Axel Vervoordt Gallery presents a solo exhibition of Japanese artist Tsuyoshi Maekawa, focussing on later works from the 1970s till today. The exhibition includes variety of artworks featuring different techniques and colours, showcasing the artist’s boundless investigations of materiality and taking full advantage of the peculiarity of the material as it is.
Maekawa was part of a second generation of the avant-garde Gutai Association, which he joined in 1962. Like all Gutai members, he was encouraged by their leader Jiro Yoshihara to create “something that has never been created before”. This urge to create out of total freedom, without any dogma or scholarly academism, remained a primary goal for Maekawa throughout his career. In 1972, with Yoshihara’s sudden death, the group dissolved and their exhibitions at the Gutai Pinacotheca ended. Maekawa continued to work as an illustrator and graphic designer, but his true passion persisted in making artworks. Even today, at the age of 84, he returns to his studio every day with the same drive and eagerness for creativity.
During ten Gutai years, Maekawa experimented with materials and techniques, by tearing, cutting, and sewing his canvasses and by adding drippings of paint, resulting in complex and agitated artworks. In his early works, during the chaotic time after World War II, he used burlap sacks as a preferred material. He appreciated this humble and ubiquitous material, made from hemp fibres, that was used as bags for rice and grains. As a result, the life of burlap sacks became elevated – from having a basic primal nature, they obtained a composed nobleness.
After Gutai’s dissolution, Maekawa progressively resolved the raw, vulgar texture of the burlap sack and he started using cloths as his sole material. His work became quieter and more structured. He used fine cloths on which he added delicate patterns utilising a sewing machine. “What and how much can you express without using paint?” was his main goal at that time. The compositions “Untitled (151030)” and “Untitled (140925)” show refined and precise sewing techniques of pleats and nips exploring the spatial dimensions of the canvas. In a way, these works resonate with Lucio Fontana’s Concetto Spaziale, although Maekawa – faithful to the Gutai philosophy – refuses to be compared to other artists.
In the 1980s, his work became more silent and meditative. He continued exploring the possibilities of the canvas itself with his sewing machine. He became so skilled that his stitches became tinier and tinier and positioned in close rows, almost like pencil lines in relief. He used very few colours, mainly beige and white, topped with some brown or black to highlight the composition and create shadows. When these elements appear on the surface, they gently reveal the calm subtlety and tactility of the materiality. Occasionally, he painted part of the canvas in a vivid contrasting colour like the pink used in “1906105”.
In the ‘90s, Maekawa used painting in combination with sewing. The three works “2003004 – 1907105 and 2003002” present carefully designed patterns in vivid colours that are overlapped with sewed patterns. The lines created by the stitches form an additional layer, playfully interacting with the painted surface.
In his most recent works, Maekawa returns to his first love: burlap, focussing again on the material itself that composes the artwork, not by the presentation on it. He incorporates sewn, wrinkled, and twisted waveforms in canvasses that he sprays afterward with paint.
For Maekawa, the world is full of infinite possibilities. The overwhelming energy of the artist and his never-ending urge to give life to materials is remarkable throughout his career. “I have been creating works for over sixty years now. I think I have concentrated on exploring matter. In particular, I have been persistent about investigating cloth and experimenting with it.”
Tsuyoshi Maekawa’s works are held in prominent museum collections globally, including Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago; M+ Museum, Hong Kong; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; Tate Modern, London; Long Museum, Shanghai; and Museum MACAN, Jakarta among the others.
Courtesy of Axel Vervoordt Gallery