The elusive and the explosive rarely overlap, but when they do, the effect is devastating. It's a recipe for stealthily volatile events such as nuclear meltdowns, sonic booms, and sporadically occurring genetic mutations - the ones on which entire ecosystems may pivot - and it is at violent play in a new exhibition that brings together for the first time the work of Japanese artists Kazuo Shiraga and Satoru Hoshino.
On view through 4 April at New York's Dominique Lévy gallery and curated by Koichi Kawasaki, 'Body and Matter' finds convincing parallels between artists separated by a generation and their approach to the avant-garde (the late Shiraga joined the Gutai movement in 1954, while Hoshino, now 69, was active with the Sōdeisha ceramics group in the 1970s). Both men got down and dirty in their endeavours to break with artistic tradition, developing methods that achieved a purity of expression while revelling in their links to the human body. The roiling abstract canvases of Shiraga and the sooty-yet-lustrous sculptures of Hoshino do not merely expose traces of the artists' hands - or feet or fingers - they pulsate with them.
'In Tokyo in 1955, we find the young Shiraga literally wrestling in clay,' says gallerist Dominique Lévy, referring to the artist's sensational performance piece, 'Challenging Mud'. 'He's creating a sculpture using his body well before any Allan Kaprow happening, well before even Yves Klein uses his body as a living paintbrush in 1961, well before I think anyone.' A few years later, Shiraga was hurling oil paint on the floor and, suspended from the ceiling, manipulating it with his feet to create works such as 'Suiju' (1985), a ruddy crimson fireball that strains against the bounds of its wall-sized canvas.
'I call them performance paintings, because for Shiraga, the canvas was a stage,' says art historian Reiko Tomii, who contributed an essay to the exhibition catalogue, out next month along with a Shiraga mega-monograph that Lévy is publishing in collaboration with Axel Vervoordt Gallery. 'It was a new possibility for painting, going beyond modernism.'
Dotted like a median along the floor of one room of the exhibition is a series of Hoshino sculptures from 1989 and 1990. With titles such as 'Appeared Landscape' and 'Outline of Background IV', they are served up on rectangular slabs of smoked earthenware that have the ominous gleam of obsidian. Yet rather than appear charred, these blackened works come alive with the petal-like indentations created by Oshino's finger as he poked and prodded his forms into being. 'When hands touch clay, transforming it,' the artist has said, 'images begin to fly up around it.'