Japanese artist Izumi Kato creates surreal embryotic-looking figures through unconventional finger-painting and hand-chiseled softwood sculpture. Simplistic and unusual in appearance Kato's figurative creations are inspired by sources ranging from Japanese pop culture to Shinto spirituality.Read More
Working for several years as a manual labourer Kato launched his artistic career at around the age of 30, through his alternative style of painting. His distinctive childlike technique evolved initially from an act of rebellion against the strict attitude towards painting at the Musashino Art University of Tokyo, from which he graduated in 1992. Echoing the Gutai artists of the 1950s, particularly Kazuo Shiraga, Kato rejected the conventional painter's brush. Instead, the artist applies paint with his hand, wearing latex gloves for protection and easy changes. Focusing on form rather than gestural expression, the smooth uninterrupted lines and contours in Kato's paintings do not suggest at all the artist's direct use of the hand in their creation.
Izumi's early works are relatively abstract in comparison to his more recent surreal figurative works. His use of basic elements such as dots, lines, and circles, however, remains a constant. Kato's painted figures are often solitary, though sometimes two or more form a disjointed group or one bizarrely conjoined entity. Their faces and bodies are often marked by contrasting shapes and colours as if they some Frankenstein-like collage. Posed in some surreal simplified landscape or floating against a neutral background, they are surrounded by pulsating auras of colour.
Now on equal footing with painting in terms of his practice, Kato initially turned to the medium of sculpture in 2005 as a way of working through creative blocks. His sculptures are similar in form to his paintings: depicting surreal primitive creatures, comprised of patched-together elements. A combination of different sections, often the style, shapes, and even the materials used for the heads and bodies in his sculptures are vastly different. Leaving more of a trace of his physical efforts in his sculpture, the soft camphor wood from which Kato hand chisels his creation bears visible tool marks and cracks.
Kato's otherworldly playful creatures reflect the aesthetics of Japanese anime pop culture, such as Hayao Miyazaki films like My Neighbor Totoro and Spirited Away. There is also a traditional, spiritual element; his creations, appearing like mystic creatures and figures found in Shinto shrines, reflect his upbringing in Japan's coastal Shimane prefecture—an area rich in local myths, legends, and old Shinto tradition.
Garnering attention for his broadening practice Kato's work has been exhibited across Japan and internationally, including at Perrotin in Seoul, Shanghai, Tokyo, Paris, and Hong Kong, as well as Item Editions in Paris. In 2007 he was invited to participate in the 52nd Venice Biennale. Living and working in both Tokyo and Hong Kong, he continues to develop and refresh his practice. Besides his gallery-based activity, he also plays drums for Japanese artist-formed band Tetorapotz.
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2019