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An Interview with Michio Yoshihara's Wife Naomi in Ashiya, the Birthplace of Gutai

A project evolving the digitized archive of the book, “GUTAI STILL ALIVE 2015 vol.1”. The 20th edition features an interview with Naomi Yoshihara, the wife of Michio Yoshihara who was the son of Gutai Art Association leader Jiro Yoshihara. We visited Ashiya, the birthplace of Gutai, to ask her about her view of Michio Yoshihara as a wife, and her view of Jiro Yoshihara as a daughter-in-law.


The Origins of Gutai in Ashiya A Dialogue with Michio Yoshihara’s Wife Naomi


Still today many Gutai artists and their remaining families live in the Hanshin Osaka region. In conducting these series of interviews with Gutai associates numerous visits to the Hanshin area have been made with a particular focus around Ashiya city. Taking the shinkansen from Tokyo to Shin-Osaka station from this point most destinations could be reached within 30 minutes by train. Having previously visited Ashiya to interview Shinichiro Yoshihara this time another trip is made to the same city to speak with Michio Yoshihara’s wife Naomi. Passing through the peaceful residential streets of this district, which proved to be the hot bed of Gutai, one finally arrives at the appointed residence to be met with Naomi in a living room decorated with works by her late husband.

The second son of Jiro Yoshihara, Michio, was still in university at the time Gutai was established in 1954, but he still formed one of the founding members. Until the age of 72 he continued to present his work and organized numerous Gutai exhibitions and events. Jiro Yoshihara had 4 children, but out of these it was only Michio who pursued work as an artist. He attended the same Kansai University as his father and joined the painting circle.

Michio married Naomi at the age of 30 years old, having already long involved himself in the Gutai group as well as working as a member of the family business Yoshihara Seiyu.

Naomi Yoshihara: When I first married my husband we lived in a detached house in Toyonaka. There wasn’t a studio. For the first 3 years we didn’t have children, it was just the two of us so it went that way. As he would leave for work he would cry such as “Could you cut a lot of colored paper into circles for me today?” So I would ask my friends over and we would all be sitting around cutting paper into circles, and then afterwards Yoshihara would throw these onto the canvas randomly to make his work. Sometimes when he tried to throw them in the center and they didn’t quite land where he wanted them to he would call me saying “Put them over there would you”. That must have been in the Autumn of 1963, the year Kennedy was assassinated. He showed that work at Gutai Pinacoteca in a solo exhibition that season.

In the family business Michio was involved in the advertising section and created the Yoshihara Seiyu commercials. Those images of the oil pouring down and spooling like tadpoles, that was my husband’s work and apparently was well received.

Before we got married we had known each other for quite a long time so we understood a lot about each other. The year before his solo exhibition he presented “It’s OK the Moon Won’t Fall” a collaboration between Gutai art and Morita Modern Dance at Seikei Kaikan Hall. As the curtains opened a figure all in white appeared standing. All the characters were dressed in white. However the nose, ears, knees, fingers would be completely red. The nose doesn’t move right. He would attach thread to these parts and stretch them out. But there was one dancer who could move their ears on their own. It was an interesting idea. It wasn’t Gutai, but I also remember one time when Michio was requested to design a set for kabuki, he did the backdrop for one of Miyoko Takekoshi’s shows too. His work even appeared on Yoko Nogiwa’s TV chat show one time, as his tape and colored paper work were seen as unusual at that time. Some people saw this and began to approach him for further work. He was someone with a great many ideas.

It wasn’t just work for Gutai, Michio Yoshihara was active across advertising and many other fields and these were observed by Naomi. Although she herself wasn’t an artist and didn’t have a particularly strong link with art, she followed her husband’s exhibitions through the Gutai Pinacoteca, the Venice Biennale and various other presentations. She also reflected on unseen aspects of her father in law, Gutai leader Jiro Yoshihara. Naomi Yoshihara: From the perspective of others Jiro Yoshihara was a great man, but to me he was my father-in-law, so I would bring my children to see him and he would slide down the stairs from the studio and cry “You’ve come!” Kazuo Shiraga and Sadamasa Motonaga were so surprised to see this side of a man they held in such fearful awe.

At that time his other sons were still yet to marry, my husband was the first, and in a family where all the children were boys the addition of a daughter in law was most welcome so Yoshihara took great care over me. And then when our first child was born, Yoshihara’s first grandchild, he really changed. We lived in separate houses but he would always pop by to see his grandchild. When the child was still only 10 months old Jiro was admitted to hospital with liver problems. And so we went everyday to Ashiya hospital. He would be holding a telescope waiting for us, he really doted over the two of us.

Jiro Yoshihara is often associated with the image of a strict master according to Gutai artists and his remaining family, but through Naomi’s testimony we see the side of him reflecting the gentle grandfather. But when asked how Jiro Yoshihara and Michio got along in Gutai and their artistic engagements Naomi admits she did not observe this close at hand but even Michio’s creative production took place in the studio borrowed from his father.

Michio gave up his artistic career when Gutai disbanded in 1972. But he would later retire early from the company and then return again to his creative practice.

Naomi Yoshihara: In the end he wanted to paint so at the age of 53 he retired from work. He didn’t want to paint like photorealism, he wanted to paint with creativity, so he quit work while his mind was still sharp to focus on his practice. He found a studio just right for him so he left work and took up his art production at that studio for 10 years. And in 1991 and 1994 he held solo exhibitions at Gallery Shiro. He always left early in the morning for the studio and once joked in an interview with Mainichi Shimbun that “If I stay in the house from the morning my wife gets irritated so I always set off early” (laughs)”.

Then 10 years on it was discovered that Michio had the same liver disease as his father and despite being of an age when he could have still continued his practice actively he sadly passed away.

Naomi speaks of her lasting impressions of him.

Naomi Yoshihara: He was a kind gentle person with great patience. He never put himself before others. In Gutai he had to hold himself back as the son of Jiro, always following from behind, never coming to the front. He really respected his father. Just as the other artists held Jiro in awe, Michio also held his modesty. Whenever he had something to say he would ask me to tell it for him (laughs).

Michio spent his career always in the presence of his father, even borrowing his father’s studio to produce his work and often going on long trips with him abroad. But in this time what kind of conversations did they have about art and Gutai? Nobody knows. Being father and child, Michio must have held himself back with Jiro as the leader of Gutai. And through these interviews we may make out a man of patience and restraint who had a kind regard to those around him, while we must reappraise his achievements as an artist in his own right.

(Mothly Gallery, June 2014)

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