Contemporary artist Shinohara pulls no punches with unique style

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ushio Shinohara strikes a pose after his boxing painting performance in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, on Dec. 4.

Bam! Bam! Bam!

The staccato sounds echo throughout the room. But this an art gallery, not a boxing gym, where contemporary artist Ushio Shinohara is creating his latest work of art.

Shinohara, better known by his nickname Gyu-chan, is wearing boxing gloves wrapped with a paint-soaked sponge as he unleashes a succession of punches at a canvas before the audience, a live performance of his unique style he developed and fittingly calls “boxing painting.” The event was held at Anomaly in Tokyo’s Shinagawa Ward in December, the opening day of a solo exhibition titled “Blast!!! My Punches on the Aurora!!!”

He puts his weight into each blow, showing a proper form that belies the fact that he turned 90 on Jan. 17. Watching him now, the amount of splattered paint seemed more than during a similar event in the same building nearly five years ago. He shows no signs of slowing down.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Ushio Shinohara puts on a performance of “boxing painting” in Shinagawa Ward, Tokyo, on Dec. 4.

On this day, he finishes two works a combined 10 meters wide in about 10 minutes. When it’s over, the audience applauds, to which Shinohara responds, “I did it!” while raising a fist.

Shinohara came up with boxing painting in 1959 after dropping out of Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (now the Tokyo University of the Arts). He stopped in 1961, only to resume in 1991, more than 20 years after moving his base from Japan to the United States.

His violent way of creating art is sometimes interpreted as a manifestation of confronting society, but Shinohara says that’s not the case. “I’m not thinking anything,” Shinohara says frankly. “I set aside all of the art techniques and habits I’ve developed over the years and start punching away with no time to stop and think. That brings out the aesthetic sense at my core.”

“But,” he adds with a playful smile: “I’m always saying that I’m responsible only for 50% of my work. People can view my work any way they want. So they are responsible for the remaining 50%.”

One of the two paintings Shinohara created at the event is a colorful piece inspired by the aurora borealis, which he saw on a trip to Alaska in October. That contrasts with the other, a monochrome piece.

The marks from the gloves, the splattering of the paint and its dripping on the canvas, give the viewer the freedom to project whatever is on their mind, such as the pandemic, inequality in society, or even racism.

Shinohara joined the Neo-Dadaism Organizers, a group of avant-garde artists formed in 1960, and attracted attention as a standard-bearer for anti-art. He says that new sculpture pieces presented at the exhibition are works of “de-art,” in which elements of art have been removed.

“There is new art in that. It’s another attempt at contemporary art,” says Gyu-chan, who is still as edgy and stimulating as ever.