b. 1980, Japan

Kei Imazu Biography

Kei Imazu was born in Yamaguchi Prefecture in 1980. She lives and works in Kanagawa Prefecture, south of Tokyo.

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Imazu works mainly in oil paints, however she constructs and builds the drafts for her final compositions via other mediums, such as digital collage and photography. She has an impressive eye for colour and texture, and uses everything around her to inspire her work. Imazu admits herself that she sees the world in shapes and colours, and that she isn’t interested in the contexts they’re in. Her focus on colours and shapes lend her paintings drama, vibrancy and a feeling of movement. Imazu creates collages on her computer using images she has taken herself, from magazines, or the internet and re-imagines them into something new. Her oil paintings are much like puzzles, composed of parts of photographs from her collages into a re-imagined scene. Due to the combination of painting and photography, there is an element of realistic vagueness in Imazu’s work, where objects are at once there and also just a blur of paint.

It wasn’t until university when Imazu focused on art, and she chose oil painting thanks to advice from her prep-school teacher. She achieved a BA in Oil painting and an MA from Tama Art University in Tokyo, Imazu began collecting images in her fourth year of university. She saves all her images on her computer in folders for each year, with every file dated and organised. Photos bring an element of reality to Imazu’s work, as she would rather connect herself and her works to the outside world than focus on herself and her imagination. Instead of finding it restricting, Imazu instead finds it liberating with the scope of her works becoming limitless, as things that really exist in this world are often unimaginable.
Imazu admits that she finds rubbish and dilapidated buildings interesting, and prefers to visit them in person, to get a real sense of the people who used or made the spaces in question. It’s the loss of meaning that interests Imazu, as those discarded objects or places used to have a purpose which has gone. Then when she paints them, their meaning is lost even further, becoming simply colours and shapes on a canvas. Imazu also chooses to focus on their details, such as the change in texture as a rubber hose lies on a blanket, or the interesting way that a window has broken.

The incorporation of garbage into her beautifully painted works serves multiple purposes. It carries an emotional back story, such as the combination of photos she took of a disaster-hit area near a factory where her father worked in Ishinomaki City, and the Death of Sardanapalus painted by Delacroix in 1827. She also referenced Jeff Wall’s The Destroyed Room (1978) which was also inspired by The Death of Sardanapalus in another painting. This inspired idea fuses together images of disasters from history and the present, the East and the West, and classic masterpieces to current reality. However for Imazu, she does not invest herself too emotionally within her paintings, as it is the transition of subject to object through painting that interests her. That everything she paints becomes just that – paint. Using garbage and wreckage also give her works an element of light and dark, good and bad. Her works do not seek to point out the bad side of humanity or society, but gives us an all-round view.  She paints the real world and twists something rather horrible into a beautiful scene, a talent that Imazu attributes to Delacroix.

Although she aims to reduce her paintings to mere lines, shapes and colours, Imazu has unintentionally brought forth a deluge of hidden meanings, and second guessing for the viewer. From a distance her works are stunningly beautiful, but the closer you get, the more you see the filth the beauty is formed from.  Imazu’s paintings are full of contrasts, historical and modern, Eastern yet Western, real yet unrealistic, gorgeous but horrifying, clean but messy. It is Imazu’s detailed outlook on our world, and her talent for recomposing those images into something timeless that makes her work truly memorable.

Imazu has won a number of awards, including the “Encouragement Award” at the 5th Kinutani Koji Awards in 2013, and the “Prize for Excellence” at VOCA in 2009. She also took part in the “VOCA 2009” group exhibition at the Ueno Royal Museum in Tokyo, and “Taguchi Art Collection TAG-TEN”, Matsumoto City Museum of Art (Nagano Prefecture, 2014).
Text by Rosemary Pennells.

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