Earlier this year in February, Nicholas Metivier Gallery in Toronto ran “Garden of Light”, an exhibition by Japanese-Canadian artist Keita Morimoto. Morimoto is known for his dramatically lit paintings that pay homage to art history while often portraying contemporary youths occupying derelict, urban settings. In his latest work, inspired by Edward Hopper, he has focussed on the specific genre of nocturne painting.
Twilight conveys a sense of mystery, stillness and solitude—a perfect stage for his rebellious subjects. The night also emphasises artificial lights emanating from homes and commercial windows, illuminating the city and creating “portals” into other worlds. Morimoto displays the quiet beauty of convenience stores, mini marts and burger joints lining the snowy streets of Toronto—essential establishments on which we depend on and visit for our day to day survival but the true importance of which we rarely pause to notice.
At the centre of the exhibition was a painting of unprecedented scale and ambition, an eight by eighteen-foot triptych depicting a view looking east from a high rise in downtown Toronto. Morimoto captures the city’s scale and density, meticulously describing every window and street lamp. Impressive in scale alone, each of the panels of the continuous panorama is painted at a different time of day. Morimoto cites Claude Monet’s many paintings of Rouen Cathedral’s façade in various kinds of light as well as the 15th century Japanese artist Tosa Mitsunobu’s painting of bamboo in four seasons onto one continuous folding wall painting, as his primary inspirations for this groundbreaking work.
Morimoto’s paintings, in general, combine an eclectic mix of historic, contemporary and personal influences. His dramatic use of light and dark considerably draw upon the Dutch Golden Age paintings. Included alongside classical compositions are subtle references to youthful rebellious subcultures (as mentioned above), also anime and street fashion. The artworks are executed in a style which invites the viewer to complete the narrative.
Keita Morimoto was born in Osaka, Japan in 1990. He graduated from the Ontario College of Art + Design in 2012 and currently lives in Toronto. He has exhibited and in Canada and the United States. Exhibitions include the Museum of Contemporary Art, Canada, 2014 and the Art Gallery of Peterborough, 2018.