Sadamasa Motonaga (Japanese, 1922–2011) was an abstract painter, and one of the leading members of the Gutai group. Under the guidance of Jiro Yoshihara, Motonaga decided to pursue a career in painting rather than his original desire of becoming a cartoonist. However, the sense of humor that pervaded his earlier works remained an important element in his paintings throughout his career. He was known for balancing cheerful, funny, comical, friendly, easy-to-understand, and inviting elements with sophisticated, elegant, and poetic designs.
Motonaga also experimented with various styles of expression, such as bold abstraction, using drips, as well as traditional Japanese painting techniques. He also utilized industrial materials. He later created more defined spaces with straight and curved lines—based on ideas he generated during his two-year stay in New York. Also during this time, Motonaga began to expand into printmaking, stage design, and children’s books.
Motonaga participated in international exhibitions in Italy, New York, France, and Spain, among other places, winning awards such as the Légion d’honneur from the French government. He also received the Purple Ribbon Award, issued in the name of the sitting emperor of Japan; Motonaga was the first abstract artist to be given this award. His works are in the collections of every major Japanese museum, as well as in other institutions, including The Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In the 1950s, the artists of the newly formed Gutai group of Japan worked fast and fearlessly, changing styles and mediums at will, staying abreast of the latest postwar developments abroad. The mood of this band of innovators was eclectic — and electric — as demonstrated by "Gutai: 1953-1959," an ambitious show at Fergus...