How "Kirin" Editor Yozo Ukita Became a Member of Gutai
33/35-GUTAI STILL ALIVE 2015 vol.1
A project evolving the digitized archive of the book, “GUTAI STILL ALIVE 2015 vol.1”. The 33rd edition features Yozo Ukita, who served as the editor of the children's poetry magazine Kirin for 14 years while also exhibiting his own artworks in Gutai exhibitions. In this interview, Yozo Ukita's wife Ayako talks about how he met Gutai leader Jiro Yoshihara through his work on Kirin, and why he stopped creating art for 20 years after leaving Gutai.
Encountering Jiro Yoshihara as an Editor
For most of the members of Gutai their devotion to the pursuit of new avant-garde ways of art led to them placing art at the center of their lives but for Ukita he took a different route.
After finishing military service Ukita returned to Osaka and entered a small publishing firm. And from here he joined forces with the culture editor of the newspaper Osaka Mainichi Shinbun, Yasushi Inoue (who was later to become a novelist) and the poet Iku Takenaka to release the children’s magazine Kirin in 1948. From a city still largely burnt out from the war a new children’s magazine was born hoping to capture the continuing innocence of children, through a collection of poetry which according to Inoue would make for the most beautiful magazine in the world.
Ukita moved from the first editorial division to the Kirin division and then to the sales department of the magazine. To make a such a publication of children’s poems and pictures is now and was then a financial challenge and yet this publication ran releases over 14 years.
Kazu Wakita designed the first front cover and Gutai leader Jiro Yoshihara took on the design for volumes. It was through his role in organizing this design that Ukita first met Yoshihara. Later the cover moved from artists’ work to children’s pictures and this was well received, giving Ukita confidence in his visual eye for selection. Yoshihara once commented to Ukita “Everyone shows great interest in what you choose. If you understand this talent then you can make your own work too.” This became the spark which led to Ukita’s participation in Gutai. At the age of 31 Ukita came to exhibit his work as part of the Gutai group. The first work he presented consisted of two panels of wood combined with a surface like that stripped from an asphalt road, his wife recalls.
His marriage to Ayako was also brought about through Kirin as she was a teacher at a school in Kyoto which agreed to buy large supplies of the magazine. Even his family had connections with the magazine.
“I received so many love letters. I showed them to a close colleague. I recently had another look at them after 60 years, I’ve still got them all. But there are not so many sugary words. The text is mostly philosophical. It perhaps seems a little strange. But we had faith in what we wrote. When we got married I thought he was someone very good at writing. At that time he wasn’t making art.”
Before he began to produce work as Gutai he already had a family with a young child and upon his encounter with the group he came to devote himself to both Kirin and Gutai. “He would get up at 3am and work until 5 on his painting or personal work.”
For the following 10 years he regularly joined the Gutai exhibitions but on a radio interview he once admitted the following:
“Kirin was all about the pure art of children and I wanted to approach art from the same direction. Not knowing if your work is good or not, just doing all you can towards what you want to do. That was the best way. But when I was praised by Yoshihara and tried to make something better it would all go wrong and so in the end I stopped for 20 years.”
Dissatisfied with his work Ukita took the decision to bring such pursuits to an end and remained out of the art scene for 20 years.
His daughter Yui speaks of her observations of Ukita “My father would not make something just for an exhibition or to please his seniors, he would just do what he wanted. It wasn’t a case of doing it for some reason, he would just listen to his heart. As a young child he said to me, it doesn’t have to be study, but choose one thing and try your absolute best at it. He didn’t even take a look at my grades and school reports.
“It was often said that he was lively and enjoyed entertaining people, and while he tried to show this outgoingness, at the back he had a sharp temper, when he got angry it could be quite frightening. It didn’t matter who it was, if they couldn’t come to agreement then he would suddenly snap. As a child I had this fearful impression of him. But from my high school or university days he finally became able to talk more easily.”
Ukita was a man who resolutely lived by the honesty of his heart, as may be witnessed in the course he took with Kirin. 10 years of his exhibition with Gutai came to a sudden end, and it wasn’t until 20 years later when he was invited by Shimamoto to join a group exhibition in Germany that he began to show his work again. After that he continued to show his work actively until the end. Here is a further comment from one of his radio interviews:
“For the purpose of the exhibition I stayed 2 weeks with a group of poor artists. No matter how dull everyday life was they lived their lives with the upmost purpose and this was reflected in their work. Their very way of life became contained in their art. There was no revision or manipulation in their painting, they faithfully depicted directly their way of being, and I learnt the power of this honesty.”
At the age of 60 Ukita came to dedicate himself to the career of an artist and opened Studio Ukita, actively presenting his work, speaking to many of the way of living through art while also working as an art teacher at a kindergarten. And his way of life, born from his commitment to Kirin and the work of children, placed the heart and mind beyond all else.
(Mothly Gallery, May 2014)