Artist Profile: Toyoharu Kii

July 27, 2018

The work of Toyoharu Kii is immediately recognizable for its signature rhythmic texture: “like a fingerprint,” in the words of Karen Ami. As a longtime visiting instructor at the Chicago Mosaic School and an independent lecturer on mosaics in his native Japan, Kii uses his own highly focused and idiosyncratic practice to make students reimagine the expressive potential of mosaics.

A Tokyo native, Kii attended Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music to study painting and drawing, but was soon captivated by mosaics and was granted a scholarship by the Italian government, which took him to Florence to study at the Istituto Statale dell’Arte. When he returned to Japan in 1982, he opened his own mosaic studio, Atelier ING. Subsequently he has charted an distinguished career, realizing over 90 mosaic mural, exhibiting internationally in Japan, France, Italy, Russia, and the United States, and receiving numerous high profile awards, including the first place at the Prix Picassiette in Chartres three times over in 2002, 2008, and 2016. In addition to teaching at CMS, he lectures at Musashino Art University in Tokyo and Kanazawa Collage of Art in Kanazawa, Japan.

Typically, Kii works in a strict monochrome using Italian white marble called “Perlino” or “Biancone”. Rather than viewing the exclusion of color as a limitation, Kii embraces it, saying “I also realized that excluding the color I feel free. I don’t need to think about the effects of color! …I suppose many people would not agree with it. Yet I believe that with the repetitive cycle of hypothesis, creation and presentation, we can have deeper understanding about mosaic art.” By removing the element of color, Kii’s white marble creations become ruminations on the power of texture, dimension, and pattern. The homogeneity of his palette allows him to highlight subtle interplays of light and shadow, positive and negative space, teasing rich complexity out of a deceptively simple aesthetic.

Recently, Kii has been focusing on the concept of rebirth as inspiration for a series of mosaics. Intrinsic to his interpretation of this idea is the power of the earth to heal itself from damage caused by humanity. In this cycle of rebirth, human intervention is a wound around and over which the earth has the potential to produce new life that can cover and erase the scars of our abuse. The timeliness of these ideas reveal the contemporary thrust of Kii’s practice; his mosaics don’t just express a contemporary aesthetic or a material awareness, through them he seeks to reflect on greater issues that affect the world and our place in it.

“I believe fine art should reflect the period in history in which the artist lives and express the artist’s vision of that period in some way,” says Kii. “How can an artist accomplish it with a distinctive artistic medium of mosaic? Finding the answer to that question will enable mosaics to have a voice in the world of art.

In his workshop Contrast Without Color, Toyoharu Kii brings these unique perspectives to the CMS community in order to present a new approach to thinking about mosaic and the possibilities for making meaningful imagery. Students learn to think about the physicality of the medium without the influence of color on design. By breaking out of the constraints of this seemingly ubiquitous design element, students are challenged to think like Kii and embrace the freedom and potential of pure form.

Kii returns to CMS this September to lead this annual workshop. If you would like the opportunity to study with Kii and learn from his totally unique process, you can register for Contrast Without Color here.


Written by Grace Walsh

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