Studio visit: Izumi Kato

Inside the Tokyo creative space of an artist celebrated for his canvases peopled by eerie, otherworldly figures with haunting eyes — painted directly with his latex-gloved hands

‘I don’t really care how people see me,’ says Izumi Kato, the Japanese artist who creates his otherworldly figures with penetrating eyes by applying paint directly to the canvas with his hands. ‘It’s the same with my artwork,’ he adds. ‘I just care about how satisfied I am. So I guess I am an egoist.’

Born in 1969, Kato only took up art at the age of 30. He says he wanted to be a musician or a soccer player rather than an artist, but concedes that ‘liking something is different to being a good fit for it’. Now, he is happy to describe himself simply as ‘a painter, sculptor and artist’.

Izumi Kato (Japan, b. 1969), Untitled, 2008. Oil on canvas, 145.8 x 97 cm (57⅜ x 38¼ in). Estimate HK$180,000-220,000. This lot is offered in Asian Contemporary Art (Day Sale) on 28 May 2017 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

Izumi Kato (Japan, b. 1969), Untitled, 2008. Oil on canvas, 145.8 x 97 cm (57⅜ x 38¼ in). Estimate: HK$180,000-220,000. This lot is offered in Asian Contemporary Art (Day Sale) on 28 May 2017 at Christie’s in Hong Kong

Kato uses latex gloves to apply oil paint to his canvases and works quickly, allowing his works to evolve organically. ‘I usually work and concentrate for about an hour,’ he reveals. ‘Then I rest for the same amount of time — and repeat. It’s as busy as a supercomputer, so my brain is tired.’

Applying a sporting analogy, Kato, insists he’s ‘not really the type to defend’. When it comes to his work, which vary greatly in size, he says he prefers to attack. ‘I get influenced by everything I am in contact with while living,’ he muses. ‘It’s a whole, not specific.’

‘I’d probably keep making pieces even if nobody bought my work. But I’d be sad if nobody looked at my work’

Since 2003, the artist has also been making sculpture. ‘I think [it] is really helping my painting,’ he explains. ‘It’s like making a painting three-dimensional.’ His sculptures are rough-hewn and appear to draw inspiration from African art and antiquity. Having started out using camphor, a soft wood, he has more recently added sheaths of soft vinyl called sofubi.

‘I’m happy that I only have painting to focus on when I wake up. I’d probably keep making pieces even if nobody bought my work,’ he says. He pauses, before adding with a smile, ‘But I’d be sad if nobody looked at my work, so I’d ask people to take a look.’