Fashion brand Onitsuka Tiger is currently holding a solo exhibition featuring Japanese artist Izumi Kato titled “PARASITIC: ONITSUKA” at the Tiger Gallery™ in London, England. Bringing free, accessible art to the local community, the exhibition showcases a range of Kato’s works, from conceptual sculptures to paintings adorning Onitsuka Tiger signature sneakers.
To spotlight this ongoing exhibition, Hypebeast spoke to Mr. Konosuke Kawakami, Associate Professor of Art and Design at Kurashiki University, about the meaning of offering artistic experiences for free in London. Kawakami teaches students who are aiming to pursue future artistic endeavors, shaping their creative outlooks. To supplement his interview, Hypebeast also arranged for three of Kawakami’s students to ask the featured artist a few questions, further inspiring the next generation of burgeoning artists.
Hypebeast: First of all, what is Tiger Gallery™?
Kawakami: Tiger Gallery™ is a free art gallery project run by fashion brand Onitsuka Tiger on Regent Street, a two-kilometer stretch from north to south in central London, where the brand’s flagship stores are located. The gallery was established in 2022 and the art curator is Yuki Terase of Art Intelligence Global. The gallery’s aim is to support a diverse range of contemporary artists and create engaging conversations about art, innovation, and style.
Currently holding a solo exhibition at Tiger Gallery™ is Izumi Kato, an artist based in Japan and Hong Kong. When I received an offer from Tiger Gallery™, I immediately said yes because I am a big fan of Onitsuka Tiger sneakers. Kato’s paintings, sculptures, and installations represent a world of ‘no one and nowhere,’ a space that exists somewhere between the abstract and the figurative. At the core of his style are figures reminiscent of fetuses and ghosts. His originality, which stands out even when looking back over the history of figurative paintings, is that he uses bold colors and paints directly by hand — without using a paintbrush. The installation is a collage of chiseled bodies, creating a unique Japanese conceptual and cultural atmosphere and a view of the supernatural in a primitive and uncivilized society.
In Tiger Gallery™, Kato’s iconic eerie, comical, and solitary figures sit in retro Onitsuka Tiger sneakers. The works welcome the viewer into a world where primitivism and modernity intersect, and you can see these intricate exhibitions for free in London.
Why do so many museums in the UK, including the Tiger Gallery™, open their doors to the public free of charge?
The system dates back to the late 1990s, when the New Labour Party, under the leadership of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, launched New Labour, New Life for Britain. It was a new way of promoting the British economy. Jeremy Hunt, then Culture Minister, said, “Our free museums and galleries ensure that culture is open to everyone, not just the lucky chosen few. In particular, I am proud of the fact that we have been able to safeguard the future of free museums despite the current financial situation.”
This groundbreaking system has increased the number of visitors to British museums and galleries by 150 percent, generating 1 billion pounds ($1.2 billion USD) in revenue annually and attracting many tourists from outside the country. London has also become a center of commercial art, and many young galleries have sprung up one after another, following Stephen Friedman, White Cube, Victoria Miro, and Gagosian — to which Kato belongs.
Izumi Kato has received worldwide acclaim for his work. To share more about his process, Kato solicited questions from students to share some insights about her career path and the art industry in London.
Aura Shoji: I was astonished by your artwork, which combines shoes and art. What is the source of your images?
Kato: I don’t have a particular source or anything. Rather, it is the exact opposite: I try not to fall into the mindset that art has to be this way or that way. The difficult thing about art is that there are no rules, so we are trying to find a balance.
Myojyu Wang: I heard that you usually travel between Tokyo and Hong Kong. What is your impression of London?
My honest impression is that the city is like Harry Potter. Also, people tend to say that the food in London is bad, but to me it is surprisingly delicious. I also like the fact that there are many record stores.
Miu: When do you come up with ideas for your work?
I think about artwork every day. Whether it comes true or not — it always comes to me.
Aura Shoji: Are there any hobbies that you cherish outside of being an artist?
My hobbies are fishing, music, and soccer. But I try not to get carried away with other things!
Myojyu Wang: There has been a lot of talk about gender balance in the art world. Women artists have not been featured much in the past and more light is being shed on harassment in the industry. What do you think about these issues?
Not only in art, but in the world, fads and fashions often go out of style, and I think that is just the way it is. Someone else is creating these issues and trends, so I don’t pander to them unless I feel it myself.
Miu: Finally, what made you decide to become an artist, and what are some of the difficulties and rewards of being an artist?
When I was young, I wanted to be a soccer player or a musician. I worked part-time in various occupations but I thought the art world was the best suited for me. So I decided to go into art when I was about 30 years old, feeling that if I didn’t compete and didn’t make it, I had enough to live for. I think I chose it by a process of elimination. 35 to 40 years old was really difficult for me. But the good thing was that I could work at my own pace and didn’t have to work within an organization. The path of an artist is a thorny one, but I wish you all the best.
Izumi Kato’s “PARASITIC: ONITSUKA” solo exhibition is on view now until September 22, 2023, showing Monday to Sunday from 11:30 am. to 6:00 pm. For more information on the Onitsuka Tiger’s ‘Tiger Gallery™’ project, be sure to visit the brand’s website and Instagram.
Onitsuka Tiger Regent Street London
249-251 Regent St.
London, W1B 2EP