giving her the finger after she had just teasingly poked me in the side.

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I also “modeled” a special felt garment that was half scarf and half sash – with no cuts – to create several linked rings. I have no idea how Master Shimamoto conceptualized or created this thing, and he wouldn’t tell me the secret. But he asked me to wear around the plaza outside his gallery, and I had a lot of fun trying to explain to casual passers-by what it was. My Japanese was pretty good at the time – but semi-fluent at best – so it was a challenge to describe it in technical terms. In the picture below, Master Shimamoto is wearing the garment.

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Miyuki and I had a lot of fun together, even though we did not hang out much. When we did we had great conversations about art, gender, Japaneseness – all the while going for noodles and the occasional movie. We would go to Yoshinoya – a really popular “fast food” chain that served super-delicious gyuudon. Yoshinoya is so incredibly tasty and affordable – it would catch on big time in North America if the company decided to majorly market themselves in cities like New York or Toronto. In the picture below Miyuki and I have just returned from a ride around Osaka Bay to one of Master Shimamoto’s outdoor events (the bike is a ’62 reworked/customized Harley Panhead). To the right you can see a picture of Master Shimamoto “modelling” a photo on the back of his head.

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Fellow GUTAI artist Yasuo Sumi was often at the Gallery and at Shimamoto’s various events, collaborating or chatting with us younger artists doling out great aesthetic wisdom and career advice, and often invited us to his home for tea and even more great conversation. Master Sumi often cajoled me about what he considered my overly serious approach to art and told me I needed more fumajime, markedly less (or the complete absence of) ‘seriousness’ in my work.

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Me, Master Sumi, unidentified guests, Takeshi (last right)

My friend Takeshi and I decided to take him up on his advice and thus the GUSAI Group was born; our own mini arts collective dedicated to being less serious and more charanporan – “playful irresponsibility.” A play on words of GUTAI, “gusai” means “silly wife,” in Japanese the equivalent of calling your wife my “nutty little lady,” or “my crazy wife” – not a pejorative rather a teasing compliment. So, in order to practice what Master Sumi preached, we achieved nothing, and merely gathered to drink and talk about anything but art. Takeshi and I often met to drink, and even organized little trips around the Hanshinkan Area (between Osaka and Kobe) to not see museums or anything cultural – we would just travel around, getting off at small train stations and just ‘see’ what was there – discovering as much ordinary as we could. We even went to the Museum of Ethnology outside of Osaka, just to sit around and drink in a makeshift Mongolian yert they had set up outside! As drinking in public is legal in Japan, Takeshi and I took advantage of this wonderful cultural difference between our countries and our trips were decidedly “cheerful. Eventually Takeshi and I changed the GUSAI into the Kansai Goat Brothers drinking club, and met every two weeks to drink with a local accountant and his wife, talk about sports, and make imaginary bets on the National Sumo tournaments.

I met Takeshi on the subway in Osaka by accident one time, and he invited me to have supper with his grandmother in a little town outside of Kyoto. She was a former geisha, a real geiko…and even though she did not discuss it (and for the most part I wasn’t allowed to talk to her about it) she showed her absolute mastery of social graces: serving tea and entertaining us with songs and stories, and poems that she had improvised. She was the epitome of sophistication and style, and the evening was a testament to great social beauty. It was a profound night, and I am eternally grateful for having the chance to meet her and having her honour/humble me with her refinement and grace.

geiko

© 2013 Daniel Schnee.danielpaulschnee.wordpress.com

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2 thoughts on “My Life With The GUTAI – Part Two (具体美術協会と私)

    1. LOL! Maybe. I like to think that I am jovial.

      But at the end of the day I am a Northern German – Canadian at heart…seriousness and the drive for perfection is our way of being happy go lucky!

      Thanks for stopping by. 🙂

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