Gallery  April 8, 2021  Paul Laster

Izumi Kato’s Otherworldly Creatures & More Fantastical Shows

Photo: Guillaume Ziccarelli. © 2020 Izumi Kato. Courtesy the artist and Perrotin. 

Izumi Kato, Untitled, 2020.

Born in a coastal area of Southwestern Japan in 1969, Izumi Kato creates surreal, haunting figures, which he renders in paint with his hands and sculpts out of wood, stone, and vinyl. He first gained international attention when his works were included in Takashi Murakami’s curated exhibition Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture at New York’s Japan Society in 2005 and at the 52nd Venice Biennale’s central exhibition Think with the Senses–Feel with the Mind: Art in the Present Tense, curated by Robert Storr in 2007.

Photo: Guillaume Ziccarelli. © 2020 Izumi Kato. Courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Installation view of Izumi Kato at Perrotin New York.

Since that time, Kato has continued to experiment with ways of representing the human body, while drawing upon the mythologies of his birthplace and a fascination with outsider and primitive art, as well as his own vivid imagination. Returning to America for his second solo show with Perrotin New York (his eighth one-person exhibition with the gallery worldwide), the artist is presenting a lively selection of mixed-media sculptures, installations, and paintings (most of the works are untitled and made in 2019 or 2020), which take over two floors of the striking Lower East Side gallery.

Several diptychs depict charismatic creatures painted with the artist’s hands rather than with traditional brushes. Looking like aliens or creatures from cave paintings, Kato’s anthropomorphic figures combine disembodied parts. Some resemble people with snail-like tails and others evoke adult embryos. Painted directly with his fingers on toothy cotton duck, raw linen, and pieces of found fabrics that are fastened together with threads, grommets, and string, Kato’s fantastic figures convey a sense of otherworldliness, but not one that’s too distant from Western artists like Bacon and Van Gogh, whom he greatly admires.

Photo: Guillaume Ziccarelli. © 2020 Izumi Kato. Courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Installation view of Izumi Kato at Perrotin New York.

The use of found fabrics, which the artist gathers in his travels, is a recent addition to his ever-expanding, visual vocabulary. Taking this form of experimentation into a sculptural realm, Kato has created a group of large-scale standing and reclining figures suspended from the ceiling by chains. Painted on one side and backed by vintage textiles from Japan, Mexico, China, and France on the other, the surreal subjects are playfully held in place by stones with painted faces. Another arrangement of flag-like paintings, which are linked to a selection of the artist’s vinyl figures, is hung down the stairwell to create an inviting installation for visitors navigating the spacious show.

Photo: Guillaume Ziccarelli. © 2020 Izumi Kato. Courtesy the artist and Perrotin.

Izumi Kato, Untitled, 2020

Smaller sculptural figures painted on stacked stones and a large mythological beast with the head of a woman and body of a horse, carved by Kato in camphor with a chainsaw, round out the exhibition.

The four-legged beast, which has bulging eyes and a tightly cropped head of hair, appears to be transporting a group of tiny animals and aliens—some carved in wood, some cast in vinyl, and others constructed from hobbyist plastic model kits—on its head and back.

A colorful cross between sci-fi characters from Japan’s pervasive manga and anime cultures and beings born from the county’s Shinto beliefs, by which mystical spirits are believed to inhabit all things, Kato’s otherworldly creatures connect us to the ancient past while making us wonder what astounding lifeforms the future may spawn.

Two additional New York solo shows offer deep dives into dreamlike and futurist realms. Christina Bothwell combines a mastery of painting, ceramics, and glassmaking to create fairy-tale-like figures in her exhibition Luminous Dreams in Cataclysmic Times at Heller Gallery and Doug Meyer lets his imagination go wild in his sci-fi vision of an escapist playground for global elites in a time of confinement in his promotional Wyldlands presentation at Daniel Cooney Fine Art.

Trained as a painter under the tutelage of Will Barnet at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art, Bothwell taught herself how to make ceramics after buying a clay kiln for ten dollars at an auction and later took a few classes in glassmaking before years of experimentation to discover her own, unique way of working. Sculpting part of her enchanting figures in wax and part (usually the heads) in Magic Sculpt epoxy clay, she casts the wax forms with clear and colored recycled glass and roughly shapes the clay elements with her hands and tools. After joining the parts, she frequently paints the figures with bits of nature, such as butterflies, flowers, and plants, to further develop their themes.

Courtesy Heller Gallery

Christina Bothwell, Ring Around the Rosie, 2020.

Night Journey and Fever Dreams (all works 2020 and 2021) capture the artist’s somnambulistic visions, with the former depicting a woman’s spirit rising from her sleeping self and the latter portraying a woman tumbling up out of her reclining double. Three wall reliefs, which represents a new form of presentation for Bothwell’s work, group singular characters together to construct a narrative. Snowflake and Synchronized Dreaming join five girls in vividly tinted dresses at their heads to create classic star-shaped forms, while Ring Around the Rosie poetically links five colorful girls and a donkey in a dance.

Courtesy Heller Gallery.

Christina Bothwell, Strawberry Garden, 2020.

Moodswings humorously finds a solemn teenage girl upside down in a bright red chair; Balance shows a woman tightly holding an upturned girl; and Strawberry Garden portrays a young girl hugging a goat, as flowering strawberry plants grow up their legs and embrace their bodies. Loosely autobiographical and based on memories, art, literature, and dreams, Bothwell’s luminous sculptures present people and nature living in peaceable harmony, even in troubled times.

Courtesy Daniel Cooney Fine Art.

Doug Meyer, Tetrodotoxin, 2020.

Meanwhile, Meyer’s vision for a futurist utopia grows directly out of troubled times. Taking the Covid-19 crisis as his point of departure, he’s created a showroom for the fantasy community Wyldlands, which would have a proposed grand opening in the Sonoran Desert in 2037, after the world has lived through a series of additional pandemics. Besides displays of promotional materials, imaginary posters for festivals events in the community, and ads for playful products (all works of 2020 and 2021), Meyer has made sculptural models of exotic bunkers for the elites to occupy.

Courtesy Daniel Cooney Fine Art.

Doug Meyer, Shiva the Destroyer, 2020.

Some of the bunkers, which have windows to reveal tiny people mingling inside interior spaces, resemble surreal wildlife—including Diva which looks like a colorful bird with human breasts; Trojan, which looks like an excited blue horse: and Tetrodotoxin, which brings to mind a mutant pufferfish. One bunker is shaped like a rock another resembles Shiva the Destroyer, a Hindu deity. In Meyer’s hands, Shiva looks more like a steampunk hipster than a god to be feared. Mixing fantasy, fiction, and real-life narratives (in both the exhibition and an accompanying handbook), Meyer imagines a weird world for the not-to-distant future, yet it’s one that shockingly could come true.

About the Author

Paul Laster

Paul Laster is an artist, critic, curator, editor, and lecturer. He is a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Galerie Magazine, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Architectural Digest, Cultured, Garage Magazine, Ocula, ArtPulse, Observer, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was Artkrush’s founding editor, started The Daily Beast's art section and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ Oneworld Magazine, as well as an Adjunct Curator of Photography at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.

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