Material Oil on canvas
Dimensions 182 x 259 cm
Status Vetted

About the Work

Central to Kazuo Shiraga’s work is the concept of shishitsu. This term primarily means “innate characteristics and abilities”. Within a philosophical context, the term refers to a psycho-corporeal essence in ourselves that defines us and shapes us over time as individual human beings.

For Shiraga, who was an influential member of the Gutai Art Association, making art was a way of fully connecting with one’s own shishitsu and making it resonate through paint. In his quest to transport the essence of human energy into matter, and to feel one with the empty canvas, he invented his own form of action painting.

By radically abandoning the paintbrush and starting to paint with his feet, Shiraga eliminated both composition and consciousness from his work. As a performance, the artist suspended himself from a rope and used his body as a tool, smearing the paint with his feet onto the canvas.

"In 1954, at almost the same time that Shiraga had begun to paint with his feet, an abstract-art group called Gutai was formed by Jiro Yoshihara, a Western-style painter who was based in Ashiya, Hyogo Prefecture. With a name derived from the group's desire to 'concretely advance proof for the freedom of our spirt,' Shiraga and other group members of the same generation explored the potential for new artistic expression with a freewheeling approach that was alien to traditional painting and sculpture of the past and based on their unequivocal leader's rigid exhortations to 'never copy anyone' and 'do something that's never been done before.'

The first work that Shiraga showed as a member of Gutai was included in the Experimental Outdoor Exhibition of Modern Art to Challenge the Midsummer Sun, an event sponsored by the Ashiya City Art Association and held in July 1955 in Ashiya Park along the banks of the Ashiya River. Though it was nominally an outdoor exhibition, there was more to the event that simply hanging paintings outside. To meet Yoshihara's demand, Shiraga devised a work called Please Come In, which consisted of ten roughly hewn logs that were painted red and arranged in a conical shape. According to Shiraga, 'More than a three-dimensional work, the chopped ends form a painting that can be viewed endlessly.' ...

Prompted by Yoshihara, Shiraga — who had taken the bold step from action painting with his feet on the two-dimensional plane to making use of his entire body in three dimensions — was awakened by the vivid sensation of direct, violent contact between his body and the material. More than the question of form in painting, he grew totally absorbed in conceptual, philosophical issues."

Text excerpt from Shoichi Hirai's essay, "The Action Painting of Kazuo Shiraga", published in the Kazuo Shiraga monograph by Axel Vervoordt Gallery and Dominique Levy, 2015.

I came to feel that doing anything with my body was a very meaningful act. Rather than painting and establishing a picture, and trying to make it remain, I got to the point where it didn't matter whether it remained or not... More than that, by simply engaging in an action — although it might sound strange to say you get more out of it — I came around to the idea that this kind of thing was more important.

Kazuo Shiraga and Ichiro Hariu (dialogue), "conversation on action from the Kyoto-Osaka area), Shiraga Kazuo: 12-nen no sakuhin kara (Tokyo Gallery, 1973), n.p.


Kazuo Shiraga: Painting Born Out of Fighting, tent. cat. Azumino Municipal Museum of Modern Art, Toyoshina, 25 april-14 juni 2009, published no. 353.

Kazuo Shiraga, Paintings and Watercolours 1954-2007, Annely Juda Fine Art, Londen, 1 november-20 december 2007, cataloog n°9

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Private collection, Switzerland;
Axel Vervoordt Gallery, 2007;
Gallery Annely Juda, Londen.