Published April 2023

Koji Kinutani

This time's guest is Koji Kinutani, one of Japan's leading Western painters. A person of cultural merit, a recipient of the Order of Culture, a world authority on the study of classical afresco painting techniques, and a best father who enjoys resort life with his family. We will be delivering two consecutive issues, fully introducing the works of Mr. Kinutani, who continues to lead the art world not only in Japan but around the world with his dynamic painting style.

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.

Best father of both literary and martial arts

- Congratulations on receiving the Order of Culture.

Kinutani: Thank you. Since the award was won in 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic, the celebration party was delayed.

- In addition to being voraciously creative as a leading Western painter, he also serves as a mentor to the next generation, and as a navigator who communicates the charm of art to the general public through media activities and lectures... While spending his days, he also received the ``16th Best Father Award in Kansai''. As a member of the Riviera Resort Club, he and his family have been able to enjoy marine life together, and I am truly moved by the way he is a powerful and cool father.

Kinutani: You may have an image of mountains, but I love the sea, and I really enjoy marine life and camping. I'm from Nara, a prefecture without a sea, but I've loved being active since I was little, and I'm particularly good at swimming. I also like fishing, and I often go out to Akashi, Ise, Shirahama, and Lake Biwa. Painters tend to be seen as indoor people, and they tend to have an image of being weak, right? But that would be a big mistake. I started learning oil painting in the first grade of elementary school, but at the same time I joined the baseball team and continued to play baseball until I left university. When it comes to school events, the cultural club and the athletic club compete over the budget. I was the manager of both companies, so I was in trouble.

- It's amazing that you were able to excel in both literary and military arts, and even served as a department manager. Your student days were a rich experience.

Koji Kinutani

A unique perspective trained in scuba

Kinutani: When I got accepted to Tokyo University of the Arts and moved to Tokyo, I started scuba diving. At that time there was no licensing system and there were no schools that could teach it, so I ordered textbooks from America, translated them myself, and studied on my own. My friends and I used to get in the car before dawn and go to Manazuru. Freshly caught fish and shellfish were a special delicacy. Face the sea with your whole body and receive its blessings. Nature has literally become my flesh and blood.

- The bold power of Kinutani's works is based on the power of the sea that he gained in his youth, right?

Kinutani: It is true that my various relationships with the sea, including those that continue to this day, have provided inspiration for my creative activities. Scuba means diving with your head down, right? In other words, it's a handstand. The perspective is different from life on land. If I have a different perspective from other painters, it's probably because of my experiences at sea. Painting may have an image that is far from sports, but it is more physically demanding than you might imagine, and it can actually be said that it requires the physical ability of an athlete. I like to draw Mt. Fuji, and when you ride the Shinkansen, everyone is moved by the majestic sight of Mt. Fuji, right? However, the Shinkansen passes by at breakneck speed. Our dynamic visual acuity as painters is comparable to that of top athletes, as we can freeze objects that disappear from our field of vision in the blink of an eye.

- A famous baseball player says, ``The ball looks like it's stopped.''

Kinutani: That's right. In the case of painters, it is more like static vision than dynamic vision.

scuba diving

Impressed by nature and expressing it, civilization was born.

Kinutani: When actually painting a mountain, the artist draws while looking at the mountain. In other words, it requires eyesight and energy to keep looking at things that don't move for hours or days. The viewer also stares intently at the finished motionless painting.
Only humans can see things like this. Other animals' eyes only respond to moving objects. Being able to stare at things that don't move is something unique to humans. Since ancient times, humans have looked at nature, been moved by it, and expressed it. This action led to the development of the brain and the birth of civilization. I think that is the root of painting.

The original experience of touching the “real thing” that turned a precocious boy into a master.

- You started oil painting in the first grade of elementary school, which means you were quite early.

Kinutani: My birthplace is right next to Kofukuji Temple in Nara. The restaurant is called Meishukan, which was founded by my great-grandfather in the middle of the Meiji period, and was once a salon-like place where the great political and business figures and cultural figures gathered. His great-grandfather was a man of great business acumen who was successful in several businesses and was also known as an art collector. Relatives still run a restaurant in the house where he was born. Born into a merchant family, when I was young I often spent time alone at home. I have an older sister, but if we are 14 years apart in age, she won't be my playmate. However, in front of my house was the five-storied pagoda of Kofukuji Temple, and drawing it helped me forget both the time and my loneliness. As I continued to draw more and more, I started to improve at a young age, and even though I didn't learn from anyone, I also learned perspective.
After all, it's in the middle of Nara City, right? The surrounding area is full of excellent motifs that are considered national treasures. Eventually, it became possible to draw on the premises of Todaiji Temple.

- He said he was able to experience the ``real thing'' from an early age.

Kinutani: In that respect, you are envied by your fellow painters.

golden morning sun futake

“Golden morning sunrise (circling zodiac)” 2020

Blue Sky/Sadness that permeates the heart

“Blue Sky and Earth/Sadness that soaks into the heart” 2022

Angela and the Blue Sky II

“Angela and the Blue Sky II” 1976 Excellent Art Purchased by the Agency for Cultural Affairs in 51 Collection of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

Nara's cultural artifacts gave me confidence in Italy

Kinutani: I consider it an asset to have grown up witnessing the graceful forms and difficult colors of ancient Japanese artifacts. I felt this keenly when I studied abroad in Italy after graduating from the University of the Arts. Most people are intimidated when they go to see real Renaissance art, but that didn't happen to me. I was able to see the culture of the other side as ``the activities of the same human beings.'' This is because he was well aware of the depth of his country's history and the depth of the artistic culture left behind in places like Nara, Kyoto, and Kamakura.

Living in the house that was built over 300 years ago

- His birthplace is also known for its cultural value.

Kinutani: The 2 ridge tag was found in the main building, so it is clear that it was built before the mid-Edo period, when I was studying abroad in Italy. It has remained mostly the same since then and has not been renovated. So it is used as a shop to welcome customers, and it also houses my atelier.

- A unique perspective honed through being familiar with the sea, and the history of Nara, where he was born and raised, and his family. Both of these come from a background in which he was awarded the Order of Culture as a leading figure in contemporary Western cinema. Moreover, Mr. Kinutani, who also embodies the modern values ​​of being a best father, is right on the same path for Riviera, whose philosophy is ``cherishing good old things and living a fulfilling life in harmony with nature.'' I am a leader. In the next issue, we will take a closer look at the philosophy behind his works and the thoughts he entrusts to his successors.

"Goddess of Ginrei" 1997 Nagano Winter Olympics poster original drawing

Goddess of Ginrei

Left/middle: Studying abroad in Italy
Right: When he was young, painting a mural

Sun, moon and cherry blossoms blooming at Mt. Fuji

“Sun, Moon, Cherry Blossoms and Fuji” 2022


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