A rhabdomancer and the gold of the memory

I don’t know why, but I find it beautiful”. People looking at Yasuo Sumi’s paintings often say that. Even if such a comment may sound naïve and lacking of depth to a demanding critic, it is no so shallow as it seems. On the contrary, in it you can look for the deepest meanings of Sumi’s works.
Let’s start from a general, preliminary remark about abstract painting. When an abstract work is perceived as agreeable, at a first glance it provokes a pre–verbal aesthetic emotion in watchers. While figurative paintings offer the mind an immediate clue to explain their beauty, abstract ones, apart from colour, do not. Their beauty is naked of words, indefinable, aesthetically enigmatic.
Sumi’s paintings don’t make any difference. People find them beautiful without a reason why.
In the broad panorama of abstractism, the Osakan master (like other Gutai artists) shows something unique. The sensation of beauty provoked by his works has an explanation. It can be found in Sumi’s and Gutai’s poetics; better, in the archetypical abysses of our biological memory.
In “Gutai bullettin n. 6”, published in 1957 by Sadamasa Motonaga, the sense of beauty is assimilated to an instinct. Motonaga’s thesis is based on evolutionistic theories. Referring tothe biochemical hypothesis of Oparin, Motonaga sets up a relationship between primordial organisms and man. In both of them there’s a tension toward enjoyment, and then the need of distinguishing between what’s good, nourishing and what’s noxious, unpleasant. Instinct (“an essential evolutive element”) is the factor operating this selection. Human instincts are then the result of the endless chain of “choices” called evolution.
Motonaga says that even the sense of beauty is a ring of such a chain. As an affording pleasure element, “it has been formed as a fundamental instinctive requisite. The sense of beauty is something growing from experience, but not regarding only our brief, individual history: we carry on with us the baggage of biological experiences stratified throughout evolution”. (“Man – Sumi agrees – is a product of nature and therefore he contains its
24 power, a huge force similar to the energy released by an earthquake or a typhoon. I feel that I have this strength myself and my art is its expression”).
If the archetypes of instinct and of beauty exist in us, we can also project them outside and materialize them ( the term “Gutai” actually means “ the taking shape of beauty”); but the condition for that is sinking in the abysses of archetypical memory, getting in touch with the deepest layers of mind.
Sumi’s idea that ”thinking of nothing” is a condition for creation is meaningful: “notthinking”allows him to cross the deposits of personal memory and to reach the depth of the“cultural” layers of mind. He then becomes a sort of dowser searching for archetypes: his tools – comb, abacus,umbrella- are like the diviner’s pendulum and rod used to find water and metals hidden under earth surface. As he gets in touch with the archetypical dimension
of mind, the gold of memory can resurface. All his paintings can be therefore seen as diagrams of the primary layers of psyche, as memory of one’s oblivious Self.
Sumi’s works remarkably present a recurring structure: they appear as large colour spots over which the artist plots curved lines with a centripetal movement. They seem to represent an energetic nucleus, the core of vital energy generating the tracks of thought and action.
These tracks always have an harmonic, musical course: all his works seem to indicate that music and harmony deeply resound in us. Listening to them- we may add- is our task.
Martino Scacciati