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Masato Kobayashi - The Paint of the Planet

News Letter, Nariwa Museum, Takahashi, Okayama
October 1, 2009

Art Vision VOL.8
Masato Kobayashi - The Paint of the Planet
Interview with Masato Kobayashi.
Interviewer: Hitoshi Sawahara (Director of the museum) Facilitator: Hiromi Watanabe

14:00 - 16:00, Saturday, August 22, 2009


We had an interview with Masato Kobayashi on August 22, as an exhibition related event. Kobayashi told us various stories such as his childhood memories and his new investigation with the latest works. We would like to present you the summary of the interview.

Watanabe: Thank you very much for coming today. We have the series of exhibition called Art Vision, which is to observe artists' movement of our time. This summer, we invited a painter, Masato Kobayashi, who is based in Fukuyama, Hiroshima where is the coastal region facing to the Seto Inland Sea. He was born in Tokyo, in 1957, and graduated from the Department of Painting, Faculty of Fine Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts. From his early stage, he drew attention through receiving the Encouraging Artist Award at Vision of Contemporary Art (VOCA) in 1994, and selected as a representative artist of Japan at São Paulo Biennale in 1996. From the following year, he spent 9 years at Gent, Belgium until 2006. Since then, he also actively exhibits his works in Europe through various shows including solo shows at the Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art - Ghent (2001) and at Tensta Konsthall, Sweden (2004), where he performed a live painting. It has been 9 years since his solo show at The Miyagi Museum of Art in 2000, and is his second solo show at a museum in Japan.
We hope you enjoy the interview.

Sawahara: What came to your mind first when you thought about having an exhibition at Nariwa Museum?

Kobayashi: I came to see the venue for a few times. I was not only paying attention to the venue itself, its connection to the surrounding nature, a space with natural light and so on, but also to the access for the museum. I mean, I had an impression that this is not a place where you can visit for only 30 minutes. I am not saying this is inconvenient, but interesting. When you visit the museum, you need to travel a certain distance. I sensed that Nariwa Museum is a museum that postulates travelling. I also took JR Hakubi Line and, to be honest, you really need to travel wondering if the museum really exists in such mountains. During the trip, I think everyone surely has a moment to become an individual no matter you are an office worker or have an art related job. You think of your love, think about a name of a railway station, you unusually look up at the sky, or whatever. This kind of experience makes you very open when you arrive at the museum. I think the approach of Nariwa Museum is very well considered of such visitors' condition. You are relieved by finally arriving at the destination, but at the same time you have a feeling of tension from going into the exhibition. As you see the surrounding nature, you proceed toward the abstracted world; from the real world into the exhibition of the painting. The approach of the building, which was designed by Tadao Ando, brings in the landscape as well as cuts it out abstractly. I wanted to make this exhibition special which can be only seen this summer at this particular space so that the visitors to feel a certain tension as you enter the museum.

Watanabe: I feel that you addressed to the whole environment including the surroundings of the museum rather than thinking about how to present paintings within a certain exhibition space. When I was discussing with Masato about the plan, I had a feeling that even for the visitors those who have visited Nariwa Museum for several times, they would also experience the venue anew. What kind of exhibition concept did you have?

Kobayashi: Painting is abstract and extraordinary thing in a way, no matter what is depicted or what kind of expression. By bringing in abstract things into an architecture which is a part of the real world, senses expand further. In my case, to bring in paintings in the architecture, I used various positioning from placing on the floor to hanging very high up on the walls, near the ceiling. There is a pink star or a cloud like looking painting, which leaps out at you when you enter the building; this painting has the sky and the landscape behind it as its background. This is one of the paintings that I had difficulty to find the right position, and I finally decided to position it really high; you will notice the height when you see it from beneath. I arranged the paintings in the whole building from near the sky to the floor, and some of them near the floor stretch out to the water surface and so on. At the courtyard of this museum, there is water lily from Monet's garden in Giverny. The water surface reflects on the silver painting, Light Painting #7, according to the weather and light. As for the colour, silver reflects everything. The water lily blooms once in a while. When I installed the exhibition, there were pink flowers, but are yellow ones now. Such colours reflect on the draped surface of the painting. At any rate, from the water up to the mountains and sky, I expanded my installation to such an extent. Through looking at my paintings, the viewers realise how big Nariwa Museum is: that was my vision. And, I also wanted the visitors to have an image of the building glowing when they think about it after they left.

Sawahara: When I first heard the title of the exhibition, The Paint of the Planet, I thought this phrase evokes various images. What kind of feeling did you have when you come up with the title?

Kobayashi: I thought The Paint of the Planet is the only choice I have for the exhibition. (Laughs) In my artistic practice, I directly express the images that I have in my mind. I don't make sketches, in order to avoid making the images withered. I never use brushes but use my hands to paint, and canvas is not mounted on a stretch frame at the beginning. I have a vision in my mind, and I create it with the paint on my hand as I create the canvas.
I don't use palette, either. I squeeze out the paint on my hand from a tube. This moment is everything. There is no plan either; this action is basically my own way to concentrate. The paint tube, no matter what colour it is, the feeling that this is "the paint of the planet," and "painting the picture of the planet with the paint of the planet in my hand." This is not something grand or anything, but just a matter of a certain transfer switch and my own feeling. "The Planet" doesn't mean the earth. I don't have intention to bear the earth. This is a mean to gather light with "The Planet." The paint that comes out from a tube, light, dusts and so on; with the mixture of everything I address the canvas.
"Painting the picture of the planet with the paint of the planet," this phrase is a kind of magic word for kids. This is the way to concentrate when I paint a picture, to make the painting glow. There is a moment when the whole world change for anybody who feels a tremendous happiness, don't you think so? Human beings have senses, you know. So, there must be a moment when the whole world change. I want to capture the moment, the feeling. This is my method for that. This is what it means to hold "the paint of the planet" in my hand. My paintings were created in such way, and I hope the viewers to see them as landscape of this planet.
Exhibition spaces are equivalent to the painter's mind: so you walk around my mind, and the hand out "Floor Plan" is a kind of map of my mind. Obviously, it is not a closed space because being inside of my mind.


Watanabe: The visitors would think about various things through experiencing some discoveries or surprises, or tracing back in their memories while they walk around in the mind of the painter. Given that, it's even more interesting as I feel infinity in it.

Kobayashi: There is no specific rule to follow when you appreciate paintings. Viewers will spend their own time as they see, feel and think about the paintings in their way. In the end, art is to sense feelings of extensity and concentration through communication between living people in living space.

Sawahara: By the way, Masato, you told me you liked Madame Curie as a child.

Kobayashi: When I was at primary school, I read her biography. Radium is invisible normally because it's a radioactive element. The radium that supposed to be there was far more beautiful and prettier than what she had imagined. One evening, the radium was glowing in a dark laboratory. I was moved by this episode, because it made me realise that there are full of invisible things in the world. It is there but you don't see. This world is not made for us, so that there are things we can't see. I thought if there were things that even though Madame Curie couldn't see, then I would need to wash my eyes about 100 times a day. So, I carried out my self-imposed burden of looking at the night sky to wash my eyes. For about an hour, I didn't think about things very much, but I was only thinking about cleaning my eyes. Then, there were starts in the sky. When I learned that the stars I was looking at had already gone because the start light had travelled tens of thousands light-years to reach me, this idea somehow scared me a lot. What I still remember is the confused feeling of looking at the past. When think about the long period of the stars, I felt my life very precious. In the feeling, there are my family and I started holding everyone dear to me.

Watanabe: Because of the fear of disappearance, and the fear makes the momentary existence intense. This is the phrase you often use when you talk about your work. I am wondering if this is a kind of primal scene for you.

Kobayashi: Not that I am following the old saying but what is learned in the cradle is carried to the grave, you know.
I don't think there is anything completed in this world. But human beings create and accomplish things. I think about the way to accomplish something in the uncompleted world. For instance, when can you claim the flower is accomplished? When it blooms? If so, is it unaccomplished before it blooms? No, it's wrong. There are many ways to accomplish.
I am working on the way to accomplish something with painting in the uncompleted world.
Nude paintings are the same; they just happen to be such paintings. Their existence is extremely intense, by chance, as if they disappear in the next moment. That is the landscape of this planet, I think.

Sawahara: Could you please tell us the theme of your new artworks for this exhibition, as well as your visions of the future?

Kobayashi: Actually, new works are all pairs. I mean this pair doesn't mean figurative relationship, and is the subject that I would like to explore further. 
To the Planet is a pair of paintings that is exhibited on the same wall. This actual distance between the paintings extends or shrinks according to viewers' feelings or our senses. For the case of star light, which I just have told you about, you can have a feeling as if you are connected to the distance of the thousands of light-years. On the other hand, you may have a disconnected feeling toward something right in front of you. In other words, the feeling of distance is something like what you call "love."
One half of Starry Model #2 is the pink painting at the end of the entrance hall. When you are looking at this piece, you don't see the other half of the pair because it's in the other space. So, you will never see them together. I only exhibited one half of Starry Model #4 at this show, because I decided not to exhibit the other half and took it back to my studio. It's on the wall of my studio now. I want viewers to feel that the other half of the pair is not in the space, but it exists somewhere on this planet.
Just it's not there. I wanted to present a kind of "Love" with this work. Therefore, I situated them in long distance: this is a pair of paintings but it can be somewhere else. Through such existence of the paired artworks, I would like to explore "Love" further, and I want to materialize the "Love." Also a certain feeling of distance also varies from person to person if you try to measure the actual distance. This is something that we create with our senses, isn't it? Even though you portray a person in a painting, it's not a real person. When you paint a picture, you always transform something. There must be love, otherwise it won't glow. I told you that walking around in an exhibition is as if walking around in an artist's mind, and there must be the love.

(Edited by Hiromi Watanabe, a curator of Nariwa Museum)