Educated in Europe and well-versed in Western artistic traditions, the Japanese-born Saburo Hasegawa was a pivotal figure. In Japan, he wrote extensively on European Modernism, and he introduced artists there to Surrealism and Abstract Expressionism. He came to New York in 1951 and again in 1954 as a representative of the Japan Artists Club, exhibiting his work at Willard Gallery, lecturing on Japanese culture at The Club, and solidifying his status as a transnational impresario.

In paintings such as this one, which is now on view in Abstract Expressionism: Looking East from the Far West, Hasegawa merged the gesturalism of Japanese calligraphy (of which he was a master) with the spontaneity of Western abstraction, creating black-and-white compositions that demonstrate the Japanese discipline’s potential for Abstract Expressionism. Though his lectures and teachings exposed artists such as Ad Reinhardt, Willem de Kooning, Adolph Gottlieb, Jackson Pollock, and Mark Rothko to Japanese art and culture, his presence and influence in the New York School has gone largely unrecognized in mainstream histories of Abstract Expressionism. Our exhibition Abstract Expressionism: Looking East from the Far West aims to change that.

Saburo Hasegawa (Japanese, 1906‒1957). Abstract Calligraphy, c. 1955–7. Ink on paper. 51 ¼ x 22 ¾ inches. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Gift of Joseph Brotherton. © Estate of Saburo Hasegawa. Photograph: Don Ross.