Sadamasa Motonaga was a post-war Japanese artist known for installations and paintings characterised by lyrical and jubilant imagery.Read More
In the late 1940s, Sadamasa Motonaga worked as an illustrator for local newspapers. Early into his forays into fine art, the artist began to experiment with organic materials. For his iconic installation Work (Water), presented in 1956 at the second Gutai Outdoor Art Exhibition in Ashiya, Motonaga stretched vinyl bags like hammocks between trees. Inside the vinyl bags was coloured water in a spectrum of bright colours that resembled gigantic brushstrokes floating in the air.
Sadamasa Motonaga's paintings of the mid-1950s are typically inhabited by flying objects and embryonic or cartoonish shapes that reflect his life-long appreciation for children's art. In Flying (1954), for example, an elongated silhouette in black evokes an airship hovering above a middle-ground of amorphous grey as a row of coloured circles gather at the bottom.
Between 1955 and 1971, Sadamasa Motonaga was a member of the Gutai Art Association: an artist collective that was founded in Osaka by Jiro Yoshihara and Shozo Shimamoto, and featured members such as Kazuo Shiraga. Artists of the Gutai Art Associate revolutionised art-making in modern Japan with their radical happenings, performances, and installation art.
As part of Gutai, Motonaga developed a unique method based on tarashikomi: a traditional Japanese painting technique of dripping paint on top of other wet paint. In works such as Sakuhin Funny Color II (1959) or Untitled (1966), the artist poured pigments onto the canvas and tilted it, creating pools of colours that mixed with or moved away from one another.
Sadamasa Motonaga discovered the airbrush—the primary tool for his later works—while living in New York in 1966. Departing from his tarashikomi paintings, he began to create flat characters with sharp edges, recalling his earlier paintings of the 1950s. In these works he explored the possibilities of the airbrush and paint, varying the hardness of his forms and sometimes combining them with scratchy marks or dripping, as can be seen in Fufuhaha (1979) and White Circle with Cross Stripes (2004).
Motonaga's interest in children's art fed into several of his works. Amida Da Da Da (2020)—his solo exhibition at Fergus McCaffrey in Tokyo—took its title from a 1980 acrylic painting that was, in turn, inspired by a children's game known as Amidakuji. The artist also published 26 children's books, some of which are still in circulation today.
Since his death in 2011, Sadamasa Motonaga's work has continued to be exhibited internationally. In 2013, Work (Water) was recreated for the rotunda of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, as part of the group exhibition Gutai: Splendid Playground. The two-person retrospective exhibition Between Action and the Unknown: The Art of Kazuo Shiraga and Sadamasa Motonaga was organised in 2015 by the Dallas Museum of Art and the Japan Foundation in Tokyo.
Sherry Paik | Ocula | 2020