Toyoharu Kii: A Quiet Force
Meet Toyoharu Kii~ Japan’s Mosaic Maestro.
Toyoharu Kii’s work is like a fingerprint; the work that comes from his hands is unique and clearly is like no one else’s. Within a mosaic, one can see the sensitivity of the artists touch and hear the volume of his voice. This is true for Kii’s delicately detailed textured marble compositions. He has been instrumental in the rise of interest in mosaics among Japanese artists and is at the forefront of a new tradition in contemporary mosaic in Japan.
When Kii was 16 years old he decided to formally study art at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. He was a student of oil painting and murals and in his second year of art school he was introduced to mosaics in a short course. This inspired Kii to study in Florence, Italy on a scholarship from the Italian government after his graduation. When he returned to Japan he opened a studio called Mosaic Atelier ING.
“Now,” Kii says, “painting for me is important only to make clear my image for mosaic, butI am not so much interested in painting itself.” Painting is, indeed a part of the approach to mosaics that sets Toyoharu Kii’s work apart from other contemporary mosaic artists. He creates traditional ink paintings on rice paper, many of them, as sketches for future works.
His process is one that he has developed through a disciplined practice over many years. He has found quietness in the white marble and in the interstices between the tesserae. “I hope to enrich the expression of mosaic and elaborate the technique. In Japan, the people consider mosaic ‘a childish play’ and a very simple technique. In my mosaic, the tesserae have various shapes and are composed in different ways in order to obtain specific character of tesserae,” says Kii. “ Please take a look at the tesserae closely when you see my mosaic.”
In Kii’s work, each tesserae has a voice, as does every space in between the chiseled pieces of marble. The whiteness gives Kii’s mosaic subtle variances in color and shadow. In a medium where the material can make the compositions feel rigid, and Kii has found inspiring ways to free it from those traditional boundaries. His work has both fluidity and undulation; the hardness of the marble and the shadows and textures help to express some of the themes in nature that Kii values. There is a ritual of mediation for both the artist, in the creation, and for the viewer in the slow discovery of the work.
Toyoharu Kii had a well-received solo exhibition at Pagoda Red Gallery, in Chicago this last summer, his first such exhibition in the United States. He has exhibited at The Art Museum of Ravenna (MAR), the Chapelle St. Eman in Chartres, France and at The Mosaique Contemporaine in Paray-le-Monial, France. Toyoharu Kii will have a one-man show in November 2016 in Hachinohe City, in northern Japan and where he lived as a young boy.
For the last several years, Kii has been a Visiting Artist at The Chicago Mosaic School where he has encouraged students to explore his process of mosaic making while discovering the beauty of every tesserae. He will be returning to CMS in the summer of 2017 to inspire a new handful of students and to hold a new exhibition in Chicago.
This article was written by Karen Ami for SAMA’s Fall 2016 Groutline Journal. Ami is Founder and Executive Director of The Chicago Mosaic School. Kii will be returning as a Visiting Artist at CMS for a 5th year to teach his workshop “Monochromatic“.