Sovereign Asian Art Prize nominee Katsumi Hayakawa discusses his artistic practice

STIR takes a deep dive into the artistic practice of one of its favourite finalists for the ‘Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2020’. Part 1 of 3 discovers Japanese artist Katsumi Hayakawa.

by Shraddha Nair Published on : May 19, 2020

To be an artist is a challenge, to say the least. To develop a practice and earn your livelihood from it is an even larger undertaking. In a world where art has been commodified to fit the rules of an industry which is embedded into its wider capitalist economies, balance on the part of the artist is critical. Equally critical is creating paths for emerging artists to be awarded for their diligence and dedication in their contribution to this dynamic and ever-changing universe we refer to simply as ‘art’. Patronage in this universe can be a powerful tool in the endeavour to push the boundaries of the status quo in such an industry, while also providing transformative opportunities in the lives of young and upcoming artists. The Sovereign Art Foundation is one organisation which paves the road for such generous patronage.

Katsumi Hayakawa’s work is reminiscent of 20th century colour field paintings, reimagined for the 21st century art lover | Sovereign Asian Art Prize | Katsumi Hayakawa | STIRworld
Katsumi Hayakawa’s work is reminiscent of 20th century colour field paintings, reimagined for the 21st century art lover Image Credit: Courtesy of Gallery MoMo Ryogoku

Founded in 2003 by Howard Bilton, the Sovereign Art Foundation (SAF) now has an instantly recognisable name through the Asia-Pacific and global art world, known for its annual art prize and charitable work supporting disadvantaged children. In this series of stories, STIR picks its top three nominees for the Sovereign Asian Art Prize 2020. Each nominated artwork has been chosen for its relevance in its social and environmental implications as well as its ability to play with material. In the first part, we delve into the practice of Japanese artist Katsumi Hayakawa.

Hayakawa's work particularly embodies the idea of material play as he seems to use physics itself to manipulate light and ultimately the overall image. The work Blue Reflection Lines blurs the line between painting and sculpture. While at first glance it seems like a painting, conventionally rectangular in shape and mounted on the wall as a canvas would be, closer inspection reveals that it is made entirely of small squares of film-covered mirror, each one angled differently to capture light in a unique way. This technique allows for the artwork to reflect a myriad of blue hues and goes one step further so as to invite the viewer to experiment with their positioning as they take in the work. The sculptural qualities of the artwork can be explored by shifting gaze from one point of view to another to fully perceive the dynamic visual captured within the static installation.

Detailing in ‘Blue Reflection Lines’ | Sovereign Asian Art Prize | Katsumi Hayakawa | STIRworld
Detailing in ‘Blue Reflection Lines’ Image Credit: Courtesy of Gallery MoMo Ryogoku

Inspired by Pete Mondrian and Katsushika Hokusai, two artists from different ends of the spectrum, Katsumi Hayakawa sees links between them, which transcend their cultural and aesthetic polarities. Blue Reflection Lines might remind the viewer of colour field artists of the past, much like Brett Newman who was one of the pioneers of the colour field movement. As a member of Hayakawa’s audience, I am hoping to see how he might further this singular artwork into a wider journey, where the limits of form and colour are toyed with in exploration of the potential of this novel ‘painting’ technique which relies on light rather than the paint itself. The element of play and engagement, which is enhanced while reminding one of a traditional painting, is an intriguing yet tricky space to navigate.

Shraddha Nair (SN): What drives you, as an artist, to create and what are some philosophies you abide by through your practice?

Katsumi Hayakawa (KH): I am exploring perception and possibility that light itself could serve a subject material of art.

SN: The kinetic effect of the work is the reflection of movements of the body through space. 

KH: I make way for my explorations into how light might be integrated into the surface of my work through the interplay of reflection and refraction. 

I seek to capture light within painting, turning an age-old challenge taken up by painters from JMW Turner to Paul Cézanne into a pursuit that relies not on paint but on the physics of light itself. 

SN: What does it mean to you as a creative practitioner, to be nominated for the prestigious Sovereign Art Award?

KH: This is my third nomination. I am honoured and it is encouraging to be nominated for the Sovereign Art Award that I value and respect their generous support for disadvantaged children through art.

SN: What do you feel will be the role of the artist and the purpose of art in a world post-pandemic? Will the place art holds in the world be reaffirmed, elevated or drowned?

KH: Art is a universal language. I think it will continue to be needed by people all over the world across borders.

A portrait of artist Katsumi Hayakawa | Sovereign Asian Art Prize | Katsumi Hayakawa | STIRworld
Artist Katsumi Hayakawa Image Credit: Courtesy of Gallery MoMo Ryogoku

Katsumi Hayakawa formally studied fine art in Tokyo, Japan and New York, USA graduating with a Master’s degree in 1998. Notably, Hayakawa has exhibited his work at McClain Gallery, Houston (2019), DILLON + LEE, New York (2018), Gallery MoMo Ryogoku, Tokyo (2016), and at the International Paper Biennial Rijswijk 2012, Rijswijk Museum, Netherlands (2012). He was also a finalist of the Sovereign Asian Art Prize in 2015 and 2019, and now a nominee for the 2020 award as well.

Hayakawa has been nominated twice before for the award and is a STIR favourite for this year’s competition | Sovereign Asian Art Prize | Katsumi Hayakawa | STIRworld
Hayakawa has been nominated twice before for the award and is a STIR favourite for this year’s competition Image Credit: Courtesy of Gallery MoMo Ryogoku


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About Author

Shraddha Nair

Shraddha Nair

Nair is a writer and curator based in Bengaluru, India. Her curatorial practice is a method by which she negotiates with and navigates the complexities of human behaviour, an interest which flows into her writing as well. She believes that art and collective experience hold immense capacity in the cultivation and development of action and emotion.


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