New York

Key Hiraga, The Elegant Life of Mr. H, 1970, oil on canvas, 17 7⁄8 × 15".

Key Hiraga, The Elegant Life of Mr. H, 1970, oil on canvas, 17 7⁄8 × 15".

Key Hiraga

Ortuzar Projects

In the work of Key Hiraga (1936–2000), which slid from black line drawings into barking Day-Glo paintings, the human body is the key. Hiraga, who was raised outside of Tokyo, might have been under Dubuffet’s sway—particularly in how the Frenchman rendered his famous tomato-splat heads and bodies of the 1950s. By the mid-’60s, Hiraga’s paintings became less illustrative. And in 1967, he developed a character: a small man with a bowler hat and Brobdingnagian penis who often appears floating around worlds dominated by ecstatic colors and patterns. The figure is like a Japanese analogue to cartoonist Ralph Steadman’s frenetically wrought, Baconesque men and women. Hiraga was loosely associated with the Buraiha (or “unreliable”) collective of Japanese writers, who saw dissolution and pleasure as ways out of the asceticism and dreariness of the postwar period, a path away from the West. Yet

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