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Abstracted white on dark blue ground.

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  • Abstracted white on dark blue ground.




Saitō Yoshishige
Japanese, 1904-2001

About this artwork

A leader of Japanese abstraction throughout his life, Saitō Yoshishige influenced a generation of artists in his home country, particularly those who later defined the Mona-ha movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, which prioritized simple, minimally manipulated natural and industrial materials. Although trained as a painter, as early as the 1930s Saitō began a series of controversial plywood reliefs that were difficult to classify as either painting or sculpture, as those conventional categories were understood at the time. Much of his work was then lost or destroyed during World War II, but Saitō gradually made his way back to the wall-relief format, producing his best-known and intensely physical works—the painted, gouged, and drilled wood panels of the 1960s.

“The ideal is a painting surface that can stand up to the real, concrete colors that have quality and strength,” Saitō once said, insisting that paintings themselves must be understood to—or must be made to—“solidly exist.” In 1960 he first used a power drill to scar the surface of his works; the small circular depressions in this relief were produced by the carefully controlled pressure of such a drill, at once an act of aggression against the previously flat surface of the panel and also a gesture of decoration or elaboration. In this complex composition, the irregular grid of drilled depressions is counterbalanced by the sleek white curved elements collaged around them. Meanwhile the vibrant, almost velvety blue paint appeals as much to a viewer’s sense of touch as to her eye.


Currently Off View


Contemporary Art


Saitō Yoshishige



Date  Dates are not always precisely known, but the Art Institute strives to present this information as consistently and legibly as possible. Dates may be represented as a range that spans decades, centuries, dynasties, or periods and may include qualifiers such as c. (circa) or BCE.



Oil on board


129.5 × 96.5 cm (51 × 38 in.)

Credit Line

Through prior purchase from the Mary and Leigh Block Fund

Reference Number


Extended information about this artwork

Object information is a work in progress and may be updated as new research findings emerge. To help improve this record, please email . Information about image downloads and licensing is available here.


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