Interview with Japanese artist Koji Kamoji

Tokyo-born and Warsaw-based artist Koji Kamoji has lived in Poland for over 50 years. His art, shaped by both his Japanese roots and his Polish upbringing, reveals a truly contemporary aesthetic. Combining his interest in sculpture, installation and painting Mr. Kamoji resists a direct narrative in his artwork and instead focuses on the relationship between nature and the objects imposing on its man-made environment. Mystical and contemplative it distracts our senses appearing almost suspended in time.   

Courtesy of Foksal Gallery
Q. You have been living and working as an artist in Poland for close to 52 years. Tell us how did you end up in Warsaw?

Koji Kamoji: My maternal uncle Riotsu Umeda was a translator and historian of Polish poetry and literature. In 1923, he left Tokyo on a ship to Berlin to continue his studies in European philosophy. During his voyage he met a young Polish man, Stanisław Michowski, and quickly became friends. After my uncle's stay in Berlin he came to visit Stanisław in Warsaw and stayed until the war broke out in 1939. He was evacuated by the Japanese Embassy and sent to the Balkans and then to Japan. He kept in contact with his friends in Poland, read Polish newspapers and while in Tokyo he exerted a strong influence on me. It was under his influence that I came to Poland because he wanted me to continue his love of Poland.

Courtesy of Foksal Gallery
And then what happened?
My uncle wanted me to study art history but I wanted to paint, so I painted and I paint still. I came to Poland in 1959 and studied Fine Arts at the University of Warsaw and spent almost my entire life here.

Courtesy of Foksal Gallery

Did you ever think of going back to Japan at any point in time?
No. I met my wife really quickly and then our three kids were born. I set up my roots here and I had to work and earn a living, I had to study and and I had to paint.

Those were difficult times in Poland how did you manage?
Those were Socialist times but I met a good group of artists and after my studies, one of the founders of the Foksal Gallery, Zbigniew Gostomski, saw my abstract work and proposed to exhibit my work the following year at his gallery.

Photo: Tadeusz Rolke 
So, you achieved success rather quickly after your studies.
Yes, because right away I was discovered by one of the best galleries and here was the best environment for an artist. I was surrounded by Polish artists such as, Stażewski, Kantor, Lenica and many others. It was an ideal environment and I have been associated with the Foksal Gallery ever since.

Photo © Erazm Ciołek
Did you feel that you had the freedom to paint the type of work you wanted to paint in Poland when you began in the 70's?
Yes, because although Poland was a socialist country, there was still plenty of freedom and there were no barriers. There were also many artists coming to Poland from other countries at that time and there was an exchange between artists and their works through the gallery.

Courtesy of Foksal Gallery
Do you have a Japanese community here in Poland?
When I first came I was the only one here, together with my Japanese friend but we didn't even speak Japanese to each other. There are now I think around 300 Japanese people here in Warsaw.

Courtesy of Foksal Gallery
Do you keep up with your Japanese culture now and do you speak with Japanese?
Yes thanks to the internet, I read Japanese newspapers on a daily basis and I listen to the radio.

Courtesy of Foksal Gallery
When was the last time you were in Japan?
Two years ago.

You are a practitioner of yoga, do you find that influences your current work?
In a sense yes, because I also look for solace in art as I do in yoga. It has the same goal, much like meditation, it is very zen. Hence the name for one of my exhibitions, “Portable Zen Garden.” I thought that a work of art is like a window overlooking a zen garden in here and the rock which lies in the center represents reality. And the paintings are the perceptions of the world and they blend together on a symbolic level as gardens.

Courtesy of Foksal Gallery
Does that exhibition reflect a sort of nostalgia for Japan?
In a certain sense, there is something of that. One who paints is always searching for who they are, their roots. So there is a Japanese tradition in my work. I really like zen gardens and I often visited them in Japan, in Kyoto. And there is peace in there.

Courtesy of Foksal Gallery
What do you want your audience to understand about you as an artist?
I want my paintings to convey peace, and happiness, because that is what I'm looking for myself, not drama, extreme emotions or controversy. 

Courtesy of Foksal Gallery
This interview originally appeared in Warsaw Business Journal.pl.

Artist: Koji Kamoji

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