“What kind of works will I see in your studio?” asked Mr. Oe Kenzaburo, 1994 Nobel Laureate in Literature. The question came many years earlier in 1961, on the way to a visit of Ushio’s outdoor studio in Tokyo.
Since Ushio habitually threw all his art into the Sumida River after each exhibition, the studio loaned to him by a farmer was empty. Thinking quickly, he mixed flour and water and pasted cheap sheets of paper on the wall. He then wrapped his hands with a ripped shirt, soaked his hands in Japanese Sumi Ink, and then furiously punched at the papers until he had a studio full of paintings. As his fists hit the paper, a new form of painting/performance art was born. This later became known as “Boxing Painting” and “The Action”.
In Tokyo in 1961, the photographer William Klein, known for the machine gun speed of his photography, witnessed the same speed with Ushio’s “Boxing Painting”, found it ideal subject. Afterward his photographs of Ushio went to museums all around the world making “Boxing Painting” famous.
Always spontaneous, Ushio’s work never stayed in the same place long. In 1964, Ushio was introduced to the Savage Ukiyoe prints of the last days of the Tokugawa Shogunate. Quite moved and excited, Ushio started making his Oiran (Coutesan) Series. Ushio had studied the western style oil painting at Tokyo National Art University which was dominated by the influence of French Impressionism, but he started painting many masterful flat paintings like “Doll’s Festival”, “Hand Miller”, “Oiran”---etc.
In 1969, Ushio was invited by the Rockefeller Foundation to spend one year in New York City, which he had been wanting to visit. While in New York Ushio happened to see more than hundred Motorcycle Hell’s Angels rolling down Broadway on their machines like Kabuki Actors walking through the runway.
“Cool! Looks like Marlon Blando’s ‘Wild One’! Guys wearing caps with skeletons and some guys riding behind the Motorcycle Queens driving the machines! Oh, I’m so excited.” He then started making his well known cardboard Motorcycle Sculptures.
Later the street itself, Canal Street in Downtown N.Y. where he lived, became the subject of his paintings too.
People so colorful jumping out from the subway entrance like a Spider Lily blossoms at his best under the glaring summer sun. Ushio wanted to pour Strawberry ice cream and green Tabasco onto his paintings. Ushio imagined even more, “If I brought the princess of gentle birth from Heian Period here, what would happened to my work?” He asked.
While he continued painting New York Series, he introduced the quiet space of the Heian Period painting in jammed New York, and made the “Genji Series” almost unnoticed.
Heading into the 21st century, without passing through Silk Road, Ushio arrived in Greece, the world of Mythology.
“Wow! How vigorous the sexual desire of the Gods! Their plain lust and passion are more than that of downtown New York where everybody radiates naked energy!”
Fascinated by The Prince with lilies at The Labyrinth in Crete, Ushio’s mind was dreaming about “Greek Fantasy”.
While human’s world continues to repeat bloodsheds, how can art ignore it with flowers and beauty? The Oiran Series in the Twenty first Century becomes a bloody massacre and Ushio continues to run in The Rabyrinth of the art,---- forever.
Aphrodite is smiling disguised as Oiran riding a motorcycle.
Noriko Shinohara, 2008