“My style is the top style.” Self-taught artist, Sadamasa MOTONAGA said confidently.
MOTONAGA was a core member of Gutai Art Association 1. He sought new means of expression, unprecedented forms, brilliant colors and experimentation. He initially became famous for his drip paintings, which were inspired by the traditional Japanese technique of “tarashikomi” (wet-in-wet). Applying layers of liquid paint that were absorbed into the canvas in an irregular way.
Thereafter in the 1970s, the artist’s scratchy hand-drawn forms reappeared along with the use of canned spray paint, creating a style that was fresh and raw, akin to graffiti and animation. Creating paintings that are characterized by simple lines and a gentle palette of muted primary colors.
“He was human so he had his cold side too, but just his presence close at hand filled you with warmth. Perhaps it was a kind of aura.” Etsuko, the wife of MOTONAGA, pays tribute to him as an artist of human warmth.
MOTONAGA had a unique sense of humor and an optimistic attitude. He sometimes styled himself comically an artist of “aho ha (a foolish school).” His style was to work obeying his own feeling, without putting emphasis on art theories or ideas, while describing himself as foolish. In the latter stage of his creative career, he also created picture books for children. His humorous style has been popular through all ages.
In the spring of 2013, the exhibition ‘Gutai: Splendid Playground’ took place at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York. At that exhibition, Sadamasa MOTONAGA’s “Work (Water),” installed in the huge wellhole of the museum. Comprising a series of vinyl sheets with dyed water, hung like hammocks. Gravity pulled the sheets into curved forms, allowing the water to pool at the bottom, while the changing natural light subtly affected its jewel-like colors throughout the day.
MOTONAGA was the recipient for several prizes, including, The Prize of Excellence at 15th Contemporary Art Exhibition of Japan, 1964; Hyogo Cultural Prize, 1986; Ｍedal of Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters, 1988; The Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon, 1991; Osaka Art Prize, 1992. His art has been the subject of many retrospective exhibitions, most notably at The Centre Pompidou, 2020; Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, 1966 and 1973. Some of his art was collected in The National Museum of Art in Osaka, The National Museum of Art in Kyoto, MoMA, etc.
Note 1: Gutai Art Association (1954-1972) – Most influential Japanese post-war avant-garde art movement. Experimenting new forms of art. Leading by Jiro YOSHIHARA, with the aim of “Don’t copy anyone! Do something that was never seen before! “ , Gutai artists continue to break the rules of conventional art. Their artworks can even appear in a form of huge installation and performance art. Emphasized on theatrical interaction between the medium of art and human body. Representative artists including, Atsuko TANAKA, Kazuo SHIRAGA, Shuji MUKAI, Tsuyoshi MAEKAWA, Takesada MATSUTANI, Chiyu UEMAE, Yuko NASAKA, etc.