In a new exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, Matsutani explores the physicality of art, and his roots in the Gutai Art Association

Do what has never been done before: It’s the motto that Takesada Matsutani started with, and one that characterizes his practice still today. He learned it from his mentor—pioneering painter and educator Jirō Yoshihara—in the early ’60s, as one of the youngest members of the radical Gutai Art Association. Gutai translates from Japanese to English as ‘concrete’—sometimes, as ‘embodiment.’ The avant-garde collective built its ethos around a post-war sort of energy: a resistance to any sort of limitation on personal expression. The Gutai group centered individuality, and physical engagement. It valued concept over form, and took an anything-goes approach to medium.

There were Gutai shows in which artists sculpted with their bodies, writhing in the mud to form impressions and shapes. One member drew by attaching felt-tip pens to a remote-controlled toy car; he drove it over and over the canvas, producing an abstract expressionist effect. Matsutani discovered the artistic capacities of vinyl glue. Today, he’s considered a master of it.

Some of these works are on display in New York, at the artist’s latest show called Combine. The featured paintings are geometric: circles and lines in black-and-white, with pops of blue, yellow, and green. Matsutani makes his canvases curve; they’re rendered three-dimensional through the use of this vinyl glue. It’s poured over the painting, allowed to dry, and then inflated with hairdryers or fans or the artist’s own breath. The result is rather suggestive. “It has a very organic side,” Matsutani once said of the method. “But I don’t want a directly sexual image. Kind of suggestive, maybe.”

Left: Sharing 21-2-7, 2021. Right: Circle Yellow-19, 2019.

© Takesada Matsutani, Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

The title Combine refers to the integration of Matsutani’s practice with vinyl glue, with other techniques that have shaped his oeuvre: That includes graphite, paint, and found objects. The artist moved to Paris in 1966, without access to a studio, or his typical materials, or the community he found in Gutai. “I made a kind of monk interrogation.” He recalls asking himself, “‘Matsutani, you have one pencil, you have one paper. What do you do?’”

Hauser & Wirth calls the show, “a natural culmination of [Matsutani’s] life-long investigation into the malleability and enduring power of materials… The works in Combine come together to convey the reciprocity between pure gesture, raw material, and spirit.” Indeed, the artist’s Gutai roots are clear to see in the tactility and provocation of his work—evident, too, is Matsutani’s journey through other artistic traditions and methods and cultures, and his return to what initially compelled him to create. The longevity of the artist’s body of work is what renders this particular exhibition so compelling. “Time, for me, is most important,” Matsutani said. “I was born, I must die. But my [consciousness] is streaming for infinity.”

Combine is on view at Hauser & Wirth’s 22nd Street Gallery until April 2.