Myth and the imagination: Japanese artist Ryuzo Satake – artist profile

Japanese artist blurs the divide between mythology, imagination and reality.

As the world scrambles to make sense of tragedy, Japanese artist Ryuzo Satake believes messages are being sent by paranormal powers. The artist paints images of these invisible messengers inspired by Japanese mythology and traditional Japanese aesthetics.

Ryuzo Satake, 'Dragon', 2016. Image courtesy the artist and YOD Gallery.

Ryuzo Satake, ‘Dragon’, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and YOD Gallery.

In his exhibition “Small Existence” at YOD Gallery in Osaka, Japan, which closed on 9 July 2016, Ryuzo Satake depicted the nature of existence through deconstruction and re-construction, by blurring the distance between him, the artwork and the audience. Satake told Art Radar:

I have feelings towards nature and landscapes that have been lost as Japan developed, or towards people and things that would fall into oblivion as time passes. Also every time natural disasters such as an earthquake and typhoon bring severe damage, I feel overwhelmed by a sense of awe and powerlessness. These feelings are always present in my daily life, which is at the base of my art making.

Ryuzo Satake, "Small Existence" (2016), YOD Gallery, Osaka. Image courtesy YOD Gallery.

Ryuzo Satake, “Small Existence” (2016), YOD Gallery, Osaka. Image courtesy YOD Gallery.

Kyoto-based Ryuzo Satake was born in Shimanto, Kochi in 1987. He graduated from Kyoto University of Art and Design in 2012. As a student of Japanese Painting, Satake has focused on the translucent quality of the traditional medium – mineral pigments. Taking advantage of this medium, he has established a unique pointillistic method while studying at Kyoto University. Satake has earned a high reputation for his portraits painted in this method, where figures are formed by thinned rectangular colour blocks, thinned and layered multiple times.

Ryuzo Satake, 'Kappa from Kitayama', 2016. Image courtesy the artist and YOD Gallery.

Ryuzo Satake, ‘Kappa from Kitayama’, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and YOD Gallery.

His upbringing in Kochi is still evident in his continued interest in folklore and traditional Japanese painting, as he tells Art Radar:

I grew up in Kochi prefecture, where the land is surrounded by beautiful nature such as mountains, rivers and ocean. I studied Japanese Nihonga Painting at a college in Kyoto. During my school years in Kyoto, I discovered and was influenced by Insho Domoto (1891-1975) and Jakuchu Ito (1716-1800). Meanwhile, I was also influenced by the mentality of Edvard Munch, Alberto Giacometti and Vincent van Gogh. As I felt inferior and was skeptical of mastering traditional/canonical Japanese painting techniques, I looked into neo-impressionism and adopted their pointillism painting style, then gradually adjusted to suit the nature of Japanese painting materials up to now.

Ryuzo Satake, "Small Existence" (2016), YOD Gallery, Osaka. Image courtesy YOD Gallery.

Ryuzo Satake, “Small Existence” (2016), YOD Gallery, Osaka. Image courtesy YOD Gallery.

Since his first group show in 2008, Satake has been actively showing works in various group and solo exhibitions, and his portraits have won the Kyoto Arts & Crafts Exhibition of Selected Young Artists, the Mainichi Newspapers Award (2014), GEISAI#16 Takanori Katagiri Award (2012) and the ART AWARD NEXT #1 Second Prize (2010). His solo “Small Existence” in July 2016 was his second exhibition presented by YOD Gallery since 2013.

In his 2013 exhibition “Someone’s Child”, Satake shifted the subject from young adults to children in his art. The figures however remained isolated. Typically, his subjects are unlinked to any specific image or character; their emotion and corporeality, or the intervention of the artist as a producer, are subtle.

Ryuzo Satake, "Small Existence" (2016), YOD Gallery, Osaka. Image courtesy YOD Gallery.

Ryuzo Satake, “Small Existence” (2016), YOD Gallery, Osaka. Image courtesy YOD Gallery.

In “Small Existence”, Satake seems to have made an ambitious shift. While keeping his distinctive painting style, he introduces and idea of “otherworldly beings” as an overarching theme. The subjects are no longer isolated or disconnected, but rather hey are characters of the imagination repeatedly appearing in Japanese classic stories, mythology and fine arts that many already know. For instance, “Wind God and Thunder God” and “Dragon” are subjects dealt in traditional Japanese paintings, and “Shibaten” is a yokai monster from Kochi.

Ryuzo Satake, 'Shibaten', 2015. Image courtesy the artist and YOD Gallery.

Ryuzo Satake, ‘Shibaten’, 2015. Image courtesy the artist and YOD Gallery.

Satake uses pointillism to make his subjects sparse and iconic. He also mirrors the audience’s fears and imagination. Satake states that the nymphs, spirits and yokai “appear monstrous in mythology. But after all, they only exist in human imagination and in size to stay in our brain.” Satake continues:

“Small Existence” featured imaginary creatures born in the human head, which is a small space. For this show, I intended to present the idea of faith, awe and the moral lessons built upon natural and paranormal phenomena in the form of imaginary creatures. I am interested in the fact that such intangible things can be recognised by humans once transformed into stories and pictures.

“Dragon” and “Wind God and Thunder God” are subjects that are repeatedly dealt in Japanese traditional arts. For these figures, I have taken the basic forms from already existing images, then transformed them to fit my own style. “Shibaten” and “Kappa from Kitayama” are yokai monsters from local folk stories I collected, and the figures are painted completely from my imagination.

Ryuzo Satake, 'Wind God', 2016. Image courtesy the artist and YOD Gallery.

Ryuzo Satake, ‘Wind God’, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and YOD Gallery.

The overarching themes, or stories, depicted in Satake’s paintings are hard to read, even though some of them can easily recall mythological or fantastical creatures. The subjects however do not seem to exude any emotion and they seem to be displaced. Therefore the viewer is forced to determine the appropriate distance to see the image and understand its meaning. The image is composed of multi-layered colour blocks over a polychrome background. Grains of water-thinned mineral paint spread out to show the colours underneath.

This translucency speaks of the quality of light, and applied as dotted pattern, even reminds one
of pixels. The figures and scenery emerge out of the sea of lines and colour blocks for a moment, but soon diffuse.

Ryuzo Satake, "Small Existence" (2016), YOD Gallery, Osaka. Image courtesy YOD Gallery.

Ryuzo Satake, “Small Existence” (2016), YOD Gallery, Osaka. Image courtesy YOD Gallery.

These subjects are described as “sparse” for the slight sense of space and corporeality they carry. They could be perceived as “anime”, one of the contemporary Japanese aesthetic styles. They emerge as a result of, as Noi Sawaragi writes in In the white room with reverberation – Portraits of Ryuzo Satake,

unraveling multiple styles of art to the same level, and reconstructing by penetrating all these elements; Japanese and Western paintings, contemporary arts, films and videos, character images in subcultures.

Ryuzo Satake, 'Thunder God', 2016. Image courtesy the artist and YOD Gallery.

Ryuzo Satake, ‘Thunder God’, 2016. Image courtesy the artist and YOD Gallery.

With this distinct style that his unique skills allow, Satake blurs the relationship and distance between the artwork, the audience and the artist. This uncertainty brings non-identifiable emotions within and without the audience. Satake explains to Art Radar:

I am interested in things that are intangible and that transform, such as: human relationships, distance between mind and body, landscapes in one’s changing memory, and one’s awe of nature. The subjects of the latest series, imaginary beings as well. Painting, to me, means making those invisibles visible. What is coherent in my works are the idea of “visualizing the invisibles” underlying all the works, and the pointillistic approach of image making to depict a subject with layers of colours and obscuring its outline.

Ryuzo Satake, "Small Existence" (2016), YOD Gallery, Osaka. Image courtesy YOD Gallery.

Ryuzo Satake, “Small Existence” (2016), YOD Gallery, Osaka. Image courtesy YOD Gallery.

YOD gallery is planning to promote this Japanese young talent on the international art scene, as they tell Art Radar:

We have brought his paintings to Taipei and Hong Kong so far outside of Japan. We received lots of interests and managed to sell all his works there. We also had inquiries about his new paintings in this exhibition from both countries. We have a mission to introduce his works not only in Japan but also overseas and try to make him an international artist. We will continue introducing his works in other countries in Asia, Europe and USA.

Grace Ko

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Related Topics: Japanese artists, painting, art and mythology, gallery shows, artist profiles, events in Japan

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