Akira Shimizu Official Site

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About The Artist

Friction Line His reality and Illusion

In 1958, upon graduating from Kanazawa College of Art, this son of a Japanese barber from Toyama city, filled with ambition, came to Tokyo, Japan's exciting center of art.
Born in Toyama City in 1936, he drew sustenance from his richly-colored memories of his childhood such as the heavy and cold scenery of the Sea of Japan in winter (black), the sparks caused by the aerial bombings in WWII (red), the whiteness of his mother's calves, the snow, and the silver scissors his father used in his barber shop.

The dark and heavy ocean appeared in his Friction Line and Going like Sugoroku (Japanese Backgammon) from the Ejigen-Menuma collage series, 1970, is supposedly the Sea of Japan, which is characterized by the winter thunder, making a strong contrast with the summer climate. The dark ocean symbolizes Japan's imperialistic period through WWII.

After 1945, the Japanese people experienced cataclysm. Completely battered and shocked, they, especially the young artists, could not discuss philosophy and religion at all. What they did was express themselves through Han Geijutsu Undo (literally means Anti-Art Movement), and this reactive movement supplied the energy for the younger generation in those difficult days in Japan.

Ida River In 1968 Shimizu became acquainted with Tatsumi Hijikata, whose Butoh Dance inspired him. Shimizu and Hijikata had been sending artistic impulses to each other. And then, Shimizu created posters and designed the costumes for Butoh performances.

The studies of the Beauty and Scissors series are a compilation of 40 years of Shimizu's career. The title that juxtaposes two oppositions originates from his basic posture of art. In his art theory, the antipodes, like light and darkness, life and death, substance and spirit, physics and metaphysics, and mathematics and myths are spun into a yarn, and it turns to a tightrope. I want the spectators to walk on a tightrope, Shimizu said, and he leaves the final interpretation for his artwork to each observer. Thus, his open-ended artwork keeps an ambivalent balance between logic and mystery, the visible and the invisible, organic and inorganic. What we cannot overlook in this series is also the juxtaposition of the opposite sides of women. The enchantress and the innocent, a prostitute and a maiden, outspokenness and bashfulness exist simultaneously. The sexuality that is evoked from women in Kimonos and Japanese coiffure can be shared with the aura of the beauty of Japanese woodblock printings.

Color Blindness Test Chart We see a certain influence of American Pop Art, especially in terms of the profusion of color and the usage of a banal motif, in his Color Blindness Test Chart(1963), one of his important series. However, his intention was profound. He said being utilized is to make use of it. In order to discover the tools to prove this truth, I am going to work on this series. This is a means to expose the pitfall into which today's social mechanism tends to fall, and is the way to approach the borderline of the reality as much as possible.

Black Light As a scientist, he constantly experiments. In 1962, Shimizu heard about the ultraviolet rays (black light) that was just coming into use and was fascinated by the magnetism of it. In order to make them shine in rich color he scattered the phosphorescence paints on daily garbage and irradiated ultraviolet rays (black light) on them. It could have been one of the forerunners of "Psychedelic art".

Flame - Chest He sprinkled alcohol on his X-ray photograph, then ignited it and put tracing paper on it to transfer the shape of his breastbones, and called it Flame-Chest(1970). Scientific existence of a partially combusted X-ray photograph was transformed into a different existence. Through this attempt, we are forced to go into another world where the mystery and the aesthetic of the human body resonate. It is his challenge to approach the borderline between the illusion and the reality as well.

Spring Scene Shimizu frequently uses women's personal ornaments and accessories of the Edo period including Kimonos and Japanese sandals as motifs for the stage garments and the posters of the Butoh performances.

The pattern of vivid, delicate kimonos recalls the Kaga yuzen to my mind. This dyeing technique for hand-painting kimonos was established in the Edo period at Kanazawa city, where Kanazawa College of Art, Shimizu's alma mater, is located. Bright red, purple, and green are used together in this technique, and the aesthetic of Kaga yuzen, in which flowers, trees, and birds are painted beautifully with dignity and gracefulness might have been integrated into Shimizu's DNA.

The Ephemeral We can see the Japanese aesthetic in his Ephemeral series(2005). In the subtleness of silver foil made out of iron material, a fantastic world is created, and the lilting tune is starting to echo.

It reminds us of the Moon world in a famous old Japanese myth. The sculpture, however, is made out of an iron shaped pelvis, rotating sickles, scissors, screws and a bounding hare, which make our minds spin.

Power Plant of Hunter In Power Plant of Hunter (1973) series, the author's concept of nature as a Japanese person is also well described. In Japanese traditional thought, natural phenomena, weather and geographical features are thought to represent Gods. In this series, Shimizu tries to depict Japanese mythological spectacle in which some spheres represent living things (organism), - a bird, a fish, a crustacean, and an insect. Other spheres represent inorganic substances like a ball. In this work, all of them form a pyramid, and they get energy by the thunder and lightning given by the heaven (God). This is an underlying narrative in the minds of the modern Japanese.

From the Darkness The sculptures of From the Darkness series(1983-1994) have structural dignity, and stimulate the space. The artist, having had experiences with carpentry, shows the craftsmanship of manipulating materials such as wood, wire, bamboo, screw and the chains to synchronize biomorphic and architectonic dimensions here. And he seeks a way to harmonize the material in monochrome. Lacquered in black, everything unites to become new material and achieve autonomy.

There is a nucleus in each work, and some of them are the result of the cell division Shimizu said, and we are overwhelmed by the dynamism of the organism that exists in the constructive, cool, disinterested formalism. He has his own iconography here.

Monument Design In early 1980's, Shimizu got acquainted with Shigeru Miyashita, a city development planner, who happened to visit Shimizu's solo exhibition "From the Darkness" series in Gallery Shunju in Tokyo. Overwhelmed by the dynamism of his objects, Miyashita soon had an idea to use his works as monuments in the city development plans. Thus, Shimizu designed models for two city projects, one for Shinjuku (Tokyo) Metropolitan Area and the other for Amakusa city(Kyushu island). The design for Shinjuku projects consisted of 4 monuments, which were to be used as walking bridges. The colors used were of the natural materials, which were dissolved into the scene. It was titled Spring, "Summer, Autumn, and Winter". Each model has certain references to each season as Haiku (Japanese short poetry) has Kigo (the referential word that symbolizes a particular season). Although this project never came into fruition, we should not overlook Shimizu's intention to harmonize the monuments into the nature of the four seasons in the skyscrapers of Tokyo, and also to stimulate viewer's minds to make them question the relationship between, nature, urban lives and human beings.

The other project was a part of the development plan for the Amakusa Islands belonging to the Kumamoto Prefecture of the Kyushu region, the southernmost of the four major islands of Japan. The Project (formally named Amakusa Area Sightseeing - Recreation Center Construction Plan) was announced in 1984, and it aimed to make the coastal area of the Itsuwa Town of the Amakusa, the northern part of the largest island of the Amakusa, the strategic development center for sightseeing. The Project included designs of viewing towers, a boardwalk, a fishing park, museums and a resort hotel. Shimizu made 5 models for the monuments which were to be used as public buildings with the intention of bringing new features into the Amakusa Islands.
The project designs did not come into fruition either, but we are overwhelmed by the elaborateness of each component which has his own iconography and reflects Shimzu's thoughts of a harmony born from the juxtapositions of opposing elements.

He is still aggressively working in the province north of Tokyo. If asked what is your motivation? he would say, because there is a canvas here. or there is a paper and a pencil here.

Although there were various impulses outside, Shimizu stuck to his origin and he still does. He has never been to foreign countries, and his way of life is quite simple. And it reminds one of the way Cezanne lived, a man Shimizu greatly admires. Shimizu is optimistic, but not utopian, which reminds one of Rauschenberg's way of life. (He once admitted he got an inspiration from Rauschenberg's work, and we could see it in Shimizu's Recreation.) New inspirations come to my mind one after another, and they whisper into my ear to draw and make visible, he says. He is born to draw, paint and create. (MK)


1936Born in Toyama city
1958 BFA Painting, Kanazawa College of Art
1962 Exhibit in the 14th Yomiuri Independent Exhibition
1963 Exhibit in the 15th Yomiuri Independent Exhibition, Awarded First Prize at Shell Art Exhibition
1966Exhibit in National Art Museum of Japan
1967Exhibit in Naika gallery with Ushio Shinohara, anti-art event of Train Carriage
1971Published Menuma, the Collage collection
1974Exhibit in Sao Paulo Museum, Silk Screen by Japanese Fine Artist, Thunder hunting by Horse and Frog
1985Exhibit in Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, Japan's Contemporary Art (1945-1965), Recreation No.1
2000Exhibit in Ashikaga Museum of Art and Mitaka Museum Gallery
2005Exhibit in TATE(U.K.), SCHIRN KUNSTHALLE FRANKFURT(GERMANY) and KUNST HALLE WIEN(AUSTRIA), Summer of Love, Art of the Psychedelic Era, Color Blindness Test Chart No.5

Public Collections

Color Blindness Test Chart, No. 5 and 6Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo
Menuma, Collage CollectionThe National Museum of Art, Oosaka
The Color Blindness Test Chart, No. 15 and 16Takamatsu City Museum of Art
The Color Blindness Test Chart, No. 1021st Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa
From the DarknessMitaka City Gallery of Art
From the Darkness (Monument models for Amakusa Projects), Power Plant of HunterAshikaga Museum of Art

Exhibitions and Media Exposure

2016Oral History Archive of Japanese Art, Interviewed on January 17, 2015
2014ART AND ANTIQUE Summer - Fishing Expeditions by Edward M Gomez
2014Akira and Toyoko Shimizu: The Sound of Fire, Art Space Hane
2014AKIRA SHIMIZU: Scattering Scale, Pavel Zoubok Gallery at New York
2012Akira Shimizu & Tatsumi Yoshino, The Museum of Modern Art, Saitama
2011Akira Shimizu Solo Exhibition, Art Space Hane
2009Akira Shimizu - Hearbeat in the Darkness, Ashikaga Museum of Art
2005Summer of Love, Art of the Psychedelic Era, TATE(U.K.), SCHIRN KUNSTHALLE FRANKFURT(GERMANY) and KUNST HALLE WIEN(AUSTRIA), Color Blindness Test Chart No.5
2004Remaking Modernism in Japan (1900-2000), at Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Color Blindness Test Chart, No. 5
2002The Dream of a Museum, Hyogo Prefecture Museum of Art, Recreation
2000Akira Shimizu - Memory in the Dark, Dark in the Memory, Ashikaga Museum of Art, Mitaka Art Gallery
1996Akira Shimizu - Alarm Clock of the Wind, at Nihombashi Takashimaya Contemporary Art Space
1994Akira Shimizu, at Nihombashi Takashimaya Contemporary Art Space
1992Repetition and Multiplication - the Modern Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, Color Blindness Test Chart No. 5 and 6
1991Tatsumi Hijikata - Return to the Human Body, Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Hunting of Thunder
1989Monument and Landscape Design with Masaharu Takasaki, Shunju Gallery(Tokyo), Shinjuku New Metropolitan Design Project
1987Akira Shimizu, Asbestos Studio, Menuma, collage collection
1986Black and White, The Museum of Modern Art, Saitama, From the Darkness Series
1985Japan's Contemporary Art (1945-1965), Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, Recreation No.1
1983Beginning to Diversification - 1960's, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum, Color Blindness Test Chart, Recreation
1981Dairakudakan, Poster work, Girl Factory
1980Exhibition by Shell Art Award Winners, Tokyo Central Art Gallery, Awaking of Bow
1974Silk Screen by Japanese Fine Artist, Sao Paulo Museum, Thunder hunting by Horse and Frog
1972Akira Shimizu, Shunju Gallery, Power Plant of Hunter
1970Akira Shimizu, Runami Gallery, Flame
1968Contemporary Art Space - Light and Environment, Sogo Art Space, Sterilization Light
1966New Generation of Modern Art, National Museum of Art, Tokyo, Black light
1965Big Fight, Tsubaki Modern Gallery, Post
1962Akira Shimizu, Muramatsu Art Gallery, Guidebook, Motorcycle's Black light, Recreation

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