Born in Osaka in 1905, Jiro Yoshihara is widely revered as the founder and leader of the Japanese avant-garde Gutai group, which was active the postwar years from 1954 to 1972. He is also known for his iconic circle paintings, which were invented in the 1960s and epitomized the artist’s interest in establishing a new visual vocabulary by incorporating aspects of Western abstract painting into the Eastern ink tradition.
Having received no formal training in the arts, Yoshihara began by making works inspired by the European Surrealists in the 1920s and 1930s, but soon turned to pure abstraction. With the outbreak of the Second World War, however, his outlook on art and life changed, prompting him to return to figurative subjects such as humans and birds. In the 1950s, abstract composition once again became central to Yoshihara and eventually his style developed into action painting, which is often associated with Art Informel. As a result of his international connections, he became influenced by ideas such as Abstract Expressionism, as well as Japanese Zen philosophy.
In 1954 he founded the Gutai Art Association and wrote the Gutai Manifesto, as a challenge to existing forms of art. It sought to unite spirit and material through gesture as an elevated form of expression, widening the horizon of artistic possibilities. In the 1960s, he started to paint a series of circles in a myriad of variations. Yoshihara took inspiration from avant-garde calligraphy, and was fascinated by the act of repetition, the infinity of variation, and the simplicity involved in inscribing the ubiquitous circle.
Retrospectives of Yoshihara’s work have been held at The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura (1973); The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (1973); Ashiya City Museum of Art & History (1992); Aichi Prefectural Museum (2005); The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (2005); and Miyagi Museum of Art (2005). He died in Ashiya in 1972.