When manga porn and samurai kitsch become short change for glaring orientalism, artists such as Taki Kitada emerge to disorientate our cultural coordinates. Channeling the might of an artistic legacy that knows itself and speaks its own language, the Tokyo based artist swallows traditional composition, anime acuity, Buddhist cosmology and contemporary relativity into her own worm-hole. At its end is something like the manifest vision of a super organism dreaming in history. Levitating, transmuting, reincarnating; we asked Kitada to bring us back from the moon…
The Metropolist: What inspires you?
Taki Kitada: Religious art has impacted me the most. I’m fascinated by how religion is visually represented and its similarities and differences across culture. If you look at religious landmarks around the world they often present quite similar religious imagery. Catholicism and Buddhism for example depict a similar construction of hell with 8-10 divisions representing different types of sins. But on the other hand, there are regional features specific to various religions. Asian religious art frequently utilizes the metaphor of water, whereas Islamic painting is more fiery.
Most cultures have constructed a belief system which underpins local moral sensibilities, but expresses universal ideals. It’s interesting to see how these universals are symbolized in a particular regional language. In a sense religious art tries to express universal ideals through a specific cultural lens. Seen in that light, my practice involves expressing universals which are nonetheless personal to me, and trying to see how they come to shape with my cultural identity and contemporary aesthetic.
TM: How do you work as an artist?
TK: I listen to music and might be inspired by a vivid mental image which I quickly draft before it disappears. But most of the canvas space remains undecided, which is important for me. I need an empty space to allow for freedom of painting.
Then I create an abstract image by pouring, splattering, and texturizing paints. Once these abstract forms appear, I wait until they shape themselves into certain figurative images; a human figure, a mountain, a waterfall or flowers. In this process I work absolutely intuitively. While I begin with a rough sketch I always retain space for freedom and interaction.
Throughout the process I still listen to music, so the image keeps changing and moving. A complete piece can take a number of months; the longest I have worked on something so far is 4 months.
TM: Are your images referencing any specific folklores or mythologies?
TK: My religious background is Nichiren-Buddhism and I love its philosophy, so I often use Buddhist narratives and symbolic images as reference.
In Buddhist philosophy there is no absolute or permanent existence. Anything and everything can be changed by external factors. For example a Buddha and a demon (symbolic characters of ‘enlightenment,’ and ‘ignorance’) are not mutually exclusive but stem from the same stream. Buddhist parables often describe how an evil character was transformed by meeting a particular person or being exposed to a piece of wisdom, and of course having a will to change.
My images and stories are consistent with one core teaching i.e. that one’s identity is never stable and no man is born ‘good’ or ‘evil’. Our identity is transformative, both for good and bad. I question the absolute binary sense of ‘sacred’ or ‘profane’ in regards to the nature of object in my works.
TM: Your style seems to play with traditional Japanese painting and contemporary anime. Is this intentional?
TK: This is something I can’t remove from myself. I don’t intentionally draw in Anime style but I was born in Japan and raised in floods of Manga and Anime. Undoubtedly they have formed my visual language; anime-looking, linear and graffiti like. Whatever I interpret into my work, these features float on the surface of my canvas. This is my regional language.
TM: What artists have influenced you?
TK: In terms of contemporary artists; Grayson Perry and Raqib Shaw have made a huge impact on me. The influence of Japanese techno musician, Susumu Hirasawa has also been indispensable. All of them explore the past and present – here and somewhere – so freely.
My classical influences include Paul Gauguin, Odilon Redon and Hokusai Katsushika.
TM: Having studied and worked in London, did this experience influence your understanding of the themes you present? [Kitada studied at the University of Wolverhampton and University of the Arts London]
TK: Absolutely! London has so much diversity, with people from all over the world. Without my experiences in London and abroad, I could not approach the themes I am working with at the moment.
My native country, Japan, is unique with a strong set of cultural coordinates. We aren’t often exposed to other points of view. We don’t have to question ourselves or our common sense and values. For me, being able to empathize with others and collaborate let me think a bit beyond myself. As I want to explore cultural diversity that has been really important. That part of me is something that was made in London.
TM: How have you found it so far establishing a career as an artist?
TK: I don’t have a flashy answer to this question. The most important thing at the moment is making my artistic aim clear. For what, am I making artworks? I have to be able to answer this question if I want to build my career as an artist. If I am clear on this point then everything else will follow.
To be honest art is not essential to one’s self or society in the same way as water or electricity. If I want to be a professional artist it’s really important to know how I can contribute something valuable to society. For myself- having or seeking a clear aim in this sense is vital. With great gratitude for the people who support me.
TM: Where have you exhibited?
TK: I have been part of group exhibitions in V22, We Are Art, and Debut Contemporary in London. My first solo show took place in 13 The Gallery in East London. Currently I also exhibit in Tokyo Metropolitan gallery in Tokyo.
TM: How can people see or purchase your work?
TK: You can see a few of my watercolor works in 13 The Gallery in Green Lanes, London. For other works, especially acrylic paintings, please contact me directly via my website.