Known for his hand molded terracotta sculptures of the human form, Japanese artist Hiroto Kitagawa’s use of elongation of the human body in his works is reminiscent of the classical Italian sculptural masters’ pursuit of the ideal proportion, yet deep within these works resides a soul that is thoroughly Japanese, an amalgamation of classical European and Japanese manga and anime styles that reflect the artist’s academic journey from Japan to Italy.
Anime and manga styles certainly may be the first impression of many upon viewing Kitagawa’s works but that actually does not fully do justice to the depictions of the fashionable men and women that his hand turn out. In particular, his sculptures exhibit an outstanding feel and rich texture entirely apart from the one-dimensional character sought in anime and manga. His complex, multifaceted blend of the Eastern and the Western, the classical and modern, the realist and abstractionist brings forth a uniquely contemporary Japanese aesthetic. Kitagawa’s deft handling of the emotional and actual human nature not only informs the meticulous detailing of the hairstyles, clothing, shoes and accessories exhibited in his works, it also draws a clear boundary between his work and the hypothetical symbolism of the worlds of anime and manga.
Regardless of the fact that the urban subjects of Kitagawa’s sculpture have by all outward manner and appearance grown up in an age of plenty, and despite their beautifully fashionable and youthful appearance, hidden within the facial expressions and body posture, for all their graceful elegance, a vague gloominess, alienation, dissatisfaction and unease is revealed. And the helplessness and uncertainty manifest on their faces is a pointed expression of vexation of a generation of young Japanese fallen victim to the bubble economy, a youthful example illustrative of Japan’s lost generation.
Born in 1967 in Otsu City in Japan’s Shiga Prefecture, Kitagawa became enamored of Italian sculpture of the human form while a student of sculpture at Kanazawa College of Art and resolved to head for Europe for further study. To further his ambition to study in Italy, he took a job as a manual laborer in a factory. In 1990 he finally realized his dream of studying in Italy; but by the end of the first year he had already run though all the funds he had worked so hard to save. For the next eight years he would spend six months in Japan working to save money then head back to Italy for six months of study, eventually triumphing with completion of his academic program at the Academy of Fine Arts in Carrara.
His commitment to his artistic ideals helped stiffen Kitagawa’s resolve in overcoming myriad difficulties during his overseas studies and also served as the impetus behind setting the exploration of the real essence of humanity as his artistic objective. In an age where memorial-style sculpture and installation pieces are popular in Japanese contemporary art, he decided to go with non-mainstream sculptures of people in terracotta media and after years of effort he has definitely succeeded in blending classical sculpture with his own individual touch and feeling to bring about a new look in modern sculpture. Although he has certainly taken some cues from European artists like Giuliano Vangi, Alberto Giacometti, Marino Marini and Giacomo Manzu, whether in terms of content, texture, expressive technique or attitude, Kitagawa’s works not only depart from the Western arts milieu, they compose a kind of new contemporary multicultural composite look.
Starting with terracotta, Kitagawa gradually moves beyond the limitations of the frame and sculpture, using super realist sculptures of people to establish for himself a unique position within the world of Japanese contemporary art.