He then decided to go his own independent way as an artist without further academic education. Early on, in the context of the artists group Group 361° + Intersection, he developed an interest in European phenomenology and structuralism, namely the works of Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau Ponty. He became interested in the connection between existence and the world and the discrepancy between imagination and reality and these themes have influenced his work to this day.
In 1975, Katase came to Germany to broaden his artistic education. He was particularly interested in conceptual photography. In his works of this time he seeks to visualise the act of seeing; he illustrates the processes that lead to the development of an image in one’s head. His work in the 1980s and 90s is dominated by photography and sculpture. He also became known for his space-filling installations in which light images and a few objects – a house, window, bed, representing the human situation in the world – are bathed in a permeating blue light which intensifies the viewer’s perceptual capacity in a peculiar way.
Beside his artistic practise, Katase has delved into German philosophy and literature of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries for a long time. He reads Nietzsche and Heidegger, and texts by Goethe, Novalis, Thomas Mann and Hermann Hesse in particular. At the same time, he has also approached Buddhism again, the religion of his homeland. Both mind sets are to influence his world of imagination, and his art becomes an encounter of the Orient and Occident.
In recent years, Katase has devoted himself almost exclusively to painting again, and this practise is the focus of his exhibition at White Rainbow also. With a crumpled wad of cloth or by using the heel of his hand, he applies pastel colours onto heavyweight handmade paper: painting becomes an act of meditation, withdrawing the artist’s persona explicitly. As a motif he has chosen a drinking vessel that he places slightly out of the centre of his painting. Katase perceives it as an empty bowl, alluding to the Buddhist concept of sunyata, which refers to the filled void that characterises the state of enlightened consciousness.
The motif and painting style always remain the same, only the colour tones change from painting to painting. In the simplified and constant composition of these paintings and the impersonal application of colour without emotions but in a state of utmost spiritual concentration, Katase’s paintings could be linked with the painting of Josef Albers or Ad Reinhardt, who turned away from Abstract Expressionism and its emphasis on emotions in the USA of the 1950s.
Katase accomplishes a comparable level of intensity in his black and white photographs of a candle, daffodils, and a Noh Mask, which are also on view in this exhibition. These are handmade Baryta prints that appear to be permeated by light as if it emanated from the background towards the viewer.
Kazuo Katase was born in 1947 in Shizuoka, Japan. After first exhibitions in galleries in Tokyo, he was invited by Klaus Hoffmann, the then-director of the Städtische Galerie Wolfburg, in 1975 and came to Germany, where he has lived ever since. His interest in photography had already begun in Japan; however, it broadened in the following years when he worked at the Fotoforum work group led by Floris M. Neusüss at the Gesamthochschule Kassel. As a result, the positive-negative-aspect of the photographic process becomes an important topic of his photography. The negative image creates a counter image in which light and dark are reversed: a reference to the reality behind the image. This concept of representation can still be found in his photography and painting of today.
In the 1980s and 90s, Katase’s work gained international recognition with museum exhibitions in Europe and Japan. There was a particular focus on his installations. Besides numerous solo presentations he also participated in the now legendary exhibition chambre d’amis in Gent in 1986, curated by Jan Hoet, as well as in documenta 9 in 1992.
A series of permanent and temporary outdoor installations have made Katase well-known. It began with the spectacular work Trink eine Tasse Tee [Drink a Cup of Tea] which the artist constructed temporarily at the Furka Pass in the Swiss Alps in 1987. These installations create their own order in which art, architecture, space and landscape interconnect.
In recent years, Katase has returned to painting and this appears to be an existential choice, rooted in the artist’s life. In 2007, the year in which his parents died, he undertook his first journey to India, which he had planned for a long time. He visited the holy places of Buddhism and Hinduism, travelling from Varanasi to Bodhgaya and Rajgir, where Buddha lived and taught, eventually reaching Kolkata. For Katase this journey was an encounter with his spiritual home and he afterwards felt an urge to lead his art in a new direction.