Masakatsu Kondo

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June 8, 2003
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Article

Sublime simulations

Masakatsu Kondo was born in Japan in 1962 but moved to study in London, where he has lived since 1988. Kondo paints large-scale landscapes, taking conventional scenes of nature but rendering them hyperreal and unfamiliar. Working form found images, he copies, traces and enlarges pictures in artificial colours to create idealised visions of the natural world that resemble digitally manipulated prints. His work lays a challenge to our limits of believability and in doing so questions our desires and our search for utopia, plays upon our notions of authenticity and problematises our advancements in technology.
Born on the outskirts of Nagoya in Japan in 1962, Masakatsu Kondo moved to London in 1988 where he has been living ever since. He studied at Chelsea College of Art, London, and at the Slade School of Fine Art, London.

Taking conventional landscape scenes of snow-covered mountains and dense forests as his subject matter, Kondo renders them strange by painting beautiful yet hyperreal images that induce a sense of the uncanny in the viewer. Despite depicting the organic world in the tiniest detail, his methods result in remote, idealised landscapes. For the artist´s objective is less to reproduce an accurate representation of the natural world than to present us with the utopian visions of it that exist only as imagined spaces in our minds.

´I am not really interested in painting reality´ he says. ´Painting has to do something a bit more. I am interested in the ideal. For instance, when people think of a high mountain, deep sea, blue sky or whatever, they see an abstract image. That is what I am painting - the imagined mountain or forest.´

Kondo achieves his results through subtle manipulations of scale and colour. His method often involves the magnification or cropping of features in a landscape: an image of a mountain, for example, may be stretched so as to accentuate its symbolic form. As a result, his paintings seem to occupy, as Michael Wilson has said, ´a hinterland between the natural and the artificial, the representational and the abstract, the broadly traditional and the utterly contemporary´. Pointing out the unsettling quality of Kondo´s works, Wilson continues, ´the world which they depict, while recognisably an interpretation of our own, is subtly but demonstrably out of step with observable reality´. The artist has said that he is testing the limits of believability. As he becomes more adventurous, his use of colour becomes increasingly artificial and chemical.

As a result of this, the viewer´s experience of Kondo´s paintings can be as paradoxical as the beautiful yet hard, impassive images that are depicted. The picture postcard views simultaneously promise and deny the simple visual pleasures of grand vistas. The landscapes are undeniably attractive, but too extreme for comfort, remaining irreducibly alien. The sense of yearning and awe inspired by the ethereal perfection of the landscapes is tinged with an unsettling anxiety or knowledge that the otherworldly beauty before us will remain ever out of our reach. In this sense, Kondo´s work touches upon the nerve of contemporary malaise: that in our postmodern planet, as our technological skills perfect our powers of reproduction, they deepen the dilemmas of authenticity. The landscapes depicted in magazines, on television, at the cinema, the unreal nature proffered by the travel industry problematise our expectations of the real.

Indeed, Kondo does work from found images of landscapes. Yet, he apparently prefers drawing upon the scientific illustrations of geological survey magazines for their relatively objective nature. Copying, tracing and expanding trees and mountains from these sources, he then paints idealised landscapes that resemble digitally manipulated scenes. John McGee has described the method by which he produces his ´cold brilliance´. He writes: ´In a laborious, hand-made simulation of silk-screen printing, \Kondo selects a limited colour palette based on Photoshop experiments, projects the images onto canvas, traces them and then applies squiggles of flat acrylic paint, light to dark, one tonal layer at a time. Up close, the meticulous, repetitive process produces a mottled surface where form is atomised into colour, where the expressive energy of van Gogh merges with the rigid control of Seurat´s pointillism. Stepping back though, the Technicolor camouflage snaps into recognisable photorealistic shapes.´

Kondo has exhibited in the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Japan and the USA. He won second prize at the John Moores Liverpool Exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, UK in 1997 and the Granada Foundation Prize from the Whitworth Gallery in Manchester. His most recent shows include ´New Space´ at Oriel Mostyn, Wales in 2001, which was partly funded by Visiting Arts, ´Love´ at the David Risley Gallery in 2002 and ´Picturesque´ at the Tullie House Museum and Gallery in Carlisle in 2003.
Author: Diana Yeh, Visiting Arts

Bio

Masakatsu Kondo was born in Nagoya, Japan in 1962 but has lived in London since 1988. After attending the Chelsea College of Art in London, he studied at the Slade School of Fine Art, London. He has exhibited in the UK, the Netherlands, Sweden, Japan and the USA.

Works

SELECTED EXHIBITIONS

Exhibition / Installation,
2003
BOTANY (David Risley Gallery, London) 2003 PICTURESQUE (Tullie House Museum & Gallery, Carlisle) 2003 LOVE (David Risley, Wharf Rd, London) 2002 NEW SPACE (Oriel Mostyn, North Wales) 2001 Toured (Glynn Vivian Art Gallery, Swansea) 2002 SURFACE (Nederlands Foto Instituut, Rotterdam) 2001 LANDSCAPE PAINTINGS 1997-2001 Turnpike Gallery, Leigh, Manchester) 2001 MIND THE GAP (Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm) 2001 PRIME (Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, Tokyo) 2000 JOHN MOORES LIVERPOOL EXHIBITION 20,21 (Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool) 1999,1997 BRITISH ARTISTS, LA BIENNIAL (Shoshana Wayne Gallery, California) 1995 ANNIHILATION (Victoria Miro Gallery, London) 1993

Merits

1997 Liverpool John Moores Exhibition, Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool, 2nd Prize
Granada Foundation Prize, The Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester

Projects

This artist took part in the following project(s) organized/funded by the culturebase.net partner institutions.

New Space

(04 July 03 - 04 July 05)
images
Masakatsu Kondo
Withered Cactus
Masakatsu Kondo
Mountain F
Masakatsu Kondo
Lime Trees