For his second exhibition at the gallery in Paris, Izumi Kato has brought together an assembly of strange creatures so diverse that it seems as though an entire macrocosm has been summoned to bear witness to the complexity and beauty of the worlds he explores.
The Japanese artist presents here a diversity of forms and techniques that testify to the complexification of the supernatural pantheon that he has been developing for almost two decades.
When describing the work of Izumi Kato (born in 1969, Shimane Prefecture, Japan), the first thing that inevitably comes to mind are large-eyed humanoid forms with natural protuberances, in wood, canvas, or soft vinyl. On first impression, his proliferation of strange creatures, with their variable sizes, the curious fact that none of them have feet, seem to belong to aliens. It is difficult to say whether they are hostile or benevolent.
2020 is the first time in a while that I have been staying in one place for this long. I enjoy building plastic models and choose old-fashioned robots, animals and beasts that I was familiar with when I was a little kid. I made lots of those model kits and I wondered if I could use them as artworks. Therefore, I make a series of sculptures and incorporate those models. In addition, the packing boxes for the plastic models in early times are so cool - although I have no idea who designed them. I make flat works and use them as inspiration.
Kato seems to want to free himself from all constraints, so that his own creativity is his only limit. It makes sense, then, that he has always been interested in art brut. In its spontaneity, its obliviousness to the codes of art history, art brut shares with his painting a simple but essential diktat: freedom. Technical freedom, to start with, as found in the portraits of Jean Dubuffet, with whose work a number of parallels could be developed here. Without holding himself to standards of excellence or quantifiable results, Kato seeks above all to freely express form and color. He seeks to sculpt the figures in his paintings so naturally and simply that he ends up forgetting his brushes and using his own fingers.
My subjects are human figures, but I don’t emphasize the actual mechanisms of the body at all, and they are not realistic people but human forms that I produce with a large degree of freedom because they are, after all, paintings and sculptures. In other words, what interests me is not the structure of the body. Shapes or forms that appear humanoid are simply the means I used to create works of art.
In nearly twenty-five years of artmaking, Kato’s work has gone through several gradual and regular shifts, manifesting no brusque turns but instead undergoing a slow change in composition and subject, technique and palette.
I think that I am similar to an athlete in the way I work. It is about making decisions and using your talent. In football, it does not matter how much you practice, when you are in a match, you will never receive the same pass you had in practice. That is where talent shows, as skilled person will be able to confront the unknown and react instantly in the best possible way.
Without letting them speak, or even see, Kato allows these beings to exude intense emotions, notably by their postures and through the connections that are created between the viewer and these sculptures, resulting on occasions in a kind of strange vibration that makes them polarizers of energy. It is perhaps this indefinable exchange that bestows on them an aura outside time and space.
– Text by Matthieu Lelièvre
Born in 1969 in Shimane, Japan
Lives and works between Tokyo, Japan and Hong Kong, China
Children with disturbing faces, embryos with fully developed limbs, ancestor spirits locked up in bodies with imprecise forms—the creatures summoned by Izumi Kato are as fascinating as they are enigmatic. Their anonymous silhouettes and strange faces, largely absent of features, emphasize simple forms and strong colors; their elementary representation, an oval head with two big, fathomless eyes, depicts no more than a crudely figured nose and mouth. Bringing to mind primitive arts, their expressions evoke totems and the animist belief that a spiritual force runs through living and mineral worlds alike. Embodying a primal, universal form of humanity founded less on reason than on intuition, these magical beings invite viewers to recognize themselves.
Kato graduated from the Department of Oil Painting at Musashino University in 1992. Since the 2000s, he has garnered attention as an innovative artist through exhibitions held in Japan and across the world. In 2007, he was invited to take part in the 52nd Venice Biennale International Exhibition, curated by Robert Storr.
—More about the artist