Artist profile

Kazuo Shiraga

In October 1955 at the first Gutai exhibition in Tokyo Kazuo Shiraga enacted his renowned performance, ‘Challenging Mud’. It involved him wrestling with a truckload of clay mixed with cement that had been emptied into the courtyard of the exhibition venue. The performance, which he repeated three times during the course of the exhibition, survives only in the form of photographs and film footage. At the time of the Gutai exhibition Shiraga had already started to paint with his feet. This substitution of the human body for the paintbrush was totally revolutionary.

Shiraga was justly famous as the only important artist in the world to paint with his feet. In actuality he painted not just with his feet but with his whole body, an approach he discovered through his engagement with clay. While anybody could have thought of working in this way, we are indebted to Shiraga for having done so in such a compelling and dramatic manner.

In about 1964 Shiraga started to use wooden boards to paint with. The resulting fan-shaped works were charged with a sense of speed and centrifugal energy different from but no less powerful than the dynamism of his feet paintings. He adopted this method as a way forwards from what he felt to be the staleness creeping into his work. 

Biography

1924
Born in Amagasaki, Hyogo Prefecture
1942–48
Attended Kyoto Municipal School of Painting where he was given no option but to study traditional Japanese-style painting
1948
Attended City Art Centre, Osaka where he studied the fundamentals of oil painting and joined the New Creation Art Association
1952
Formed the 'Zero' group with Saburo Murakami and Akira Kanayama
1955
Zero group merges with the Gutai Art Association. The 'Gutai Group' as it became known, exhibited both in Japan and internationally until its dissolution in 1972
1965
Awarded the Amagasaki Citizen's Cultural Prize
1971
Entered the Buddhist priesthood at the Enryaku Temple, Mount Hiei
1987
Awarded the Hyogo Prefectural Culture Prize for Excellence
1999
Awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for Culture
2002
Awarded the Art Prize of Osaka City
2008
Died in Japan