Tsuyoshi Maekawa: A Stitch in Time

Installation of Tsuyoshi Maekawa’s work
Tsuyoshi Maekawa, Untitled, 1971, 54.5 by 36.5 cm
Tsuyoshi Maekawa, Untitled, 1975, 33.2 by 32.8 cm
Installation of Ewen Henderson’s work
Ewen Henderson, Upright Vessel, circa 1992.
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Sotheby’s S2, just off Hanover Square in London’s Mayfair, is presenting dual solo exhibitions of Tsuyoshi Maekawa and Ewen Henderson until September 21. Maekawa himself, still working, attended the opening night, handing out hand-drawn postcards and bijou cutouts to welcome his guests. The show primarily deals with Maekawa’s post-Gutai oeuvre, in the wake of the big-bang moment in 1972 when founding member Jiro Yoshihara died. By written proclamation, the 17-year old Gutai movement was then dissolved with the words: “…the artists, who are heirs to this spiritual legacy, will strive to produce their own work on an individual basis.”

TEXT: Nicholas Stephens
IMAGES: Courtesy of Sotheby’s and the artist

Installation of Tsuyoshi Maekawa’s work

 

This break sparked a new era of creativity for Maekawa, who, in an interview on the eve of this London summer exhibition remarked: “I did my best not to dwell on the past and to discover a new direction, and began consciously changing my work in a dramatic way.” Drawing together artworks from 1969 to 1978 for private sale, Sotheby’s presents Maekawa’s material in a non-didactic, neutral light. The visitor, stepping out from 2018’s W1, is at once in the midst of a now distant, yet perhaps half-familiar time and place. Vertically book-ended by wooden floors and industrial concrete ceilings, some walls are bright yellow to allow some of Maekawa’s more vividly coloured artworks (such as Untitled, 1975) to “pop,” this sealed chamber of untitled works gleefully hands interpretation to the viewer.

Despite its emphasis on humble materials, the Gutai movement experimented with (albeit in a somewhat tame version) the loud, showman side that many international avant-garde movements share. Art critic Yoshiyuki Fuji has synthesized this into: “Kazuo Shiraga staged a bold action in which he plunged into mud, and Saburo Murakami presented an eccentric performance in which he burst through ten-odd pieces of paper.” The death knell of the movement might be seen as allowing Maekawa’s experimental mind to wander free of such theatricality.

This is the decade when Maekawa began using a sewing machine, and then “by pulling the cloth in every direction and stretching the edges until they were flat, only the lines that I sewed in came out convex.” This is art which unashamedly embraces its element of “craft.” Untitled, 1971, a plywood piece, is contained in a simple wooden frame, whose angular undulations shadow the edge of the artwork, a subtlety which simultaneously underplays and emphasizes the craft of the framing itself.

 

Tsuyoshi Maekawa, Untitled, 1971, 54.5 by 36.5 cm

 

The use of a sewing machine is widely seen as the tool which softened Maekawa’s style in the 1970s, a period where he eschewed bulbous pleats and where his stretching smoothed some of the roughness out of his work. There is plenty of drama in this exhibition however. The visitor will find themselves in a far niche of the ground floor, immersed in the contrast between the aqueous blues of the acrylic on canvas Untitled, 1977 and the rough burlap of Untitled, 1975. The sprayed-colour gradients of the large-scale left, hovering in visual and spatial opposition to the spare, pocket-sized aggression of the right.

The bright pinks and iridescent blues of such works as 1975’s Untitled (acrylic on canvas) attest to Maekawa’s willingness to pursue more “subtlety” in his stitching whilst pursuing more boldness in colour. His palette is often the rosy hue of the western sky in the evening or the joyful yellow of the child’s painting of the forenoon. Stitching moments of time together, or cutting snapshots of the day for safe-keeping, reveal an artist who archives moments of happy memory for posterity.

 

Tsuyoshi Maekawa, Untitled, 1975, 33.2 by 32.8 cm

 

As far as the pairing of the two artists goes, Liberty Paterson, S2’s Gallery Manager, refers to Sotheby’s interest in reframing artists in new contexts, facilitating “discoveries,” when one visitor base intersects with another. In this case, both artists mould and manipulate the material to an abstract end. The passage of time, not in terms of transience, but rather its opposite, the ability to achieve permanence, to reframe time and recall an era at will also seem to tie the two artists together.

Ewen Henderson’s clay sculptures, volcanically glazed, resemble artefacts excavated from under the sea. Aged, era-encrusted, yet unshattered in form, these contemporary relics serve to underline the malleability and the “preservability” of time, an artisanal nod to Einstein and Back to the Future’s flux capacitor. Lurking in the subterranean chamber of S2’s gallery two, this twin presentation of Maekawa and Henderson seems to have been arranged according to gravity, with burlap bobbing to the surface above the stained clay jars dredged from the murky depths below.

Where Henderson’s materials are all described as “mixed clay laminations with oxides and stains,” Maekawa’s presentation juxtaposes canvas, plywood and burlap. The primus inter pares of these remains burlap, which the artist continues to focus on into the present day, noting in full seriousness: “I tried making things with many different materials, but I had a sense that there were still any number of things that I hadn’t done and that were possible with burlap.”

 

Installation of Ewen Henderson’s work
Ewen Henderson, Upright Vessel, circa 1992.

 

Exploring what is, could be or could have been possible, is to investigate the nature of time itself; these questions are at the core of S2’s show in St George’s Street, Mayfair.

 

 

Tsuyoshi Maekawa & Ewen Henderson
Now till September 21, 2018
Sotheby’s S2
London

 

 


 

Nicholas Stephens is from London and has lived in Hong Kong for the last nine years, where he works for a leading Hong Kong gallery, specializing in contemporary ink. His articles on diverse aspects of the Hong Kong arts scene have been published in “Art Hong Kong”. A graduate in Modern Languages (European ones unfortunately!), Nicholas has authored translations of novels and plays by writers including Stefan Zweig and Hugo von Hofmannsthal.

 

 

 
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