Shiryū Morita

Born in Toyooka, Hyogo Prefecture, Japan, Morita lectured and traveled extensively throughout his life. He was a founder of the Bokujin Group in 1952, an important association of Japanese calligraphers, which ranks among the most influential and innovative of the postwar avant-garde traditional arts groups.


Morita’s works have been exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the National Museum of Modern Art in Tokyo, the National Museum of Modern Art in Sydney, Australia and the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. He participated twice in the Sao Paulo Biennale. In 1962 Morita helped organize ‘Schrift und Bild’ (“Writing and Image”), which was held the following year in Baden-Baden at the National Museum of Fine Arts, after which the exhibition traveled to Amsterdam. He had many solo gallery exhibitions in Kyoto, Brussels, Paris and New York.


His groundbreaking and intense style of abstracted calligraphy, motion and action with the brush are as important as the characters he chooses to paint. In The Art Institute of Chicago’s essay about ‘Dragon Knows Dragon’ (the work in the Institute’s collection) the following characterization is written: “The notion of abstraction had been part of the practice of East Asian calligraphy for many centuries and Morita wrote often about the interplay between traditional Japanese calligraphy and abstract art in the West. He collaborated with European artists of the Abstract Expressionist movement such as Pierre Alechinsky and Georges Mathieu, and American artists Mark Tobey and Franz Kline influenced and were influenced by contemporary Japanese calligraphy such as Morita’s works.”


In Morita’s own words: “In the Orient the mere act of writing characters had an honorable history of three thousand years since it was raised to the level of a fine art called Sho. While the act of writing characters may appear to be no more than the movement of the hand or body, what we mean by sho is something different.”

Calligraphy is considered a two-dimensional art of ink on paper, yet through the movement and rhythm of the brush, the tone of the ink, its gradation and contrast, its saturation and the addition of new materials and techniques it gains color and an almost three-dimensional presence. Morita progressed from traditionally ground ink of the early years to ink enhanced with lamp black or other new materials, he used synthetic glues instead of nikawa (animal glue) as an adhesive, and eventually experimented with aluminum flake pigment mixed with nikawa or glue medium over black paper, covered in lacquer for his signature shikkin technique.


Much like Inoue Yūichi’s work, Morita’s calligraphy became so evolved and full of movement that some of the characters that he painted need identification, so the viewer can understand the meaning.