Kumi Sugaï b. 1919, Kobe, Japan; d. 1996, Kobe
Oil on canvas
63 5/8 x 51 inches (161.6 x 129.5 cm)
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York
Kumi Sugaï lived and worked in Paris from 1952 until his death. Revered both in his native Japan and France, he used his early fascination with modern typography and his knowledge of East Asian calligraphy in his work. Combining and reinventing traditional aesthetics and contemporary forms, Sugaï reveals his syncretic approach to abstract painting in Shiro (June 1957). Here, his palette is restricted essentially to black, white, and blue, and the composition is at once spare and dynamic. The painting’s title is a reference to its central black form, the ideogram shiro, which means white. He has enlarged the character to occupy the entire composition and placed this abstract form on a white ground, both evoking and distorting its original calligraphic source.