Ushio Shinohara

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Ushio Shinohara (born 1932, Tokyo), nicknamed “Gyu-chan”, is a Japanese Neo-Dadaist artist. His bright, large work has been exhibited internationally at institutions including the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Centre Georges Pompidou, the Guggenheim Museum SoHo, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, Leo Castelli Gallery, New York, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles and The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Seoul.,[1] The Tate Modern- World Goes Pop Exhibition.

Shinohara and his wife, Noriko, are the objects of a documentary film by Zachary Heinzerling called Cutie and the Boxer (2013).[2]


Shinohara's parents instilled in him a love for painters such as Cézanne, Van Gogh and Gauguin. His father was a tanka poet who was taught by Wakayama Bokusui. Shinohara’s mother was a Japanese painter who went to school at Woman’s Art University (Joshi Bijutu Daigaku) in Tokyo.

In 1952 Shinohara entered the Tokyo Art University (later renamed to Tokyo University of the Arts), majoring in oil painting.

Neo Dadaism Organizers[edit]

In 1960 Shinohara participated in a group called "Neo-Dada Organizers". This group of artists showed their works of art in an exhibition in the 1960s called the Yomiuri Independent Exhibition. This exhibition was sponsored by a newspaper and was open to the public and was not judged by anyone. This type of exhibition was a form of an anti-salon and was a stepping stone for Shinohara’s sculptures of found objects which acquired the label of “junk art.” Later, while living in New York, to save money on canvases (which were, and still are expensive) Ushio would wander the alleyways collecting scraps of cardboard which he would bring back to his studio, wash, and then use to create his sculptures (so-called "junk art") composed of other found objects including discarded trash, motorcycle parts, and other mass-produced tokens of modern society.

The Neo Dadaism Organizers, including fellow Yomiuri Independent Exhibition participants Akasegawa Genpei, Shusaku Arakawa, and Yoshimura Masanobu, eventually transitioned into the Neo Dada movement. The Neo-Dada movement can be considered a phase into Pop Art and was influenced by many of the avante-garde artists. The art that was crafted during the Neo Dada movement was made with everyday items. Another artist who was influenced by Neo-Dadaism was Andy Warhol.

During this time Shinohara created paintings called “boxing paintings” in which the artist dipped boxing gloves in sumi ink or paint and punched paper or canvas in order to splatter it with pigment.[3]

Shinohara, similar to many action-painting oriented artists of the 1950s and 1960s, cared more for the gesture and vitality, and less for the beauty of the image. As Julia Cassim observed in her 1993 review of Shinohara's retrospective at Tsukashin Hall – Amagasaki, Japan, “His kaleidoscopic paintings of pneumatic, rubber-nippled nudes, bikers and Coney Island’s garish glories are painted in the acid reds, greens and pinks common to Asian street fairs from Tokyo to Bombay. They burst at the seams with detail. Seemingly slapdash and rapidly painted, they are, in fact, as carefully composed as any more formal work.”[4]

In 1982, the Japan Society in New York City hosted an exhibition of Shinohara's work, entitled "Tokyo Bazooka." It was curator Alexandra Munroe's first project at the museum after having studied Japanese art through the mid-19th century, and reportedly inspired her research into modern and contemporary Japanese artists practice, including the 1994 exhibition and catalogue "Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky."[5]

New York[edit]

By 1965 the Neo-Dada Organizers group gave way and Shinohara left for New York in 1969 with a grant from the John D. Rockefeller the third Fund. To visit New York was Shinohara’s dream; he left with the intention of staying in New York for a short period of time to work and create new ideas because of the different surroundings. After being there for some time, he came to love the city's spirit, and the different mix of ethnicities so much he decided not to return to Japan.

In 1965, before Shinohara left for New York, he started one of his most successful works called "Oiran". An oiran is a title given to the highest ranking of a geisha, but instead of making his work look beautiful to represent what an oiran's personality was really like, he made her look ugly and based this work off work in the Edo Period (1603-1868). This time period can, in a way, be called the beginning of the modern period of Japan.

The "Oiran" work of art was a backlash or rejection of what society believed to be beautiful. He used fluorescent paint and showed the grotesque beauty that was ignored many times in Japanese art. For the "Oiran Series", Shinohara was awarded a prize by the William and Norma Copley Foundation.

In New York he loved being a tourist, and getting inspiration from anything and anyone he ran into. He kept with the concept of reinventing different American art such as comics and neo-dada works. He remained fixed on the freedom of America, he knew very few people in America and his English was extremely poor, but because of these hardships his work excelled. It was easier for him to express his ideas because of all the new experiences that were going on around him.

His next works of art became motorcycles done around 1970. In his mind, motorcycles represented America. He created these motorcycle works out of discarded objects--primarily scraps of cardboard he washed and soaked in water to make them pliant, shaping them almost like paper-mache. They were rough, vigorous sculptures. The motorcycles were reminiscent of what America meant to him, but many times these sculptures had geishas riding on the back seat. The sculptures were painted in shades of green, pink and red which paralleled the colors of Asian street fairs in Tokyo, and they were full of detail, extremely carefully composed, and extremely large. Shinohara wanted these pieces to have a great effect on the viewer and sought to accomplish that with the composition, vivid colors and the scale of the work.

Around 1990, he turned to boxing-painting once more using a huge piece of paper and boxing gloves dipped into neon paint. This art was soon turned into a performance. He also turned these performances into ‘battles’ where he battles against other artists before a crowd, usually in New York.

In 1990, Ushio Shinohara's work was part of a traveling exhibition that was sponsored by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Also his boxing-painting and motorcycle sculptures were a part of an exhibition at MoMA from September 17 through November 6, 2005. Shinohara's work "Coca-Cola Plan" (1964) was included in "Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde" with ran from November 18, 2012 until February 25, 2013 at the MOMA in New York.[6]


Photographer Tomatsu Shomei was one of the strongest influences on his art. Shomei was a Japanese photographer who studied at Aichi University. He took photos for Japanese photography magazines that were controversial and showed contemporary images. Shinohara was also influenced by Hollywood culture, comic books and the culture of jazz. He created works of art that were very expressionistic and was very interested in making avant-garde work. The ‘goal’ of avante-garde artists was to make art that was new and experimental, they had to do with the ‘now’ and reflected art, culture and politics.

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