A Centennial Celebration
Triangle Circle Square
Fergus McCaffrey Tokyo is pleased to celebrate the Centennial of the birth of Sadamasa Motonaga with the opening of the exhibition Triangle, Circle, Square, which features 14 paintings made between 1990 and 1999. The exhibition will continue until February 18, 2023.
Originally trained as a cartoonist, Motonaga illustrated for local magazines and newspapers in the late 1940s. Shortly thereafter he became an early member of Gutai, joining the group in 1955. Together with other first generation members, including Jiro Yoshihara, Kazuo Shiraga, and Saburo Murakami, Motonaga forged an ethos of artistic experimentation, freedom, and individuality in the wake of the Second World War. To break free from the conservatism and militarism of the past, Yoshihara urged his adherents to “do what has never been done before.” With this emphasis on originality, Motonaga responded with a wide variety of paintings, sculptures, water installations, and smoke performances that emphasized interactive play and sought to provoke joy.
In the late 1960s, Motonaga sought to break free from the somewhat hegemonic process-based abstraction that became the signature of Gutai artists, and a residency in New York City from 1966-67 allowed him head-space to return to the fertile path of his pre and early Gutai work. He revived the anthropomorphic shapes found in his earliest painting, adopted airbrush technique, and gradually began to inject the aesthetics of street culture and Anime into the realm of high art. By the later 1970s, Motonaga’s large gestural strokes overlaid with scratched pictograms, and airbrush drips fit squarely into Zeitgeist of ‘bad-painting’ that was emerging with Reinhard Pods in Berlin, Albert Oehlen in Cologne, and Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring in New York.
However, Motonaga’s work remained apolitical and belongs to a special category of transgressive and liberating art which seeks to expand the reach of art to non-specialized audience, via children’s art books, interactive public sculptures, public performances, and art lessons. It is impervious to decoding and beyond words, delighting in the direct pre-verbal communication of rhythmic forms, swirling lines, and flowing shapes.
Motonaga died on October 3, 2011, in Takarazuka, Japan. His work has been the subject of many retrospective exhibitions in Japan, most recently at the Mie Prefectural Museum of Art (2022); Takarazuka Art Center (2022), Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art (2022), and Kyu-Suukoudou (old Suukou hall, Iga Ueno, 2022).
Editorial by Koichi Kawasaki
Motonaga Sadamasa had a habit of making people laugh by interspersing everyday conversations with jokes. He also had a habit of saying, “It’s light up ahead.” More than just the personal philosophy of an artist known for his optimistic, free-spirited nature, this line also applied to…
Published in 2015 by Fergus McCaffrey
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