I first met Kohei Kondo when we were put on the same bill to play a gig at the magnificently named Tokyo music venue「晴れたら空に豆まいて」”When the weather’s fine throw peas at the sky”.
I was playing songs in Japanese and English and Kohei was doing Live Painting. It was one of the first shows I had done with live painting. If you are not familiar with the concept, it’s pretty much how it sounds. The artist makes a painting while a musician does sound. It actually works pretty well.
In my experience, this goes on a lot more in Japan than in the English speaking world. It’s hard to know why that is. It could be as simple as being because Japanese gigs are usually more expensive to get into so there’s a little more money to go around. Japanese gigs also tend to be a lot less raucous, with audiences that sit and listen fairly quietly, so having an artistic element makes a lot more sense.
Kohei makes swirling rainbow-like visions that seem at once vivid and washed out. His style is someone remiscent of liquid lighting techniques popular from the psychadelic 60s.
His pictures also have some common ground with the visual work of legendary Dirty Three guitarist, Mick Turner.
A translation of an Instagram post from the artist
May has my favourite festivals, Hoshioto and Green Room. I was also looking forward to doing live painting at the Ukigensai festival in Taipei, Taiwan, but it’s been cancelled. It’s not all bad though, at least both of the Japanese festivals are still being planned to take place at a later date and have not been canceled, so the fun has just been delayed. I hope the Ukigen Festival will happen at some stage!
These two festivals were to be my current major activities as a painter, consisting of live painting with sale of works at a solo exhibition afterwards. I’m also working on three other CD jacket and poster projects I’ve been asked for.
So the Live Painting has stopped happening and now I’m constantly at home drawing. I live with my sick elderly father, so I’m happy to have a lot of time to spend with him. It makes me think, maybe this time is actually like a gift?
Also, I’ve been able to get stuck into tending the rice fields that I wasn’t able to spend much time on last year. Everyday after I’ve done my painting I go out and do the mowing. I’m having a ball. It’s so satisfying to see the tangible results of something like mowing the lawn. In a simple way, I just like the soil, the insects and all the small lifeforms you come across. I’ve been that way since I was a child.
How far have my sensibilities changed? Well, If I come across an earthworm, recklessly trying to cross the road, I find myself picking it up in my fingers to deliver it to the safety of the grass!
After mowing, I plow the soil, I plant the seedlings. . . I’m having a good time
What I’m working on most intently at the moment is a new art collection. I promised the work two years ago, but I’ve been putting it off forever. The publisher only launched themselves two years ago. I was in the children’s book industry, which is a tight knit world, and the publisher is one of the editors that I used to know during this time. I’ve known him since I worked at a picture book store called Crayon House, so maybe I’ve known him for about 15 years! Wow!
Yes, that’s how it was, the editor finished up with the publisher he was with, became independent, and started his own publishing company. I was so happy that he called on me right at the start of his business. You know, I really want to make this art book good.
Also, my father was an editor, so he loves books and paper and I’m happy that I can share my work with him.
For about 3 or 4 years I was spending all my time all-out hustling doing Live Painting, and would do about 150 gigs a year. But it got to the point that I was having so little time to spend with my father, and that it was just too much for me even physically. Well, I guess I had the physical strength, but it was becoming impossible to efficiently allocate time to production for my solo exhibitions. Live painting requires a whole different state of mind, and it is not that easy to just switch the different modes of working.
I would get into the solo production mode, feeling like “I’m getting into the zone here” and then a week later a Live Painting gig would come along and it would feel like my whole mindstate had just been interrupted.
Even with a single day’s live painting, it still takes me a few days to change modes.
So it feels like having no live painting like this is actually a gift. When I write it like that it sounds like I don’t like Live Painting but actually I love love love love Live Painting.
Ideally, it’s good to organise things so that it’s “production this month” or “Live Painting this month”, but that’s easier said than done!
I love music, I love the musicians I work with, and I love Live Painting.
The thing about live painting is that you can come up with something that is like a direct chemical reaction to what is going on at the time. It’s kind of like you find some kind of infinite horizontal direction.
Solo production is interesting in it’s own way. It’s more like you’re diving deeply inside yourself. Perhaps solo is about the infinite vertical direction?
When I talk, I always seem to go off the rails. My friends tell me, “Kouhei, your stories don’t have a punchline, you’re always trying to bluff it by creating some kind of atmosphere”, and I fear today is no different. Anyway, for now, I guess I’m just reporting that I’m hard at work on a new art collection.
Also, I’m itching, from deep down inside my body, for the day when I can get back to the Live Painting. I tell you, I can’t wait to meet up with everyone.
Kohei Kondo Artist Profile
Born in 1975 in Japan, Kohei Kondo is a painter based in Tokyo. He holds a Masters Degree from Tottori University, majoring in forestry. Later he taught himself painting. He is active in a variety of “painting” genres including live painting, clothing line branding, book sleeves, CD jackets and performing arts.
【Exhibition history】 He has heldsolo exhibitions at large commercial facilities including Laforet Harajuku, Shinjuku Isetan and Shibuya PARCO. He has held solo exhibitions in various locations across Japan, Taiwan and the United States .
【Work history】He has provided designs for fashion brands, seasonal visuals at commercial facilities, CD jackets, and has appeared on television.
【Live Painting Performance】 His performances use painting improvised in accordance with musicians’ performances. While responding & synchronizing with the music, he uses the palm of his hands to paint directly on to large canvases. Audience members often remark “I have never seen painting done live as a performance” or “it felt like I was watching a movie.” He is active in various music festivals, music venues, theaters etc.
【Personal Statement】 My pictures are influenced largely by two things. One, that I spent my childhood in nature. I majored in forestry at university and have studied Japanese environments. As a result, there were many opportunities to get in touch with nature. I became interested in these wonderful habitats which bring out feelings beyond words when touching the sea, the wind, the clouds and forests. Nature is my grand motif. I would like to express the feelings that I get in nature.
The second thing is a Japanese traditional aesthetic sense called “MITATE”. For example, ancient Japanese have seen a rock in the garden as an island floating in the waves. Likewise, they have imaged the plum blossoms in association with the snow. I’d like to make use of this kind of sensibility in my paintings. I’d like to bring “mitate” into one universe and narrative, in a pattern that floats across the canvas.
A translation into English of the opening theme song from Midnight Diner Tokyo Stories (Shinya Shokudo) soundtrack, Omoide, by Tsunekichi Suzuki. I give a background on the songwriter, translate the lyrics, present the song in Japanese and English, and give a commentary on the translation.
But first thing’s first…
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Who is behind this site?
I’m Peter Joseph Head. I lived in Japan for four years as a student at Kyoto City University of the Arts and on working holiday. I have toured the country six times playing music and speak Japanese (JLPT N1).