is currently presenting Izumi Katos third solo exhibition at the Paris gallery. For this occasion, the artist showcasing new sculptures and paintings filled with hybrid creatures from his singular artistic universe. For any connoisseur of Japanese art, the ambiguous phenomena that have characterized Izumi Kato's work for more than two decades may seem familiar. Yet there is never any complete correspondence, only omnipresent echoes, the distinctive signs of a highly singular artistic universe.
Japan is a world of islands, waters, and a myriad of strange creatures. From time immemorial, everything there has been a source of prolife- ration, sometimes lively and joyful, sometimes frightening and morbid. The vegetation, the rocks, the mountains, the gushing streams, the volcanoes, the stones, and 100-year-old things, are all receptacles or sources of buzzing animation.
Japan is a world filled with spirits: the kami of Shintoism and older pri- mitive religions, and the y˘kais, spirits, ghosts, monsters", terrifying or seductive, populating Japan's landscape in their infinite variety.
Every child has feared them, every adult remembers them: they have inspired Japanese artists for centuries.
Are Izumi Kato's beings from this earth or, as is sometimes claimed, aliens from another planet? But Japan already created this non-terres- trial world centuries ago, a realm that is infra- or supra-, rather than extra-terrestrial. Here, as is well known in Japan, strangeness resides. This also applies to Izumi Kato's odd creatures, shamanic and distur- bing, melancholic yet burlesque, close cousins of the creatures pro- duced by the visionary, defiant, and mischievous brush of the great painter Kawanabe Kyosai (1831-1889). Once begun, this game of correspondence never ceases to shed light on Kato's work. The dis- tinctive appearance of his faces, with their enlarged eyes, often wit- hout pupils, the whole shaped by nose and mouth, the impression of being covered with ritual make-up, all this has numerous echoes in the fantastical prints produced in the 19th century, during the latter part of the Edo period and the Meiji era of Imperial Japan (1868-1912). Kato's work must be considered in relation to Utagawa Kunyoshis prints (1797-1861), one of the masters of the genre. In the work of Kunyoshi, the yokai are startling hybrids with bulging eyes, large jaws, and strange faces that seem like theatrical masks.
But above all the yokai are ambiguous beings from a world whose creative powers seem endless. Looking at the hand- and footless limbs of Kato's characters, one is reminded of Ichiyusai Kuniyoshis playful prints of "demon-shaped plants" (1844-1847). Yet what sets Izumi Kato's creatures apart from all this pleasant, swaggering bluster is their silence. His work is characterized by a seriousness absent from the other works. - Sophie Makariou
Since the 2000s, Katos "untitled" sculptures, paintings, and drawings have featured hybrid figures (their limbs and breath producing vege- tal or human shoots), budding flowers (often lotuses, the Buddhist flower par excellence, a symbol of purifying transformation plunging its roots into the mud), and other beings (human heads or homunculi han- ging from bodies like clusters of ganglia). In the latter case, the multi- plication is truly monstrous; the lotuses dont proliferate. But they spring from an exhalation that evokes another type of Japanese art, the He-Gassen emaki (literally "fart scroll"), some of which show yokai fighting in a mad battle of winds (like the "Shinn˘ scroll" in the Hy˘go History Museum). The strange small creatures that spring up like ganglia from the larger figures also recall battles against monstrous animals, like the heroic struggle against the giant tarantula Tsuchi- gumo, at the end of which thousands of human skulls emerge from the spiders severed neck. The play of mirrors between Kato's work and Japanese art creates limitless perspectives.
Yet its forms and spatial arrangement also produce a unique language. At times he reduces his small figures with their still-recognizable heads to disheveled beings abandoned against a wall; carved in wood, he piles them up "on the edge", stacked like discarded totems, creating groups and temples without worshippers in a deconsecrated space, recalling the crises that Japan experienced under the Meiji government when Buddhist temples were attacked to promote "native" Shintoism. The totemic immobility of Izumi Kato's painted and sculpted works is strikingly melancholic. These figures are endless questions, beyond any specific place or time, as Japanese as they are ours, wherever we are. They challenge our gaze, drawing us in, inter- rogating what makes us mortal. - Sophie Makariou
June 2nd, 2023 - July 29th, 2023