Kazuo Shiraga

Kazuo Shiraga was a Japanese artist known for his dynamic performance paintings. He was born in 1924 in Amagasaki and graduated from the Kyoto Municipal Special School of Painting in 1948. Disillusioned with traditional Japanese painting, Shiraga co-founded Zero Society, an avant-garde conceptual group which merged with Gutai in 1955. Shiraga became one of the group's most prominent members. In 1971 Shiraga entered the Buddhist priesthood of the Enryaku-ji Monastery of Mount Hiei, where he continued to paint under his monk name (Sodo) until his death in 2008.


Shiraga created seminal works such as Challenging Mud (1955), in which he used his whole body to wrestle through a mixture of clay and cement to the point of exhaustion. In 1956, he embarked on his iconic 'Performance Paintings', for which he would suspend himself over his canvases, swinging back and forth to create marks with his feet before an audience. Shiraga continued to explore the relationship between the body and artistic media throughout his long career. 


Shiraga enjoyed much acclaim in Japan and Europe over the course of his life, but it was not until after his death that his work flourished in the USA. This oversight was rectified with exhibitions such as Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2012-13); Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde, The Museum of Modern Art, New York (2012-13); and Gutai: Splendid Playground, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York (2013). Today, Shiraga's paintings are housed in the permanent collections of the National Museum of Modern Art and the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo; the Hiroshima City Museum of Art; Dallas Museum of Art; Walker Art Center in Minneapolis; and Centre Pompidou in Paris.

Kazuo Shiraga in his studio,1960. Photo © Amagasaki Cultural Center