Meet the Artist: Ushio Shinohara

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Born in Tokyo in 1932, Ushio Shinohara comes from an artistic family. His father a poet, his mother a nihonga painter and doll maker, Ushio continued the artistic legacy and attended Tokyo University of the Arts in 1952. While his schoolwork focused on Western-style painting, he became disenchanted with academia and drawn to the innovative world of post-war art unfolding around him. In 1957, Ushio left the university to pursue his education independently, pouring over international works of art criticism and avant-garde theorists. Ushio entered the 1960s as a force of the Japanese avant-garde community with his action paintings.

Ushio Shinohara, Purple and Pink on Yellow and White, 2014. Acrylic on canvas. Ronin Gallery.
Ushio Shinohara, Purple and Pink on Yellow and White, 2014. Acrylic on canvas. Ronin Gallery.

Ushio established himself as the enfant terrible of the Japanese art scene, where he gained particular notoriety for his boxing paintings. Attaching sponges to his boxing gloves, Ushio would saturate the gloves with paint and punch his way across a long paper or canvas. Hair shorn into a Mohawk, he produced these works before eager crowds, emphasizing the art of the action itself. In 1960, he was part of the Neo-Dadaism Organizers, an avant-garde group known for its unconventional materials and performances. In 1961, the famed photographer William Klein immortalized Ushio and his boxing paintings. Printed in the 1964 photo collection Tokyo, this photo is echoed by a similar portrait in Klein’s 2013 collection Brooklyn.

Ushio Shinohara, Three Oiran, 1969. Silkscreen. Ronin Gallery.
Ushio Shinohara, Three Oiran, 1969. Silkscreen. Ronin Gallery.

In 1963, Ushio discovered a deep and lasting inspiration in the American avant-garde on the pages of Art International. He promptly began his Imitation Art series (1963), ironizing the work of artists such as Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. Ushio captured the interest of these giants of American art, and even participated in Twenty Questions with Bob Rauschenberg in Tokyo. In 1965, Ushio combined his American influences with Japanese tradition. Upon seeing woodblock prints from the Edo period (1603-1868), Ushio created his Oiran series, blending the iconography of Edo-period courtesans with the vivid colors and geometric shapes so popular within American Pop art.

In 1969, Ushio moved to New York City on a scholarship from the John D. Rockefeller III Fund. Though the scholarship ended after a year, he made New York his permanent home and he began his motorcycle sculptures. While his view from Canal Street presented a grittier New York than he had imagined, Ushio incorporated the city’s found materials and subcultures into his work.  Ushio has been featured in many solo and group exhibitions worldwide, including the National Museum of Modern Art Tokyo, National Museum of Modern Art Kyoto, Museum of Modern Art New York, and the Japan Society New York, to name just a few.

Ushio Shinohara, Roar, 1971. Silkscreen. Ronin Gallery.
Ushio Shinohara, Roar, 1971. Silkscreen. Ronin Gallery.