Installation View, Anne Mosseri-Marlio Galerie, Basel, CH

A Theory of Propagation Painting (1961)

Onoda Minoru

While further expanding images derived from several of my most recent experimental works, I would like to provide them with a theoretical back- ground.
The Exposition Internationale de l'Art Actuel, held at the end of 1956, provided Japan with its first introduction to Art Informel, but Art Informel and action painting subsequently led to a blind devotion to these trends that have continued to dominate the art world. This is easily attributable to the Japanese temperament and its Fauvist tendencies.
The reason that Art Informel, which first emerged in the West, took root here was simply that it was adopted as an officially recognized, safe approach devoid of the movement’s original negation and rebellion. The initial aim of action painting, which incorporates the alien element of action into paint- ing as a means of overhauling the image, led to a flood of painting that was merely an emission of physical energy, a huge increase in the kind of wall- like paintings introduced by [Antoni] Tàpies, and paintings that were mistak- enly thought to be spiritually profound. The once popular, dark, high-grade tramp-like expressions, solemn materials, emotional warmth, and spiteful mood can all be seen as characteristics rooted in the Japanese climate.
Some of the recent works that I have attempted are a cynical critique and derisive laugh at this trend, but even before that I was enchanted by the image of an infinite number of identical elements (whether objects or signs) proliferating mechanically.
What interests me most is the infinite number of readymades produced in automated factories. Take, for example, the vacuum tubes that are manu-factured in great numbers everyday. When isolated from radios and TVs and seen only as a massive accumulation of tubes, we can discover a sense of wonder in their vast meaninglessness.
In the past, Surrealism introduced an element of wonder through dépaysement (a collision between foreign objects or images), but I am at- tempting to capture new images by assigning order to an infinite number of identical elements.
To objectify these images, I opted for an infinite number of circles and lines. In the past, I referred to these as “Watashi no Maru (My Circles)” and altered their size according to a linear trajectory based on perspective. The pictures can be viewed in any way, and “Watashi no Maru” can be extended outward from any part of the picture. In addition to obvious things like walls and ceiling, it is easy to paint them on roads and automobiles, and I can turn anything into a work by simply painting a large number of circles on it. Hence, the term “propagation painting.” But this has nothing to do with organic reproduction – these are impoverished, indifferent, mechanical images.
To beat “negation” in this world, it is necessary to endure “meaningless- ness” and be voracious enough to devour the machine. While gazing at the sky absent-mindedly, I dream that “Watashi no Maru” will completely cover the sky and the earth without so much as a gap.

(from the inaugural issue of Himeji bijutsu, December 1961) 
Translated by Christopher Stephens.

WORK69-Q7,1969 (Private Collection, Buenos Aires, AR )

Words (1974)
Onoda Minoru

In contemporary art, the creative space of the plane has become little nothing more than an old-fashioned, limited minimal unit. Moreover, a circular pattern is the simplest and most universal form, making it difficult for the imagination and chance to intervene. By completely eliminating literary or conceptual elements and meanings from the picture plane, it becomes possible to move away from a dramatic place used to capture hands and feet, and draw out the potential of art through a pure realm of colors and patterns. I see this as my current theme, or my form of defiance.

from “Cover Words: Works73-9r,” Asahi Journal, April 1, 1974, Asahi Shimbunsha
Translated by Christopher Stephens.

WORK 85-W,1985/ Private Collection

From interview (2004)
Onoda Minoru

The reason that things exist is because they are connected to everything else. Nothing can exist completely on its own – there are relationships between one thing and another. In the same way, human existence is not just one person living all alone on the earth. It’s all about relationships – interpersonal relationships, parent-child relationships, family relationships, and friendly relationships. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about objects or people or anything else – the basis for every idea is a relationship, and the way the relationship is made creates something new that was not visible to the eye.

from a 2004 interview
Translated by Christopher Stephens.

WORK 01-jan1, 2001/Private Collection

Words (1997)
Onoda Minoru

Where do you establish a border between the constantly changing land and sea in order to make a map? What is the relationship between two things, and the things that subtly fluctuate between them, and the diverging aspects and blank regions that appear on the periphery? I think my interest in the world of relationships that emerges from two things coming into contact with each other, including those in the spiritual world, lie at the core of the ideas in my work.

from The Ashiya City Exhibition 1948-1997, Ashiya City Art Association, et al., 1997 Translated by Christopher Stephens.

WORK 03-jul I, 2003 / Private Collection