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Keita Morimoto: Strange Guild at Nicholas Metivier Gallery

Held at a high-end King West gallery, Morimoto’s solo exhibition is a great success. A master painter only 4 years after his graduation, he showcases mostly traditional oil portraiture. Who knew there are still such a high demand for traditional portraits? Perhaps Torontonians are too used to and getting bored of the experimental 3D video and abstract installations. The show attracted a variety of social and demographic groups, from established collectors to young art students. Morimoto’s painting subjects are coming from different ages as well. While his technique and painting style go back as far as the Renaissance or Baroque, there are also some attempts at mixing contemporary subjects with traditional landscapes. 

Keita Morimoto, Self Portrait as Bacchus, 2015, oil on linen, 48 x 36 inches. Image courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery

“Europa” shows a group of young people relaxing in a typical European painting landscape. Although separately, the landscape and the subjects are painted amazingly well, there is a bit of disconnection between the two because the landscape and people are treated differently. The background, that reminds us of Gainsborough’s landscapes, is paired with ultra-realist depiction of youths of our time, and there is a tiny bit of ‘aura’ from having painted the set around the subjects.  

Keita Morimoto, Europa, 2016, oil on canvas, 72 x 96 inches. Image courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery

Other works like the “Aristocrats”, while not as contemporary in its outcome as some others in the show, features the internet icon  – a giant cat – and is incorporated into the composition effectively. In this case the ‘aura’ shows the under-painting: the soft lights tie the lady and the cat to the background, and both components are painted with the same treatment for more coherent portrayal.

Keita Morimoto, Aristocrats, 2015, oil on linen, 72 x 48 inches. Image courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery

However intriguing his mixed styled canvases, I think that Morimoto’s most successful paintings are the ones where he chose a modern subject in a modern setting. “Aya in Tokyo” is deliciously ambiguous. Set in some kind of bar/karaoke restaurant, a young girl in a white coat stands on a chair and looks off to the left. Her dead-center positioning is made dynamic with her gaze, and every components in the picture work together to move your eyes around the space. The strong geometric components in the background are juxtaposed effectively with her soft coat and hair. It creates such depth in the pictorial space, that it extends onto the gallery space as well. Similarly to mirror images – which make us believe that there is another world on the other side and not just an illusion -  ”Aya in Tokyo” creates a universe within the canvas.

Keita Morimoto, Aya in Tokyo, 2015, oil on canvas, 72 x 48 inches. Image courtesy of Nicholas Metivier Gallery

Patrons must feel this enticing and atmospheric ambiguity in all Morimoto’s works, as the show was almost sold out on the opening reception. I expected nothing less than continued stardom for his pleasing paintings. Large or small, Morimoto’s paintings have the ability to seduce our vision.

Sunny Kim

*Exhibition information: February 4 – 27, 2016, Nicholas Metivier Gallery, 451 King Street West, Toronto. Gallery hours: Tue–Sat, 10 am–6 pm.

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