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Keita Morimoto

After Dark: Light, Reality, and Heterotopia


NOV 11, 2022 | ISSUE 9

Keita Morimoto
From "After Dark" by Keita Morimoto

Keita Morimoto has always been fascinated by light. He says Rembrandt is his favourite, particularly how he uses light to create extraordinary views out of everyday scenes. Morimoto first studied painting when he moved to Canada at 16. He has developed his own approach to realism, combining the precise lighting of Baroque paintings with motifs of everyday contemporary scenes. His ability to create beauty and mystery from nondescript landscapes, and his method of constructing personal narratives with anonymous protagonists, place him in the lineage of magic realism. He shines a light on the “unnamed places” that we pass through in our daily lives—for

example, a crosswalk on the street in which the Chief Editor of this magazine lives. Through the contrast between darkness and light, he creates a “heterotopia” in which we can temporarily escape from the real world. He suggests that the freedom to make an ordinary life special can never be taken away. His work teaches us that we have the power to weave our own stories, add colour to our daily lives, create our own “heterotopia” in the midst of the everyday, and that the way we relate to and face the world is up to us.

sM | How do the paintings exhibited in After Dark extend and deviate from the scenes depicted in your paintings previously?

KM — For this exhibition, I focused on the theme and direction. When I came back to Tokyo, at first, I drew the places and things I was attracted to as they were, but when I was talking with Mr. Nukaga (the gallery owner), he said that I perceived it from a tourist’s point of view, and I thought that was true. I had chosen places like Shinjuku’s Golden Street and other places that people from overseas would focus on when they first came to Japan. However, when I was in Toronto, I used to draw ordinary streets and scenery. So I agreed with him when he pointed out that my direction had changed, and I decided to narrow down my original direction and concentrate on how to depict cliché in a fantastic way. In February this year, I moved to Taito-Ku, Tokyo, and when I looked around me, I realized that there is a lot of nondescript scenery. My concept until now has been drawing casual scenery. As for people, I used to draw them through connections and introductions from friends and acquaintances, and that hasn’t changed in Toronto or Tokyo. I was originally attracted to the Dutch Golden Age and Renaissance styles of paintings, so I think my personal style as a painter is reflected in some of the portraits. I was most influenced by Rembrandt. He paints light and realistic things, but he also paints the reality inside himself in an imaginative way. I was attracted to the fact that he created his imaginary world rather than copied reality.

sM | What do you listen to while you’re working, and how does it contribute to the mood of your paintings?

KM — I don’t listen to music much, but when I’m nearing a last-minute deadline, I sometimes play pop music that I’m used to listening to and draw with a lot of tension. Usually, I listen to podcasts, audiobooks, and other philosophy channels or news. Among philosophers and psychologists, I like Alfred Adler. I listen to a wide range of Japanese and English informative programs on YouTube, including economic channels. I want to stay updated on what is happening in the world. I think Japanese TV is manipulated, so I listen to a wide and deep range of personal channels.

sM | What was your first impression when you arrived in Japan for the first time in 15 years?

KM — During my 15 years staying in Canada, I returned to my home country Japan at least once every 1-2 years, so I was able to update Japan in my mind. I think Japan is a good place to live if you are not working as a company employee. I have heard from friends and have the impression that it is very difficult to live life  as a “salaryman” in Japan. It would be the exact opposite compared to Canada. Canadian culture seems to value vacation more than work. I have an impression that Japan is a workaholic. I had more prejudices like that before I came back to Japan. Around five years ago, I wondered where I should get my master’s degree; in Germany, New York, or Japan. Then I decided to come back to Japan and move my base because I wanted to feel my identity as a Japanese person. Before I left Japan, I had a sense of being severely oppressed in a vertical society, such as in high school. But now, I don’t feel oppressed because I don’t belong to an organization such as a company. I feel that Japan is a convenient and comfortable country to live in because of its high quality of infrastructure and services. North America is very individualistic, but Japan, for better or worse, is the opposite, and I feel that I miss that. I plan to continue my activities in Japan for the time being.

After Dark, an exhibit of Keita Morimoto’s paintings, runs till January 29th at the Kotaro Nukaga exhibit in Tokyo.