If one gave Ryo Kato’s paintings a voice, they would not whisper – they would shout. His visual language is unique and impressive. Ryo Kato dared a completely fresh start in Europe, thrilled by the idea of becoming a painter. His works show worst-case-scenarios that could happen in the future – as a consequence of the imprudent environmental exploitation by mankind.
Hello Ryo Kato! I am glad that you welcome me here in your studio. Can you tell me how your paintings come about?
I have a detailled vision of the motif and make a penciled draft from it. The sketch then moves in my mind as if it was a movie. The scene keeps on extending while I paint. You could compare this to an improvisational way of making music – I have a specific urge to apply the color in a certain way, and that’s what I have to do then.
When I paint, it turns into an explosion.
Do you already have a title for your latest works?
I always know the topic – mostly, I care for environmental problems or something alike. I think about the titles afterwards. Usually, I work on large-size canvases because they let me express myself best. Small-scale canvases do not match my style.
Your paintings display something extraordinary: You do not feature yourself in your œuvre, but you show difficult topics like the state of the environment nowadays.
I agree: a lot of artists promote themselves. I do not view myself as the main actor, but the mediator in my art – I express the subject. I take an interest in world news, because I am very curious and inform myself.
What kind of place is earth for you?
It is a beautiful place! There are still nice spots despite the amount of ecological disasters. My works are like a warning – I do not want things in my paintings come true. People are used to the presentation of severe situations, so that I consciously illustrate this theme more extremely and thus aim at more attention.
My motifs are not my desire, but a warning.
People in Japan are not very much into the issue of environment. After the incident in Fukushima, they tended to be a little more aware of the topic, but not permanently. Documentaries do not help much with raising awareness. I want people to recognize the devastating condition of environment through my art. I was even part of Greenpeace for a certain period, participating in several initiatives – the work they do is really important. But I think I can get more attention for the topic of environment through my art than through campaigns.
I want to achieve more than just fame. My art should have sense and purpose – this is my assignment.
So you have a strong sense for responsibility?
I just cannot simply stay silent. I think the earth can perish one day if mankind keeps on multiplying and destroying nature. Man possesses massive brainpower and is capable of enjoying life. We could use our intelligence differently – by thinking about earth more.
Which colors remind you of your hometown in Okayama, Japan?
I can hardly say that. I grew up in a mountain village with rather natural colors. In my opinion, colors express feelings. A happy feeling, grief, anger, … Metaphorically speaking, in the realm of music my colors would be the notes. I also lived in Tokyo. But it is difficult to say where my color selection comes from. There must be a reason why you have a certain perception of aesthetics, because you cannot really learn that. The things & situations you lived through and how you handled them are essential. I cannot explain that since my choice of colors happens intuitively. It is spontaneous. I believe when you try to plan, it is harder for you to get into the flow. There are no dirty colors for me – but their combination is important.
I must be caught off guard by my paintings.
I am never afraid of making mistakes. I can always improve the painting at any moment. I think this is the reason why I can work like that: If you first have to think about the color, then in my opinion, you are not competent to be an artist. As an artist, you have to create something instinctively. My works share a similar visual tendency, but each painting has its own subject – and this is only possible because I work intuitively. I do not want to copy my the draft onto the canvas, this is boring. Instead, I like to experiment because I am not afraid and I love my work.
I am very critical of my artworks. If I don’t like them, I destroy them. Meanwhile, I’ve been fighting for each painting more persistently and try to improve it to the point that it looks harmonious. You can always find a solution.
From an early age, you’ve developed your characteristic style. Most artists try different things until they develop a signature feature. But your vibrant selection of colors and the high-contrast ductus appeared quite fast.
I think this has to do with my fate. I already knew as a kid that I wanted to be an artist. So I dealt with the subject of art in general. When I was 16 or 17, I had developed my own style. I taught myself how to draw when I was a child. Soon, I was ambitious of developing my own ductus. I could paint in a realistic way, but I wanted to create something on my own. After high school, I went to Paris and made sketches with oil paint every day, so that I could explore my own style as soon as possible.
Then I saw the vision of a man who had a branch sprouting off his belly. It felt like my topic – and I found it even before I had my own style. A lot of artists do not have their own goals and try a bunch of things. But I have been refining my style consistently since 1998 and I didn’t have to try out a lot of different styles: I already knew what and how I wanted to paint.
When you told your parents about your plans of moving to Europe, how did they react?
I had a very unusual childhood and matured quite early. They did not treat me as a kid when I was 16. My decision was made and nobody could hinder me. I prepared everything on my own: I learned French, paid art classes from my own money and proved that I was able to do things independently. My parents did not help me, I did all of this on my own. I think I was quite special for my parents.
Do you listen to music while you paint?
Absolutely! I prefer listening to music very loud which is why I have these speakers. Music plays a very big role. My choice depends on which ideas I have in my mind. Previously, I used to listen to very heavy music solely. When my feelings explode, I listen to appropriate music. I can hardly work in the evening – I am clearheaded right after waking up. This is my most creative time span.
My ideas are like visions – as long as they are fresh, I can express them on the canvas directly.
As time flies or a new idea comes into my mind, they blur. I don’t have to think about what I paint, because I keep on receiving ideas automatically and permanently.
What is the biggest compliment for you?
When someone tells me that I create something new and meaningful. I am an artist and I want to create something absolutely unique. For instance, my professor Daniel Richter changed his topics again and again. When I was studying, I was curious about talking to him, and after I applied to him, he even visited me in my studio personally. After our conversation, I knew I would cut my own path.
Thank you, Ryo. Your courage and determination are very impressive.
Find his latest works and international exhibitions on Ryo’s Website. Have a look at Ryo during his Painting Performance in Prefecture Museum in Okayama and follow him on Facebook.
When reading about Ryo’s story and approach, what inspired you?
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