Nakanishi Natsuyuki: Pushing boundaries

Nakanishi Natsuyuki was born in Tokyo in 1935 and after a life-long passion for art, he graduated from the Oil Painting Department of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music.

Natsuyuki
Photo by na0905

Always one to provoke opinions in others, the shy Nakanishi, together with his friend Imaizumi Yoshihiko, planned a guerrilla art installation in 1962 to position a guillotine outside of the Imperial Palace. In the end, this plan was called off but Nakanishi’s desire to challenge the public though art remained.

In the same year Nakanishi presented his ‘Compact Object’, offering time as a confusing and precious entity by embedding bones, clock parts, watches, eggshells, lenses, and other delicate objects in a polyester egg shape, placing his name firmly on the map.

A year later, he founded the Hi Red Centre with Jiro Takamatsu and Genpai Akasegawa. This avant-garde installation art group had keen intention to display society, relations and ‘humanness’ in its performances through the popularised Neo-Dadaist concepts.

Nakanishi’s most famous public performance ‘Clothespins Assert Agitating Action’ involved covering his face with clothes-pegs and then proceed to walk the streets of Tokyo to study the reactions of bystanders. If the onlookers didn’t seem surprised enough, Nakanishi and others informed of the performance would attach clothes-pegs to the attire of passersby, who would then unknowingly continue the performance.

Afterwards, the pegs would be attached to a canvas and burned, and in doing so, all evidence of his work and its art market value were destroyed. This quite amusing performance showed the concern Nakanishi had for the political actions and the mass consumption caused by the change, or revolution, of daily life.

In later years, Nakanishi turned his back on the rebellious Neo-Dadaism and was more attracted to abstract painting, most famously ‘Behind, Circle’. Keen to keep viewers engaged in his pieces, these paintings are the intellectual works whose subject is the tense and forced relationship between space and paint – the paint acting as a form of thought or concentration, where what is painted is as important as what is left empty – a clear expression of his mediation.

Nakanishi Exhibition
Photo by SCAI THE BATHHOUSE

The works as a series expose the steady changes in his thought process over time. The series title seems to relate to the circles formed in his paintings, vibrant blossom-like shapes are arranged in rings reminiscent of portals, separating the canvas as if it were a wall.

Unusually pretty for an artist greatly influenced by 1960s avant-garde, Nakanishi shows the significance of space and light in his paintings, compared to his earlier more forcibly thought provoking performances. What are your thoughts on the importance of ‘emptiness’ in art? Is there as much of an impact in his later works compared to the earlier artistic acts of rebellion?

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Ramona is a Japanese Studies student living in Oxford. She has a strong interest in Japanese culture, and her favourite subjects are history, art and films.

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