March 24 - May 18, 2024
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Hong Kong


The art of Kato Izumi is characterized by a series of captivating humanoid figures, their identities veiled in mystery. This recurring motif acts as an archetype revisited by Kato again and again, encapsulating "a visual anthropology of not-exactly-human-but-humanoid figuration." These figures evoke reminiscences of Kodama, tree spirits seen in Japanese anime, bearing qualities reminiscent of fictional extra-terrestrial beings.

Photo: Ringo Cheung. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin ©2024 Izumi Kato.
Photo: Ringo Cheung. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin ©2024 Izumi Kato.
Photo: Ringo Cheung. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin ©2024 Izumi Kato.
Photo: Ringo Cheung. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin ©2024 Izumi Kato.
Photo: Ringo Cheung. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin ©2024 Izumi Kato.
Photo: Ringo Cheung. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin ©2024 Izumi Kato.

In Kato’s work, these small figures have slender limbs without hands or feet and are frequently described as "alien-like," "humanoid," "expressionless," "Sphinx-like," "ghostly," "primitive," and "totemic"... They often appear in pairs, gazing out from the canvas with round, hollow eyes. The heads are typically the most fleshed, in particular their faces which are distinctly stylized and often feature a brilliant color palette. In some cases, their eyes are even crafted from various stones, creating reflections.

These figures are connected to the tradition of pantheistic polytheism in Shintoism and the devout animism of Japan’s indigenous culture. Kato’s upbringing in Shimane Prefecture in western Japan, a coastal area renowned for its myths and legends, serving as the backdrop of Kato’s childhood, gradually becoming a significant influence on his visual language.

While many viewers are already acquainted with the mysterious humanoid figures in the artist's portfolio, works in this exhibition reveal a recent shift: the introduction of animal figures and their significant connection to anatomy. In Kato's previous works, animal elements often appeared in an anthropomorphic manner, but now they have evolved into independent and tangible forms, coexisting with the perennial protagonists, the humanoid figures. In some paintings, animal figures even assume dominant roles, relegating human figures to secondary positions.

These works depict animals standing on or lying beneath humanoid figures, whispering to them, or swimming alongside them in the ocean. If the previous works conveyed a sense of loss through the humanoid figures' perpetual search and solitude, it seems that they have now found companions for their journey. This intriguing role reversal depicted in the new works naturally evokes connections with the growing discourse of posthumanism and animal studies in recent years. It may signify the imagination of re-forging cross-species kinship or serve as a reflection of our reality in the post-pandemic era and global climate crises.

These humanoid figures also exhibit features that resemble both animals and plants. In some past paintings, their legs and feet become stem-like branches, flowers blooming at the tips, leaves growing on top of their heads. They sometimes stand on all fours, resembling centaurs or beings that are half-human, half-deer. The facial structure and palette become increasingly complex and intricate, with contrasting colour blocks and bold lines, offering insight into the artist's fascination with anatomy.

Dualism is another recurring theme in Kato's works. The figures in his paintings and sculptures are frequently divided into two halves, a structure seen consistently in his style. The new works introduce additional dualisms, including the interplay between the interior and exterior, and the juxtaposition of humans and animals. In the plastic sculpture pieces, an intricate skeletal structure is enclosed within a transparent vinyl shell, with animal characters serving as anatomical counterparts.

View of Izumi Kato's solo presentation at Galerie Perrotin, Paris, 2023. Photo: Claire Dorn. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin ©2023 Izumi Kato.

The works in this exhibition seem to emanate from a series of nine sculptures from Kato’s solo exhibition in 2023 at Perrotin Paris, where figures and groupings form new archetypes. Notably, elements of landscapes begin to emerge in both sculptures and paintings, resembling dioramas with mountains, rocks, and vegetation. The small humanoid figures are seen riding fish on the water's surface or standing atop an erupting Mount Fuji. An apocalyptic undertone permeates the works, which stage an encounter and recombination of various prototypes. The somewhat mechanical presentation of animal anatomy originated from educational toys related to animal anatomy – prototypes of prototypes. The creative process, starting from models to paintings, and then from paintings to sculptures, sculptures back to paintings, forms a closed loop.

In a somewhat speculative interpretation, the evolution of these figures, as I perceive it, indicates that in the early 1990s, Kato leaned towards an almost unified monochromatic palette with earthy and mineral hues. Intense colors were occasionally reserved solely for the heads and genitalias of the small humanoid figures. Their shapes were rawer, conveying distinct expressions of despair and anxiety. In recent years, the works have become more vibrant in color, with relatively richer backgrounds. However, emotional signifiers have become more ambiguous, with the gaze of the humanoid figures displaying a sense of confusion and loss. The treatment of facial expressions and the internal aspects of the bodies resemble landscapes. The deadpan expression of the small humanoid figures and the malleability they bring may be considered one of Kato's core methodologies in his creative process. This intentional blurring, and consistent use of untitled nomenclature, render the identity of the protagonist mysterious. One can also observe layers and layers of transformations, seemingly representing the artist's refusal to adhere to a specific set of interpretations. The figures do not speak, they do not commit. In Kato's ambiguous symbolism, they are both spirits floating in deep forests and mountains, and witnesses of modernity's disillusionment in the Capitalocene.

Izumi KATO

Born in 1969 in Shimane, Japan
Lives and works between Tokyo, Japan and Hong Kong, China

Izumi Kato was born in 1969 in Shimane, Japan; now 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.

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