"Hisho kankaku" "Flight sensation" Shuji Takashina Professor Emeritus at Tokyo University, Director of Ohara Art Museum

  About 15 years ago at the Seibu Art Forum held in Tokyo, I submitted an article with the title "Flight sensation" in Hajime Kato's exhibition catalogue. In 1958, a high-spirited and determined Kato headed to France to develop himself as an artist. By the time I wrote the article, he had already created and polished his own style through 30 years of living and working in Paris.

  His style is filled with a brisk energy, like wind fairies dancing wildly in the transparent morning sun light. The use of spindle-shaped configurations with a very sharp edge ready to slice open the air is a unique basic compositional unit that Kato claims for his own. These artistic units possess a sense of speed and hence tension as well, but at the same time they are not at all rigid. In fact, they embody sleekness like a legendary angel's wings and scribe graceful curvilinear paths. Infinite numbers of these compositional units, showing prismatic radiance overlapping and hailing to each other, provide the viewers with a euphoric feeling, as if floating in boundless space freed from Earthly bindings. He implicates dynamic movement. However, the artist's intention is neither simply to paint some flying objects nor only to record their trajectories. At times in the past, some futurist painters with modern aesthetic as the foundation of their artistic approach tried to express "motion". Lining up a number of a running dog's legs as some kind of superimposed pictures and drawing them was one of the examples that they have employed, but even then, the drawn images were still just a group of "objects" called dog's legs and they were mere "afterimage" of the legs. Kato's figurative world leaves no trace of those "objects" and therefore surpasses materialistic existence and directly delivers "Hisho" "(Flight) and its feeling. Hence the reason I refer to Kato's works as "Hisho kankau" (Flight Sensation).

  Attempts to paint objects flying in perfect freedom in the air have been made in all countries throughout the ages. In western art, images of angels from the Christian faith, and messengers of gods from Greek mythologies are familiar examples, while in Eastern art "Tenyos" (goddesses) and "Hitens" (flying angels) as used in temples are good representatives of such an attempt. Both Western and Eastern approaches portray flying human bodies but most interestingly, the Christian angels and Greek Hermes all have wings whereas the Eastern equivalents do not. The angels usually have a pair of large wings from their shoulders and the Hermes wear armor or boots with wings attached. On the other hand, Hitens and Tenyos do not have wings. It is totally natural to think that to be able to fly in the air one would need wings like those of birds and the concepts reflects a very rational and logical Western way of thinking as well. The Eastern way of thinking takes a more flexible approach and ignores the Western logic. Tennyos and Hitens gently dancing in the wind are seen with plumage, but this attire is not intended to hold any meaning as some form of flying equipment. The fact they are floating in the air itself should be regarded as a proof that they are flying. The Western artists painted flying tools, but the Eastern artists expressed "Hisho" itself.

  The "Hisho kankaku" which Kato's paintings convey is deeply attached to the oriental sensibility. Kato's works are supported by their dazzling and harmonious delicate balance of chromatic sensation. If the Westerner feels some sense of Arcanum and mysterious plenitude then it is because he has discovered some sort of intriguing richness in the paintings that the ratiocinative western approach did not fully capture. Under the Parisian art environment where a variety of new attempts were made, Kato matured in his own world of painting and consequently his works have shown a freshness that is extremely modern. It is because his works are deeply connected to Japanese traditional sensitivity that he is able to incorporate refinement and hence create an expressional world in a very pure way.

Fall, 2002
Kato, Japanese in Paris Jean-Marie Tasset Art Division Manager of Le Figaro

  Kato belongs to the family of artists whose pedigree is found in Paris, one of the centers of contemporary art. Paris! With its glorious history and art, the city springs forth with an irresistible call to the future. Earlier in the century, the city's extraordinary atmosphere attracted many painters and sculptors from abroad. In Paris they met local French artists and through these stimulating encounters both discovered and refined themselves.

  This unique phenomenon in the history of art persists even today. Artists like Kato, regardless of whether they are French or foreign, have together formed the "Ecole de Paris" with diverse imagination. They have created art that could only be born in Paris and thereby enriched the world.

  Kato's footsteps overlap with those of such revered artists as Renoir, Monet, Matisse, Vlaminck, Picasso, Modigliani , Foujita, Soutine, Chagall; they extend the lineage of Braque, Kandinsky, Delaunay, Duchamp; and they join the path taken by Utrillo, Douanier Rousseau, and Van Gogh. Although Kato follows the tradition of these magnificent artists, his art does not succumb to being a mere resemblance of the maestro - the downfall of many when studying the masters.
Kato belongs to the generation of artists who, since 1940, devoted their energies to developing rhythmic composition, without being afraid of decorative effects.
At the same time his works emerged from a long Japanese tradition and acquired inspiration from Japanese spirituality. With their novel structures and accord, his works were also able to accomplish self-definition and became one of the new repertoires of modern art. Alchemy can be felt in his works - by integrating their own unique sensations, a new art is being created.

  A blaze-like form of light runs over the canvas, fulfilling its role with abundant powers of expression, acquiring worth and bringing out abstract therefore universal meaning. It is the meaning of the contents that this work provides that is most important. A transfiguration never experienced before brought richness and therefore created a new realism.
Yet one cannot overlook the quality within Kato's works that there exists a psychological concern for modern society following the end of the world war. At the same time, in the large composition created out of forms, colors, and symbols, there are answers prepared for the questions of an anxious modern people. His works deny neither rationality nor irrationality. Nor do they deny emotions and knowledge. These elements combine to directly invite the viewer into the inner "Hisho" (flight) that exists beyond the images themselves.

  When the artist uses alchemy to transform lines and shapes, does the viewer notice a change that takes place within himself simultaneously? The artist calls for some generative power and changes the vision with which we hold the universe almost before we realize it. The universe changes us and we change the world. Somewhere in between, integration occurs. Now this is what can truly be called "creation" and the voice of the artist Kato.

  The artist is lyrical and dynamic, and his exploration continues in the symbolic world where the mind and emotion links.

  Kato was never tempted by impasto and always favored a neat and clean style. He did not create screens full of paint splashes that run down as though muddy water.
His works, including his masterpiece done merely in grays and whites, burn with a delicate surface flame..... On the deep-plunging grey canvas a rhythm slowly expands as if the twilight that splits the fog. The clock stops and time disappears, and before we know it we are at the entrance of a clarified world overflowing with light. A wonderful mystery surrounds us, seeps in and invites us into wordless meditation, calming our breathing. What is the password that will reveal the secret of the world? Kato does not disclose the answer.

  Why do we always put so much effort into attempts to solve the mystery of the perfection that Kato's works hold? Here, the pleasure of light is derived from strict composition, a trembling, delicate and precise composition that supports and yet is almost defiant. Does our sense of excitement come from the work's gorgeous color? Or does it originate from the invisible whispery universe existing behind those colors?

  Perhaps the only answer is to place ourselves in a purely contemplative attitude. All of Kato's works speaks so much more about actuality and life-energizing force of today's "Ecole de Paris" than all the discourse about it.

The article taken from Kato's exhibition catalogue of Seibu art forum held in Tokyo in 1987

About Hajime Kato Masako Kato

  Hajime Kato was born in Kanda, Tokyo on February 7th, 1925, and lived his life at full speed, both as a painter and a competitive cyclist, right up to his death in Paris on February 10th,, 2000.

  As a young man he was an all out cyclist: following World War II, for a period of 3 years between 1947 to 1949 he won a number of titles in various categories and also was a candidate for the Olympic team to compete in Helsinki. Unfortunately, because of a large and unexpected land tax bill that fell upon the family home, he had to give up the Olympic debut he longed for. He had no choice but to become a professional cyclist of Keirin which was the most humbling experience as a top athlete at the time. Kato however turned this bitter experience into a source of motivation. As a result he became a vice president of The International Professional Cycling Federation (FICP) and was able to make three of his dreams come true. The first was to include Keirin, which was not well respected at the time, as one of the world championship events (accomplished in 1980). The second was to have a Japanese cyclist competing in a world Championships (K.Nakano won 10 times between 1977 and 1986). The third was to host a world Championships in Japan (accomplished in 1990).

  At the same time, his love for painting since childhood was also well known. He was one of those people who could not survive without a piece of paper and a pencil available at all times. As a boy, like many other kids at the time, he devoted himself to drawing airplanes and has left a great number of detailed sketches where one can even sense the texture of the steel used. Kato was two when his father passed way at the age of only 33. It was in 1958, when he turned 33 that he decided to test his potential as a painter, throwing away everything and escaping Japan for Paris. For 42 years thereafter, he worked in his studio under the transparent neutral colored sunlight he was so fond of, building his own style and doing his best to avoid falling under the influence of the Paris art world. He would set off for his studio on days of rain or wind. In fact, he always looked happiest when he was working at the studio.

  His first 10 years in Paris were spent executing various novel ideas, but he seemed to find his own style in the late 1960's. From then, he was starting to produce works that can be distinguished as his own by anyone. Yet he would remark on occasion that while there is a white finishing line in a bicycle race, no such goal exists in the art world - it is sort of like chasing a mirage.

  "Of course my life has not been dramatic like in the movies. I was but one of many Japanese men of the same generation living in the Showa era. To stop is to fall down, so I had to keep running. On top of this, I have been obsessed with desire to run at full speed, and that lingers to this day. So if the desire or motif ceased to exist then perhaps I have no other way but to gracefully be brought to ruin."
He mentions this in the introduction of his autobiography "Peindre dans le vent" (Painting on the Wind), as if he was predicting his own death.

  Kato's implacable desire to paint never disappeared throughout his life and in fact I have a feeling that he even carried the desire over to the next world. This is because he left a few unforgettable words before his death. With an incredible amount of effort that amazed even his doctors, he continued to travel to his studio every day to work until two and a half months before he passed away. He completed a work for submission to the Salon d'Automne that year. However, he had to be confined to bed thereafter.

  At the end of January 2000, in between morphine shots when he was conscious, I asked him "What is it that you want to do most?" and he answered promptly and clearly "I want to paint!" and those were the last clear words he ever said.

  After his death, I went to the studio and there I found a large # 120 sparkling white canvas on the easel. It looked as if it was symbolizing his strong will to paint and saying "I'll start!" But, however much he wished to paint his physical strength was no longer enough. In his mind, there must have been an abundance of images running spectacularly across the white canvas that he longed to paint.

  Loaded with these invisible images, the white canvas awaits his return.

Contents are copyright.2007 Hajime Kato & Antakarana

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