For Kotao Tomozawa, “SLIME” Is Both a Mask and a Medium That Reverts Her Back to a Blank Slate

At her first solo exhibition in Hong Kong, Kotao details how her adolescence and idol-experience shaped her artistic vision.

Art 
2,995 Hypes 1 Comments

You are reading your free article for this month.
Members-only

AllRightsReserved’s latest “MEET_PROJECT” introduces Kotao Tomozawa, an up-and-coming Japanese artist that garnered attention for her hyper-realistic yet playfully unsettling paintings where her subjects are always masked in a slimy substance.

Going by Kotao, the Gen Z artist presented “SLIME,” her first solo exhibition in Hong Kong last week. Nestled inside a contemporary space at the city’s bustling LANDMARK mall, the exhibition showcases a brand new set of Kotao’s large-scale oil paintings. In addition, her first-ever bronze sculpture was also unveiled and was briefly offered as a limited-edition via DDTStore.

Before the exhibition opening, Hypebeast spoke with Kotao about what shaped her as an artist today, as well as the messages behind her eerily captivating creations.

“SLIME” seems like such a fitting name for your exhibition, especially since there’s always an element of slime/sliminess present in your artwork. How did this style come about?

I felt lost when I first enrolled at the Tokyo University of the Arts. I felt like I had already exhausted all my ideas just to get in, and I didn’t know which direction to experiment or how to push my ideas. One time, I was playing with a piece of slime and decided to place it all over my body. The sensations from that felt very raw and real. That’s when I decided to build my style around slimes, which I’m still experimenting with even today.

Many of your paintings appear to be self-portraits, but you also often depict baby dolls in your art. What’s the meaning behind the baby dolls? Does the message it carries differ from your self-portraits?

I always start with self-portraits, as it’s a direct yet intimate way to express myself. To me, babies represent a blank slate — it’s pure, and it symbolizes the starting point. When I was little, I had this baby doll called Ruki Chan, who was more like an imaginary friend that I hold very dear. I first thought of incorporating Ruki Chan into my art while I was in university, and the effect felt very similar to my self-portraits – it felt compelling and very intimate. That’s how I started to focus on these two subjects in my artwork.

Have you always been interested in art? Was there a pivotal moment when you realized that this is what you wanted to pursue?

My mother used to work as a comic artist, and she’d draw all the time at home. Seeing her artwork and being surrounded by drawings always felt very natural to me, like taking a bath or eating dinner. I guess I never really thought about being an artist as a career. I have this determination that if I work hard enough, and do the best I can, anything is possible.

What kind of influences does your mother’s artwork have on you?

My mother, Mimiyo Tomozawa, is kind of a crazy mom. Her art style and themes are intense, unusual, and avant-garde. But at the same time, it’s pretty underground and also very adult. I wasn’t allowed to read her work as a child, but as I got older, I started to read her creations bit by bit. I really look up to her and her works.

You mentioned that you’ve dabbled in the entertainment industry before. How do you think the experience has shaped you as an artist today?

I debuted as an idol back when I was still in high school. It’s quite strange really, because the decision stems from my fear and mesmerization for charismatic people. I have a fear of appearing in public, and I wanted to confront that weakness. I’m glad I was able to face it so bravely, but that’s also when I realized I didn’t like hiding behind the idol facade and not being able to express my authentic self.

An idol’s work schedule is always packed, that’s a given. Back then, I was both physically and emotionally exhausted. It feels like no one really understood me, and I felt lonely. I started drawing really dark pictures then, and that’s when I finally felt that I was expressing parts of my real self. Whenever I place a piece of slime on my body, it feels like I’m being reverted back to a blank slate. It’s cathartic.

“Whenever I place a piece of slime on my body, it feels like I’m being reverted back to a blank slate.”

Do you consider the element of slime as something that separates, or even protects you from the things you’re scared of in real life?

Yes, that’s right. I noticed that when I was working as an idol, I was particularly fascinated by the innate cruelty, ferocity, and terror in human nature. But it also made me question the world around me, after all, I was only a high schooler then. I was afraid of social media as well. My job was to be seen and remain in the public’s attention as much as possible. To keep up with that, I started to lie on social media, and these lies kept escalating. I needed something to help me bring back my true self, and slimes happened to be that one thing.

What are some of your main sources of inspiration?

In terms of painters, I love Francis Bacon’s surrealist and raw aesthetics, as well as the distinctive yet strong colors in his paintings. It’s not something I can describe with words, but his artworks have the ability to send shocks to my skin. My goal is to be able to create impactful artwork just like his.

I’m also really fascinated by professional wrestlers like Jun Kasai. He’s known for his hardcore and violent wrestling style. His head is almost always covered in blood, and bloody visuals as such are pretty impactful to me. I also draw inspiration from niche films, manga, and book, such as Kazuichi Hanawa‘s bizarre, macabre art style, and satirical mockumentaries like Kazuo Hara’s The Emperor’s Naked Army Marches On.

Do you remember the first piece of artwork you created? How do you think your art has evolved since?

I guess that’ll be the pieces I produced during my time as an idol. One of those depicted a scenery of ectoplasm oozing from a pair of boots. After a while, I tried oil painting for the first time and I was surprised at how different my drawings are when using a completely different medium. Those also gave me the feeling they were spawned from my desire to express myself.

At the time, I was focused on drawing things from my head, and not things that I see physically. Somehow, I started to study faces and become fascinated with all the nuances in human expressions. Recalling my adolescence, my doodles almost always featured faces. I guess I was never interested in landscapes or still life to begin with.

What is a typical day in your life like?

I tend to segregate my daily life from art. This is because whenever I start drawing or painting, I simply don’t want to stop until the piece is complete. I’ll be so concentrated that I’ll forget to eat, sleep, and even bathe. But when I’m not creating art, I’ll go out and have fun to the fullest. I’d repeatedly ride a roller coaster until I felt sick, or go to a sauna all day to relax.

Time really does fly when you’re in absolute concentration.

I lose track of time completely when I’m in the zone. It’ll feel like an hour or so to me, but in fact, a whole day has already passed.

Do you foresee yourself taking the idea of “SLIME” into other forms of creative disciplines in the future?

I want to elevate my creations with movements. Sizing up my paintings was also intentional. My face is only about this small, but on canvas, it’s at least a few times bigger. When I draw on such large scale canvases, I can really study and focus on every little detail. I’m amazed with how this three-dimensional Ruki Chan sculpture turned out. I wish I could make it even bigger, full-bodied, and with limbs that are moveable.

I also experimented with a new style for this exhibition. You’ll see that there are pieces where the slime takes on a more complex and aggressive form. For these, the slime appears to be moving constantly, and it gradually smothers the subjects.

What advice would you give to aspiring artists?

Honestly, I still have a long way to go, but I think keeping a pure heart is key. It’s really important to stay true to yourself while also learning ways to express it through your creations. It doesn’t matter how insignificant the message in your art is. If it comes from an authentic place, somebody out there will be moved by it.

Kotao Tomozawa’s “SLIME” will remain on view at LANDMARK, Hong Kong until July 30, 2023.

LANDMARK
Shop 116, 1/F, LANDMARK,
15 Queen’s Road Central,
Central, Hong Kong

Read Full Article

What to Read Next

Get to Know PastDown, Lil Yachty's New Favorite London-Based Vintage Designer Store
Fashion 

Get to Know PastDown, Lil Yachty's New Favorite London-Based Vintage Designer Store

Also counting Aitch, Sainté, Kasabian, Ashbeck, WillowKayne, Parallel, Loyle Carner, and Knucks within its clientele roster.

POST ARCHIVE FACTION Is Finding Equilibrium
Fashion 

POST ARCHIVE FACTION Is Finding Equilibrium

South Korean designer Dongjoon Lim navigates dichotomies through his label PAF — in ‘Hypebeast Magazine’ Issue 31.

Robyn Lynch's 'Greetings From Ireland' Exhibition Welcomes Us Into Her Menswear Universe
Fashion 

Robyn Lynch's 'Greetings From Ireland' Exhibition Welcomes Us Into Her Menswear Universe

Showcasing her detailed design process inside youthful inflatable castles.

Dekmantel's Salomon XT-4 OG Collab Is Rave-Ready
Footwear

Dekmantel's Salomon XT-4 OG Collab Is Rave-Ready

Featuring a kaleidoscope of colors drawn from the earth’s natural tones.

Inter Milan Pixilates Its 2023/24 Home Jersey
Fashion

Inter Milan Pixilates Its 2023/24 Home Jersey

Reinterpreting the Nerazzurri stripes like never before.


adidas' Conductor High Returns to the Hardwood
Footwear

adidas' Conductor High Returns to the Hardwood

Honoring Patrick Ewing’s on-court legacy.

Mahalia Releases Silky-Smooth Sophomore Album 'IRL'
Music 

Mahalia Releases Silky-Smooth Sophomore Album 'IRL'

“This is a real reflection of the journeys I’ve had, what actually happened, and a celebration of everyone who got me there.”

Twitter Notes Gets Rebrand to “Twitter Articles”
Tech & Gadgets

Twitter Notes Gets Rebrand to “Twitter Articles”

A long-form and mixed media tool that Elon Musk says users could use to “publish a book.”

Chloë Sevigny Is Chopova Lowena's Angelic Muse In FairyTale Book 'Conversations With Angels'
Fashion 

Chloë Sevigny Is Chopova Lowena's Angelic Muse In FairyTale Book 'Conversations With Angels'

Rewriting Hans Christian Andersen’s ‘The Snow Queen’ with psychedelic twists.

Bovet Readies the Récital 23 in Two New Luscious Colors
Watches

Bovet Readies the Récital 23 in Two New Luscious Colors

Featuring intricately hand-chiseled guilloché dials.

More ▾
 
We got you covered. Don’t miss out on the latest news by signing up for our newsletters.

By subscribing, you agree to our Terms of Use and Privacy Policy.