Shiryu Morita (1912-1998)
Sumi Ink on Paper, 1960
Dimensions: 23 x 35 ½ inches (58.42 x 90.17 cm.)
Born in Toyōka, Japan in 1912, Morita Shiyu became an important figure in the avant-garde calligraphic movement of his time. He depicted characters in abstraction, seemingly so far removed from their standard representation that only the title of the work provided the link between the inked form and the character he was expressing. In this work, the Japanese title, “Raku”, means comfort and ease. As the viewer observes the painting, the calming sense of ease could be felt through the nebulousness and softness of the brushstrokes, floating on canvas with spontaneity, inviting the viewer into a meditative state of mind.
The seeds for avant-garde calligraphy in Japan were first planted by Hidai Tenrai (1872–1939) in his 1933 Calligraphy Art Society known as the Shodo Geijutsu Sha. Hidai Tenrai, also commonly referred to as the Father of Modern Calligraphy in Japan, felt that the purpose of practicing calligraphy was to educate the human spirit. The art form was to become an expression of the spirit itself.
In 1940 Hidai Tenrai’s pupil Ueda Sokyu (1896–1963) established the Keiseikai, an avant-garde calligraphy group. Its members included Morita Shiryu amongst a few others. The members of the group continued to implement the ideas of the Shodo Geijutsu Sha, but in 1952, Morita Shiryu left the Keiseikai to establish the Bokujinkai with Inoue Yu-Ichi and Eguchi Sougen. Their main emphasis was on individualized study and expression, and they refused to participate in large scale exhibitions or organizations. For these young scions, the artistic pursuit of radical innovations in the ancient art form of calligraphy was, in part, provoked by their sense of threat posed by Western modernity.
In 1951, Morita became the editor of the influential visual and literary journal Bokubi (Ink Art). The journal continued for thirty years and became internationally famous for introducing calligraphy to the West, and for establishing connections with artists such as Franz Kline. For Morita, the modern rejuvenation of calligraphy lay in the exploration of its true form; he believed that the practice would enable calligraphy to have a universal relevance and accessibility. Henceforth, he encouraged fellow calligraphers to revitalize their expressions through experimentations with abstraction. Nevertheless, in excess of experimenting, it is vital that the work should always maintain a linguistic connection.