Katsumi Nakai

(Hirakata, Japan, 1927-2013)

Katsumi Nakai (1927-2013) was a Japanese visual artist. Born in 1927 in Hirakata, Osaka, Japan, he studied painting at the Institute of Fine Arts in Osaka. His first solo exhibition took place in 1956 at Omote Gallery in Osaka. In 1958, he was among the seven founding artists of the avant-garde group of abstract and informal art Tekkeikai , which was active from Kyoto to Osaka until the mid 1960s. In subsequent years, they were awarded the Shell Art Prize and the Prize of the newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun for the exhibition Kansai Sogo.

In 1964, Nakai temporarily relocated to Milan which further developed his unique point of view. Nakai soon entered the circle of artists that in 1967 writer and art critic Guido Ballo described as the “New Milanese School” (Nuova Scuola di Milano). In particular, Lucio Fontana and gallerist Renato Cardazzo played pivotal roles in the shaping of Nakai’s artistic practice in Milan. Nakai was interested in Fontana’s idea of Spatialism, allowing for concepts such as time and space to enter the canvas. Cardazzo gave Nakai his first solo exhibition at Galleria del Cavallino, Venice in 1965, as well as multiple exhibitions at Galleria del Naviglio, Milan.

Nakai’s multi-colored wooden apertures probe the pictorial surface and its levels of dimensionality, which are delicately raised and projected into the viewer’s space. In this sense, Nakai’s work exceeds the limits of the flat canvas, by staging an interplay between outward projections, form, and volumes. Existing between traditional two-dimensional paintings and three-dimensional sculptures, the final outcome, as described by Guido Ballo, is a “pictorial object.”

Nakai’s unique voice is a synthesis of the progressive ideals of the Nuova Scuola di Milano and the rich history of Japan, specifically its dedicated craftsmanship and its poetic allusiveness. The colourful layers in Nakai’s multi-dimensional pictorial objects multiply and cheerfully transform, spellbinding the viewer and unveiling, before their eyes, metaphysical mysteries.

Nakai has additionally been exhibited in numerous solo and group exhibitions in Italy, Europe, Japan and the United States throughout his career, and achieved awards such as the Prix Piazzetta, the Ambitions Moderate Award, and the Silver Award in the XV Milan Triennale in 1973.

Nakai returned to live in Japan in 1996 and he died in Hirakata in 2013. In 2004, the Italian Kyoto Institute of Culture organized the seminal exhibition Katsumi Nakai – Open, while Ronchini Gallery gave the artist his first solo exhibition in United Kingdom in February 2018.