Watching Keiko Kimono paint showed me the unique power of subconscious creativity

Japanese painter Keiko Kimoto recently impressed audiences with a live painting demonstration at the opening of her latest exhibition, Okurerutaiyou: Delayed Sun. And Creative Boom was lucky enough to have a front-row seat to watch the balletic artist in action.

There’s an impulsiveness at the heart of Keiko Kimono’s work. In her paintings, restless figures appear to leap away from the viewer, and even more traditional still-life pieces are depicted with an energy that reflects the artist’s spontaneity. Indeed, it’s not unknown for her to hastily move on to a new picture shortly after completing another.

As Creative Boom has already reported, the last 20 years of Keiko’s work is currently on display at Lucerne’s Impulse Gallery, where audiences can see how her experimental paintings are an expression of pure joy. The show runs until 16 April and features 57 pieces, plus a special piece created live during the private viewing to the amazement of attendees.

Hosted by gallery founders Claudia Limacher and Tim Zhuang, the private viewing culminated in Keiko painting in front of audiences while accompanied by a harpist. Throughout the demonstration, viewers could watch in real-time as she painted with mop-sized brushes in balletic flourishes.

Suggestions of figures appeared to come forward and recede during the process, while at other moments, huge sweeping daubs of paint would be smeared across the canvas. Rendered in washes of blue and white with line work snaking its way across the picture, the finished piece was emblematic of an approach inspired by the Japanese concept of Ma and the impermanence of wabi-sabi.

Watching Keiko Kimono paint showed me the unique power of subconscious creativity
Watching Keiko Kimono paint showed me the unique power of subconscious creativity
Watching Keiko Kimono paint showed me the unique power of subconscious creativity
Watching Keiko Kimono paint showed me the unique power of subconscious creativity

Speaking at the private viewing, Keiko told Creative Boom that her paintings, like the one she created on the night, are built on subconscious spontaneity. “Some are related to memories that I’ve had, but that’s not intentional,” she explains. The images come to me while I’m crafting the paintings.”

Indeed, it’s important for Keiko to be present in the moment when creating her work. “I don’t go in with an intention, but it all comes out through a combination of the materials and the canvas,” she adds. There’s almost no consciousness within the practice.

“I draw a line without memory and an idea. The colour harmonises visually with my feelings, connecting with my emotions.”

The physicality in Keiko’s paintings was a highlight of the demonstration. When she wasn’t putting brush to canvas or stepping back to asses her next move, Keiko would move around the space with the rhythm and flexibility of a dancer. Yet even this is not a premeditated part of her approach. “This is a more subconscious way of moving and being active,” she reveals.

Watching Keiko Kimono paint showed me the unique power of subconscious creativity
Watching Keiko Kimono paint showed me the unique power of subconscious creativity

When Keiko is painting, both mind and body work on a subconscious level. It’s not unknown for her to use both hands to tap into the right mindset. “They’re different actors,” she says, suggesting that each has their own influences and personalities that come out during the creative process.

In the exhibition space, it’s possible to glimpse how Keiko’s art has evolved. Figurative depictions begin to melt away over the years, with her later work taking on a more abstract approach. Yet even then, a sense of place remains. “I’m very in touch with Japanese landscapes, and my work can be very nostalgic about leaving my past behind,” she says.

That said, there is an amusingly straightforward answer to Keiko’s stylistic shift. Even though she’s a fan of the greats of the Impressionist movement – “Matisse is king!” – she’s wryly upfront about why figures have started slowly disappearing from her work over the years: “I’m getting bored!”

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