Izumi Kato’s haunting humanoids turn heads in New York

Izumi Kato’s haunting humanoids turn heads in New York

The Japanese artist’s new body of work – now on view at Perrotin New York – features otherworldly sculptures and paintings that fall between a sci-fi future and ancient history 

The haunting, mysterious imagery with which the Japanese artist Izumi Kato has made a name for himself is as otherworldly as it is subject to interpretation. Following a successful show at Perrotin gallery in Paris last year, Kato presents a new body of work at the gallery’s New York location this month after a five-year hiatus from the city.

Taking over two floors of the gallery’s historic Lower East Side space, Kato’s latest works range from new mixed-media sculptures and installations to paintings in a variety of scales. The exhibition showcases not only the artist’s significant output in recent years, but also his dexterity across mediums. With works installed in vignettes around the gallery space, either as a cluster of spirits or as stoic, sphinx-like beings, the show culminates in an assemblage of fabric and soft vinyl sculptures that are suspended through the building’s three-storey stairwell.

inside Izumi Kato’s Tokyo studio with work for his current show at Perrotin New York
inside Izumi Kato’s Tokyo studio with work for his current show at Perrotin New York
Above and below: inside Izumi Kato’s Tokyo studio with work for his current show at Perrotin New York. Photography: Yuu Takagi. © 2021 Izumi Kato. Courtesy of the artist and Perrotin

The self-titled exhibition casts Kato’s ghostly, humanistic figures in an unadulterated fashion. Embryonic in form, and configured with hollow eyes, reduced limbs and bulbous heads, the way each figure is positioned – be it painted on soft textiles or constructed as an arrangement of stones, quietly gazing forward – conveys an omnipotent aura that invites viewers to contemplate another realm. Mirroring the belief in animism as it stems from Shinto tradition, Kato’s paintings and sculptures appear almost as vessels that serve to house spirits from another world. Whether made from solid wood and stone or fashioned from textiles that are then bound in chains and weighted to the floor, these entities hover eerily between two realms.

Kato’s approach to creating is as instinctive as his work indicates. Born in 1969 in Shimane, Japan, the artist generates enigmatic imagery that reflects the confluence of cultural beliefs that he was exposed to growing up. ‘Shintoism, Buddhism, and Animism are all mixed in my hometown. I am influenced by my upbringing, where everything has a life of its own,’ he explains via a translator. ‘I am aware that the human form I paint is not a specific person, but instead, I am using a person’s shape to paint. It could be you, and it could be me. I don’t know who it is. Using such an anonymous person, I am not focusing on the individual, but on the being itself.’

 Izumi Kato, Untitled, 2020. Oil on canvas
Izumi Kato, Untitled, 2020, Soft vinyl, leather, silicon, string
Above: Izumi Kato, Untitled, 2020. Oil on canvas. Below: Izumi Kato, Untitled, 2020, Soft vinyl, leather, silicon, string. Photographer: Guillaume Ziccarelli. © 2020 Izumi Kato. Courtesy the artist & Perrotin

One particularly intriguing aspect of Kato’s work is the way each figure, regardless of medium, has been segmented – often divided into halves and occasionally, more pieces. ‘I personally like the joints of sculptures, whether for wood sculptures or soft vinyl,’ Kato says. ‘I sometimes leave the joints as they are instead of shaping them flat. Intuitively, I thought it would be more interesting to leave the joints as they are, but then I realised that leaving the joints increases the work’s creative information. An idea came to my mind if I could use that in my paintings, so I began to create paintings divided into sections.’

For this exhibition, Kato also reveals some new works made using plastic models for the first time. ‘The plastic model works started when I thought I could use the plastic models I had been building as a hobby, while I was locked down during Covid-19,’ he says. ‘There are two patterns: one is a combination of the plastic model itself into a sculpture, and the other is a drawing using the plastic model’s blueprint as a collage. It is always exciting to try something new.’

 Eight Contemporary Artists Venture into Nature’ at Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, Japan, 2020. Untitled, 2020 Stone, silicon, stainless steel, pedestal
Installation view of ’Garden of Life: Eight Contemporary Artists Venture into Nature’ at Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum, Japan, 2020. Untitled, 2020 Stone, silicon, stainless steel, pedestal. Photography: Yusuke Sato ©2020 Izumi Kato. Courtesy the artist and Perrotin

Teetering between a sci-fi future and an ancient past, Kato’s creations exude a compelling mysticism, regardless of origin. This is compounded by his agility in moving between painting and sculpture while depicting the same recurring characters in each. Despite bestowing a palpable feeling of otherworldliness, Kato’s practice is rooted firmly in reality.

‘The world is moving at a faster speed than I think. In the last ten years alone, there have been many life-and-death situations, such as the Great East Japan Earthquake and the Covid-19 outbreak,’ he says, having long considered modern history as an influence on his outlook. ‘I think it is essential to be aware of the fact that you are creating works while being in such a real world.’ §

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