Product Description


Morita Shiryū (1912-1999)

Ryū (Dragon)

Aluminum flake pigment in polyvinyl acetate medium and yellow alkyd varnish on paper and wood panel

Signed, titled and dated 1965 on the artist’s certificate label affixed to the reverse, framed


With frame H. 160.5cm x W. 82cm (63¼” x 32¼”)

Painting H. 158cm x W. 79cm (62¼” x 31¼”)

Published: Inada Sōsai ed., Morita Shiryū: Catalogue Raisonné, 1952–1998, (Kyoto, 2019), no. XVII-504

Morita Shiryū was born in Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture and studied sho (calligraphy) under the influential and ground-breaking calligrapher Ueda Sōkyū (1899-1968). Sōkyū was a charismatic teacher introducing his talented pupils to avant-garde sho and its definition as the art of the line.

Having received numerous awards from important Japanese exhibitions such as the 1937 Inten (Japan Art Institute Exhibition) where he won the Tokusen silver award,Morita became more and more fascinated with the performance involved in the writing of sho and the similarities between the expressive calligraphic line and what was developing within the Abstract Expressionist art scene of the West. In 1948 he launched the magazine Shonobi (beauty of calligraphy) under the leadership of his master Ueda Sōkyū with the intention of promoting avant-garde sho.

The notion of abstraction had been part of the practice of East Asian calligraphy for many centuries, and Morita often wrote about the interplay between traditional Japanese calligraphy and abstract art in the West. These observations were catalogued in a second journal entitled Bokubi which was first edited and published by Morita in 1951 and featured an image of a calligraphic painting by Franz Kline on its cover. Distributed internationally, the journal became extremely influential within the Western art world, causing a further interest in the Japanese aesthetic followed by an array of collaborations and international exhibitions with European artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement such as Pierre Alechinsky (b.1927) and Georges Mathieu (1921-1912), and American artists Mark Tobey (1890-1976) and Franz Kline (1910-1962). With the help of such innovative publications and the possibility of international exposure, modern Japanese calligraphers such as Morita and fellow like-minded artist Inoue Yūichi soon became an international sensation.

In 1952, five disciples of Ueda Sōkyū including Morita co-founded the legendary Bokujinkai (Society of Ink People). He joined forces with Inoue Yūichi (1916-1985), Eguchi Sōgen (1919-), Sekiya Yoshimichi (b.1920) and Nakamura Bokushi (dates unknown) and together they further advocated the emancipation of the calligraphic line away from its traditional form and experimented using unorthodox materials. The beauty of the line itself is held as a self-evident attribute and the execution of the writing becomes the focus. Morita placed the performance of a piece at the centre of his definition of calligraphy. The kanji character is written in one defining moment with confident strokes. The calligrapher penetrates to a deeper level of understanding and the character is understood in a different, more profound way.

In terms of style and format, Morita Shiryū’s works are groundbreaking. He preferred to use an oversized brush, working quickly across the surface. Whilst works such as the example presented here may appear to be executed using the rather slow process of Japanese lacquer, in actuality the metallic silver paint is applied swiftly onto the surface and later covered with a coat of fast drying yellow varnish achieving a similar effect.Morita’s vigorous style often results in abstract forms which no longer appear to be recognisable characters yet they retain their original essence enhanced with a new vitality.

Works by the artist can be found in the collections of: Art Institute of Chicago, Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art, Cincinnati Art Museum, Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri

Selected solo exhibitions:

1963   Sho Modern Calligraphy, Mi Chou Gallery, New York

1964   Yamada Gallery, Kyoto

1965   Olaf Hudtwalcker Gallery, Frankfurt

1970 – 1990  Morita Shiryū, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa  (exhibition toured the world)

1986  Morita Shiryū , Kyoto Munincipal Museum of Art, Kyoto

1990 Ein Japanischer Schreibmeister, Klingspor-Museum, Offenbach am Main, Germany

1992  Shiryu Morita and Bokubi, Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Modern Art, Kobe

2013  Modernist Sho Calligraphy – Paintings by Shiryū Morita, John Molloy Gallery, New York

Selected group exhibitions:

1937   2nd Inten Exhibition, Tokyo – Tokusen silver Award

1938   Nichiman Calligraphy Exhibition, Tokyo – Ministry of Education Award

1953   Japanese Architecture and Calligraphy, Museum of Modern Art, New York

1954  Japanese and American abstraction, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

          Abstract Japanese Calligraphy, Museum of Modern Art, New York

1958  Carnegie International Exhibitions, Pittsburgh

Modern Abstract Japanese Calligraphy, The Museum of Modern Art, New York

Abstract Painting Exhibition, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

1959  São Paulo Art Biennial, São Paulo

1960  Japanese calligraphy, Freiburg, Germany

1961  São Paulo Art Biennial, São Paulo

          Carnegie International Exhibitions, Pittsburgh

1962  Contemporary Japanese Plastic Arts, Tokyo National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

1963  Tendency of Contemporary Japanese Painting, National Museum of Modern Art, Sydney

          Modern Trends, National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto

1964  Contemporary Japanese Painting, Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

1966  Japanese Art Today, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia

1992  Calligraphy and Painting: The Passionate Age: 1945-1969, O Art Museum, Tokyo

1994   Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky, Yokohama Museum of Art, Yokohama and Guggenheim SoHo, New York

2002    Writepainting: Marks in a Japanese Vein, Museum of Fine Arts, Gifu

For a pair of panels by the artist treated in a similar manner see: The Collection-Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art 1993, p.266, no.30. For a large four-fold screen see: Beyond Golden Clouds Japanese screens from The Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum, pp. 196/197.