Published April 2023

Koji Kinutani

Riviera wholeheartedly sympathizes with the ecology preached by Japan's top artist, who was awarded the Order of Culture, that the iron oxide that dyes the sacred Mt. Fuji red circulates and makes up the human body. The award race that he has been competing with since junior high school, his time at the University of the Arts where he thoroughly studied the basics and pursued the fundamentals of art, and his encounter with the classic afresco painting technique...This is the second part of an interview with Western painter Koji Kinutani.

Interview: Hanako Watanabe

Western painter
Professor Emeritus, Tokyo University of the Arts
Japan Art Academy member

Koji Kinutani

Koji Kinutani

Kouji Kinutani: Born in Nara Prefecture in 1943. Completed graduate school at Tokyo University of the Arts in 68. Studied abroad in Italy in 71 (-73). Received the Yasui Prize in 74. In 77, he went to Europe as an overseas artist trainee from the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Solo exhibition at Nichido Gallery in 79 (83 and 89). Received the Japan Art Award in 87. Received the Mainichi Art Award in 89. Produced the original poster for the 97 Nagano Winter Olympics official poster. In 2001, he won the Japan Art Academy Award and became a member of the Japan Art Academy. 07 "Koji Kinutani/Kota Exhibition" (Nichido Gallery). In 09, the "Koji Kinutani Award" was established. Awarded the Cultural Merit Medal in 14. Received the Japan Broadcasting Corporation Broadcast Culture Award in 15. ``Koji Kinutani Tenku Art Museum'' opened in 16 (Osaka). Received the Order of Culture in 21. He is currently a recipient of the Order of Culture, a Person of Cultural Merit, a member of the Japan Academy of Arts, a member of the Independent Art Association, and a professor emeritus at Tokyo University of the Arts.

Forbidden to "win prizes"
Undergraduate student at Tokyo University of the Arts

- Looking at Mr. Kinutani's career history, it is a glorious history filled with numerous awards, from the Yasui Prize to the Order of Culture. Have you been conscious of the so-called ``winning of awards''?

Kinutani: If I wanted to get out into the world as a painter, I'd be lying if I said I didn't aim for that at all. I've been trying it since I was in middle school. Well, I stretched myself and submitted a large work called 100 series of 3 issues... However, there is a rule at Tokyo University of the Arts that ``undergraduate students are not allowed to apply to external competitions,'' and they are told to thoroughly hone their theory without giving a second glance. I felt a growing sense of impatience. After all, even though I entered the University of the Arts because I wanted to become better at drawing than anyone else, they told me that I shouldn't compete. In the Western painting department that I majored in, we were asked to draw nude women, and if 10 people passed the same entrance exam and were thoroughly trained in the same technique, they would end up with 10 paintings that are almost exactly the same. It's the same thing if you change the model. There are many types of people, such as skinny people and chubby people, but since they are naked human bodies, most of them have the same parts. Since they are drawn using the same technique, there is no difference. For this reason, the artist's individuality and way of perceiving things are important.

- It's not the technique, but the writer himself. The motif of Japanese paintings is flowers, birds, wind and moon, that is, everything in nature. Even in bijinga, the models wear Japanese clothes with beautiful patterns. The motifs of Japanese paintings are much richer than those of nude women, in terms of color and form. In that sense, I sometimes felt envious of those majoring in Japanese painting.

Determined to destroy the skills I have acquired

Kinutani: By repeating the basics, you can hone your drawing skills as an art university student, but when you do that, when you try to create your own painting, you're stuck with the techniques you've acquired. If you want to become a painter, you will need to make an effort to abandon or destroy your skills. This is not easy. Even if you tried to throw it away, it would be difficult to throw it away because it was something you worked so hard to acquire. However, as I stare at the model while drawing, I find myself wondering, ``What is this person thinking while posing?'' or ``Why did they get this job?'' , I start to think about this and that.

- Does drawing all the time help you deepen your understanding of humanity and philosophy? Kinutani: The same goes for landscape paintings. For example, the red color of Red Fuji is due to the effect of iron sand on the mountain surface. When it rains, the iron sand on the mountain surface flows into rivers and reaches the ocean, where it becomes nutrients for marine life and circulates around, producing the essential minerals that make up our bodies. It becomes a mineral. By casually sketching Red Fuji, he realizes that ``humans and the earth are directly connected.''

-Does this mean that you can understand the relationship between humans and nature? This also applies to philosophy and natural science.

Kinutani: I said that painters are athletes, but they are also philosophers and scientists. You could call it a field of study that looks at a wide range of fields. By accumulating such thoughts and research, you can break out of the shell of the technology you have cultivated. That's what creation is. The first time I won an award was the year I graduated from undergrad and entered graduate school.

Afresco with low environmental impact

-Speaking of research, you are also known worldwide for your research into ``classical afresco painting techniques.'' Did you encounter Afresco while studying abroad in Italy?

Kinutani: Not really, I've been interested in it since I was at the University of the Arts. My theme in graduate school is murals. Afrescoing involves applying plaster to a wall, and painting with pigments dissolved in water while the plaster is still dry. Because it is only half-dried, the water evaporates even during the production process, and the painting is trapped in the limestone by absorbing carbon dioxide gas (CO2) from the air, keeping its color fresh forever.
 This is an old technique that has been used in Europe for cave paintings since prehistoric times, but in modern terms it has a low environmental impact and is useful for absorbing carbon dioxide. If you think that people have known this since ancient times, it makes you think.

- This is a very interesting story. At Riviera, we are committed to environmental activities, respecting the good old things and trying to pass them on to the future, but we also have hints for solving modern problems.

Kinutani: There is great significance in learning from what our predecessors left behind and passing it on to the next generation.

- That's why Kinutani-sensei, in addition to his active creative activities, is also passionate about media activities, creating awards for the next generation, and holding workshops with children.

Views on life and death and dreams continue into the future

Kinutani: When I was young, I thought "death" was a scary thing. But now, I think I understand the words of my boss Kaiun, the former head of Todaiji Temple, who said, ``Going to the Buddha's place is not a sad thing, but rather a joy.'' This is because I have come to believe that the contradictory concepts of life and death are not separate things, but are part of one thing. For example, water and oil, which are said to never mix, exist in the human body. Crime and punishment, war and peace also exist in the same world. When you think about it, life and death are the same. Anything that has a shape will someday break. Life will also end someday. But people's hearts and dreams never die! I incorporate this feeling into all of my works, so I believe that my heart and dreams will continue to be connected to the future through my works. If you think about it that way, death won't be so painful. When I die, I want them to say, "Congratulations on your graduation." Right now, I'm only thinking about having fun.

- I totally agree with that. Life becomes brighter the more you meet and experience a variety of people and reach the end of your life. That's the kind of life I want to live. At Riviera, we also have a concept called ``Celebration of Life,'' in which we want to honor the lives of people who have created unique stories for each person. We are ready to help you with everything from celebrating life's milestones to ``starting a new journey'' with an ocean funeral on the Riviera.

Blue sky dream story

"Blue Sky Dream Story" won the 2001th Japan Art Academy Award in 57

Portrait of Mr. Anselmo

“Portrait of Mr. Anselmo” won the Yasui Prize in 1973

golden background life flower

"Golden Background Flower of Life" 2018

Afresco painting

Studied abroad in Italy learning afresco painting

Hinode Ranmanfutake

“Hinode Ranman Fugaku” 2021

Koji Kinutani

Koji Kinutani's atelier

I want to convey the message to a future where beauty protects life.

- You have drawn many works with Mt. Fuji as the subject. Why do you like Mt. Fuji?

Kinutani: The Watanabe family also comes from the foothills of Mt. Fuji. I left my hometown of Nara on a night train to enter the University of the Arts. As the train headed east finally approached the Kanto region, the majestic sight of Fuji suddenly expanded into view. For those of us from Western Japan who work in Tokyo, Mt. Fuji is a symbol of the hopes and anxieties of our youth. You could call it emotional support. 

- When I look at Mt. Fuji from the two marinas on the Riviera, I feel relieved and glad I'm Japanese.

Kinutani: I think that gazing at the beautiful form of Mt. Fuji from the sea side, that is, from a submerged position, has special significance for Japanese people. Because it leads to being conscious of Japan in the world. For this reason, we must ensure that Mt. Fuji remains beautiful from now on.

- I'll never forget the brief moment when I was looking at Mt. Fuji from the boat with Mr. Kinutani, and for a brief moment our faces were dyed red by the morning sun. It was a natural beauty. Iron sand, which makes Fuji look red in the sunlight, circulates throughout the food chain and becomes the minerals that make up our bodies.According to your philosophy, it is important to preserve the beauty of Mt. Fuji. is directly connected to protecting our own lives. Koji Kinutani's Atelier Koji Kinutani Workshop for children at Tenku Art Museum Kinutani Beauty protects life - As a painter, this is something I want to shout out loud. The Japan Art Academy has a program called ``Children's Dream Art Academy,'' and the reason I'm so excited about these initiatives is because I want to convey this feeling to the children who will be responsible for the future.

- Riviera's thoughts are exactly the same. There seem to be many things we can do together to support children's futures.

Kinutani: The view of Mt. Fuji that I saw with Riviera Chairman Watanabe from a boat in Sagami Bay is still etched in my mind. That kind of feeling is something I want to pass on to my children in the future.

- please!

Koji Kinutani Workshop for children at “Tenku Art Museum”


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