Japanese Artist Showcases “Boxing Painting” at Dorsky

Ushio Shinohara doing his signature boxing painting.  Photo by Ethan Genter

A tiny 80-year-old Japanese man with a wispy grey mohawk rolls out a bright green suitcase in front of a wall-length canvas. He puts it down and begins to unpack its contents onto the tarp he is standing on. Ushio Shinohara pulls out a pair of boxing gloves with foam padding tied on with twine, followed by traditional Japanese canvas shoes worn by school children. They are covered in paint splatters. He puts a pair of swim goggles over his eyes. Finally two plastic tubs come out that are filled with forest green and teal paint.

The crowd is excited. The collective moves forward as soon as Shinohara dips his gloves into the tubs. Then with a fierce right hook the artist begins to paint.

Shinohara is performing his signature “Boxing Painting”, which is as fitting a title as possible. He speaks to his interpreter and she relays that he invented the style in 1960. He wants his art to be “speedy, beauty and rhythmical.” [sic]

The performance is all three, especially speedy, taking no longer than 15 minutes.  The canvas is filled with splatters and smears from Shinohara’s uppercuts. Globs of paint from the jabs contrast with the thin lines that spread down after he has finished.

Volunteers line up in white t-shirts and Shinohara proceeds to punch them after the performance, giving them their own wearable pieces of art.

“It didn’t hurt but he pushed me back,” said Takayuki Nagase, a second-year business major, after the show, while hanging up t-shirts for Shinohara to punch for donors.

The boxer/painter has paint splattered across his mohawk and his chest, making him look as if he was bleeding paint. I ask him whether it ever hurts his hands. “No… I condition myself,” he replies as if it was preposterous to ask an 80 year-old man who couldn’t weigh more than 130 pounds if boxing was taxing on his body.

While some art takes time to digest, he pounds the image into the viewer much like the way Shinohara pummels his canvas. It looks as if a paint bomb has gone off and its effect is breathtaking. He is part of the Neo Dada art movement which combines different mediums into one piece.

His style isn’t pin-holed to only “Boxing Painting”. He revels in taking “images and combining them with other images,” said a guide at the Dorsky museum.  He has taken traditional Japanese images and added pop art elements in them to have collages of Coca-Cola bottles, Japanese comics, photographs, and frogs on motorcycles.

The boxing match between man and canvas was part of the New York Conference for Asian Studies, which included a photo exhibition by Veronica O’Keefe, a plenary session with author Ha Jin, and a concert by the Neel Murgai Ensemble. Shinohara also has an exhibit of pop art in the Dorsky Art Museum.

Shinohara has had pieces in the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Guggenheim Museum, and Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. His exhibition will be in the Dorsky Musuem until Dec. 16.

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