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Kano Hiroaki: Emphasizing Physical Presence

1.  What is the source of inspiration behind your recent two-person exhibition at Execute Project?

In this exhibition, I presented a series of works focused on the theme of “cyborgs” and a series of “weather forecast.”

In the cyborg-themed series, I referenced philosopher Andy Clark who describes human nature as a “Natural-Born Cyborgs.” I painted how humans are working with objects and machines from the outside world to create their hearts and self.

In a series on the theme of weather forecasting, I focus on the various folklore that exists in Japan for a long time to predict the weather. I tried to express the complex and dynamic but causal relationship of nature through painting images of those popular beliefs and news screens of current weather forecasts.

2.  Tell us about the way you explore the images in your painting. Where do they come from? And why are they important to you?

Before I began painting, I take pictures of things and landscapes that interest me, and that surrounds me when I travel. I select photos from the tens of thousands of images I have taken so far and make small sketches on paper to create images.

The motifs that I am particularly attracted to are those that are not particularly noticeable as having aesthetic value. Because they lose their original functions and usefulness, they seem to emphasize their physical presence and the memories and history that can be shared with humans.

kano hiroaki
Kano Hiroaki in his art studio.

3.  Do you think that to create, we need to present entirely different things on the canvas surface to create something new or unique for the viewer?

Through my work, I want to encourage different perspectives and new realizations of what we have seen or know in this world. Each theme I paint is not new. It is a tangible thing in this world. But I paint it in situations and combinations that are different from what it was originally, and I present it as something unfamiliar.

4.  Why do you use gold flakes in your painting? What is the meaning behind, if any? 

Since ancient times, gold flakes have been associated with myths and religious themes, giving the objects and scenes drawn holiness, or gorgeously decorating the work, and also functioning as an element that indicates the wealth and power of the client.

I select and paint motifs that are rarely noticed as aesthetic in this world, but by decorating them with gold flakes, I mix holy and vulgar. Gold flakes have the function of creating an opportunity for my paintings to look at this world from a slightly different perspective.

5.  How long does it take for you to complete one painting? Do you expect a viewer to sense the time you dedicate while painting?

I spent about one month on each of the paintings that I exhibited at the Execute Project exhibition. I spend a couple of months trying to complete a big piece. It takes a long time to build up the vision and the canvas surface that I imagine. I’m glad that viewers can see the time I spent completing the work as one of the important elements of my work.

6.  What do you expect from a viewer when he/she looks at your work?

I expect viewers to think of my work as strange.

The world I want to present through my work is base on things that are independent of each other, but at the same time, they create one whole unity.

I paint combinations of things that exist around me, and they become foreign to me. I hope that viewers will find differences and commonalities in my work with the world we are accustomed to and that they will enjoy the interpretation of it.

7.  What criteria does the painting need to meet to become an artwork?

I think that for a painting to be an artwork, the “painter’s perception” and “evaluation and interpretation by others” are necessary.

Other evaluations and interpretations vary depending on the situation, values, context, etc., in the current society where a painting is viewed. Therefore, it is important for painters, above all, to paint a satisfactory picture. It is also important for the painters to recognize the historical, social, and environmental context of painting today.

8.  Why do you paint? What is so valuable about painting in the 21st century?

I have been in Italy for two years since 2010 and have been exposed to various expressions of contemporary art. Through this experience, I was wondering why I was still painting a single picture over many months, and I could not concentrate on painting. 

But then, I also saw classical paintings in Italy that I admire. They have a long-standing material presence, and the artfully crafted painting spaces have looked very striking and attractive in modern times. 

In today’s world, we can choose from many alternatives that are suitable for realizing our ideas and media that can demonstrate our characteristics. In such a modern age, I renewed my focus on the “slowness,” “materiality,” and structure of the painting space of painting. Ultimately I want to paint.

9.  Do we need painting in the era of digital print?

In today’s world, digital print has become a part of our lives, and many artworks use this technology. When I paint, I also refer to digital photographs taken by myself, and sometimes I print the processed data and paste it directly on the canvas. 

Since ancient times, painting has always developed its expression under the influence of various other media. Besides, new technologies are not unrelated to past technologies, but rather change while inheriting many elements from previous technologies. 

I believe that painting and digital print influence each other in various aspects of work created and that there are many new areas of expression in the hybrid of the two. I consider this “hybridity” to be an essential keyword in modern society and art. And in the history of painting, there is a wide variety of “hybridities,” and there is no end to it.

10.  Tell us about art in Japan. What are the trends in painting, and how important is the tradition of painting for contemporary art? Is a strong relation to art history and painting tradition help or distraction in contemporary Japanese painting?

Currently, in Japan, it is characteristic that many artists work as a collective team while producing and presenting individual works. Also, artists have setups studios not only in urban areas but also in suburbs and regions. They are creating artworks that focus on local and regional traditions. They create works using a folklore approach.

Moreover, many painting expressions combine various images like a collage. Painters refer to and cite anime, manga, illustrations, and past works of art, and create many drawings and paintings that are fused with images from the Internet, games, and digital. However, painters are not limited to the features described above, and painters are trying a wide range of expressions, such as trying to paint abstract or realistic pictures using classical painting techniques.

The relationship between art history and the tradition of painting and modern Japanese painting is an important consideration for many painters. In particular, the history of the acceptance of western painting and the development of Japanese art since the Meiji era has influenced many modern Japanese painters.