Koji Kamoji is a painter and creator of objects and installations. He was born in 1935 in Tokyo.
Malarz, twórca obiektów i instalacji. Urodził się w 1935 roku w Tokio.
From 1953 to 1958, he studied at the Musashino Art University in Tokyo (graduated in 1958) in the studio of Professors Saburo Aso and Choonan Yamaguchi. In 1959, he came to Poland to study at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, graduating in 1966 from the studio of Professor Artur Nacht-Samborski. He won the C. K. Norwid Critics' Award in 1975. Since 1967, he has been cooperating with the Foksal Gallery in Warsaw. He lives and works in Warsaw.
Koji Kamoji's family has been associated with Polish culture for years. His mother's older brother Riotsu Umeda and his uncle Kudo translated Polish literature into Japanese. When the twenty-four-year-old artist decided to leave Japan after his graduation, he decided to go to Poland. Before the journey, he experienced the tragedy of his friend S. Sasaki's suicide, memories of whom inspired many of Koji Kamoji's later works. The long journey by ship to Poland via the Suez Canal also was an important experience for the young artist. During the trip, he felt the presence of water, sky, air and the infinity of space very intensively. Elements of nature and its symbolism play a significant role in Koji Kamoji's art. The typical form of his works is concise and brief, resembling haiku poems that perpetuate poets’ mood of transience.
During his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw, Koji Kamoji painted expressive oil pictures, with strong colours and clearly defined texture. His later paintings became more restrained, disciplined in terms of form and colour, stylistically referring to the aesthetics of geometry. In 1965, at an exhibition in Krzysztofory Palace in Kraków, the artist presented compositions of bow-shaped stripes in hues of yellow. His diploma piece at the Academy of Fine Arts in Warsaw was a series of ‘punctured paintings‘. At that time, he worked on reliefs of raw wood, some of which he fragmentarily coated with white paint. They were painting-reliefs in the shape of flat boxes that could be hung on walls or laid on the floor. The top plane of the box was the painting's surface. Some of them (Humour, Indefinite Movement, For a Temple Wall) were punctured, and sometimes the artist outlined the holes with black paint, which could be understood as a symbolic representation of the void. The surface of some of the reliefs was convex or concave. Koji Kamoji's white reliefs, clear and simple, had the value of concentration and the mood of contemplation of white forms on white field and straight black lines. They emanated a magical, poetic charm, resulting from subtle irregularities in the composition and its elusive spatial illusions.
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Koji Kamoji's reliefs were a successful attempt to depart from the classic easel paintings towards space. This – in both the physical and metaphysical sense – became the most important issue for the artist, leading him to a form of installation that allowed Kamoji to fully express himself. In the Two Poles installation from 1972, he used stone for the first time, referring to the concept of a garden. On each of the four walls of the gallery he hung one big white painting in a pink frame, and placed a large field stone in the centre of the room. Small pebbles appeared in the series of paintings Wanderer from 1980. Koji Kamoji gives a symbolic quality to the stones, in his works they usually mean nature, earth, and reality. In Beginning a Sentence, a work from 1983, pebbles gave importance to existential concepts written on small tablets, such as war, death, or ideograms depicting water and mountains.
Koji Kamoji often uses lines in his works. Sometimes they exist physically in space, for example, such as a metal bar extending from the floor to the ceiling of the gallery in the 1973 installation Flagstone, Metal Rod and the Sky, and sometimes they are only painted in space, like a red line in the 1982 work Site, dedicated to his tragically deceased friend Sasaki.
Koji Kamoji's installations which are built of objects always require a separate room that encloses the work. These works consist in not only watching, but also the possibility of entering them. The aura of the place is also important. Koji Kamoji willingly realises his works in spaces that are not neutral to him, that have a noticeable, specific atmosphere.
In 1986, Koji Kamoji presented a series of paintings entitled The Middle Ages at the Foksal Gallery. It was accompanied by a peculiar manifesto entitled Reflections on the Meaning of Art. The artist compared the Middle Ages with the present day, matching pairs of notions such as prayer and progress, sense and mind, and do not hurry and hurry up.
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Sky and water are also important elements of Koji Kamoji's creative mythology. In Child in Summer (Okuninka, 1988) he placed a circle of twelve tin buckets filled with water on the edge of a lake. There was a reed leaf boat in each of them, the same as those the young Koji Kamoji played with in his childhood.
He placed a mirror in the middle of the circle, in which the artist and a little boy invited to participate in the action looked at themselves. In a symbolic way it was a return to a child's imagination, to childhood, which we still carry in ourselves, despite the passing years.
In 1993, Koji Kamoji prepared the exhibition Sky's Bottom on the terrace of Edward Krasiński's apartment/studio on the eleventh floor. The artist folded out sheets of polished aluminium which reflected the sky. In 1994, at the Biblioteka Gallery in Legionowo Koji Kamoji carried out the work Haiku Water. With the help of the exhibition's curator, Stefan Szydłowski, the artist dug a well through two stories to the very earth, and actually found underground water which could be drawn and drank. There was a hole cut out in the floor of the library room through which the well shaft went deeper, with water shining at the bottom and an aluminium sheet hanging on the wall.
Winter Drawings from 1997 are a series of spatial compositions made of white plywood placed on wooden supports. The artist covered the plywood with restrained black line drawings and stuck various objects to its surface: boats made of aluminium sheets, a kitchen cup, a Japanese tea bowl. He placed a pillow encouraging meditation on the floor next to the drawings.
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In 2003, at the Foksal Gallery, Koji Kamoji presented a work entitled Still Life. It consisted of several dozen various objects (such as a calendar page, a glass, a blade of grass, a clod of earth), each of which was connected with a metal arch ended with a plate. Both elements constituted an instrument for transferring the voice of things. Тhe artist claimed that each object speaks to us with its own voice which we usually cannot hear because we lack focus and concentration.
Koji Kamoji's white paintings, created over the years, were presented in 2005 at the Foksal Gallery at the exhibition The Sea and White Pictures. The gallery's hall was painted blue. The artist hung eleven white, rectangular canvases on that background – it gave the impression that the paintings were immersed in the sea, in deep, cool water. The compositions were vivified by minimalist symbols: subtle lines, small pebbles associated with Zen gardens, inscriptions, red points. The themes of the works referred to various events important to the artist, including those he learned about on the Internet. Two red dots on a white background refer to the suicides of two boys from Tokyo who jumped from the fourteenth floor Śmierć Chłopców (Death of Boys, trans. MG). The painting 80-Year-Old Man was created as an impression of the story of an old man who, after his wife's death, bought a yacht and crossed the Pacific Ocean to fulfil her wish.
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Koji Kamoji always takes into account the specific aura of the spaces where he arranges his works. He introduced a musical element – two different pieces of music, Japanese and Klezmer, played in a loop – to the exhibition entitled Evening – Reed Boats (Starmach Gallery, 2006). Thanks to this installation, the gallery – an old Jewish synagogue – once again became a place of concentration, a temple. The floor was covered with polished aluminium sheets, and concrete paving blocks indicated the paths. Three aluminium boats made from the same material as the agreed water ’floated’ on the glossy surface. Several aluminium stripes, hanging from the ceiling, symbolised rain, while three glasses filled with water reminded the Edo River, which Koji recalled from his childhood. A blue line on the wall meant a symbolic link between the sky and the earth. The poetic picture-landscape created by the artist gave the gallery a meditative atmosphere of the borderland between two cultures. The work was created especially for this space.
At the Ever the Same Still Life and Landscape with War exhibition at the AT Gallery in Poznań (2007), Koji Kamoji put various items (among others, an apple, water in a glass, a stone, books, a paper covered with notes, clods of earth) on seven tables and attached instruments made by him to transfer the voice of the objects. Koji put small, almost completely empty pictures on the gallery walls. His war landscapes are short and concise, sometimes limited to a thin, red line.
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Pruszków Paintings presented by the artist at the Foksal Gallery in 2008 are reliefs and three-dimensional compositions from the 1960s, created in Pruszków near Warsaw. Koji used simple materials, such as linen, metal, and stone. The works surprise with calmness, maturity, careful use of colour and a synthetic approach to nature. Using the language of abstraction, the artist referred to the problems of space, sound, colour, and movement, going beyond the two-dimensional plane. In the centre of the gallery there was a sculpture Rainbow (1965) – a thick, bow-shaped iron rod, sharply detaching itself from the white background. The colours used to paint the wall-mounted picture-reliefs were limited to black and white, and their sophisticated structure was made by hollowing out the plywood, going through the interior of the object. According to Jaromir Jedliński, Obrazy Drążone (Hollow Pictures, trans. MG) are the most perfect example of the artist's desire to 'feel the air and the space directly'. In 2006, Magdalena Sierakowska published her book Koji Kamoji: Kształt Czyli Traktat Społeczny (Koji Kamoji: Shape or a Social Treaty).
In 2018, Zachęta National Gallery of Art organized a retrospective exhibition of the artist Silence and the Will to Live presenting a selection of works ranging from the 1960s to today – paintings, drawings and, particularly, installations.
avant - garde
Selected solo exhibitions:
- 1967 – Foksal Gallery, Warsaw
- 1969 – Reliefs, Współczesna Gallery, Warsaw
- 1971 – Air-Interior-Space, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw
- 1972 – Two Poles, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw
- 1973 – Flagstone, Metal Rod and the Sky, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw
- 1974 – Distance from the Lines, Andrzej Partum Poetry Office, Warsaw
- 1975 – Series of four exhibitions: Opening, Mirror, Line, Draught, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw
- 1977 – Painting, Pi Gallery, Kraków
- 1980 – Body, Piwna 20/26 Gallery, Warsaw
- 1983 – Beginning a Sentence, RR Gallery, Warsaw
- 1984 – Man, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw
- 1985 – Moments, Studio Art Centre, Warsaw
- 1986 – In Peace, Działań Gallery, Warsaw
- 1989 – Closed Area, Sculpture Gallery, Warsaw
- 1990 – Hole-Wind-Stones, Museum of Art, Łódź
- 1991 – Lake in the Pyramid, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw
- 1992 – Showing Insects, Biblioteka Gallery, Legionowo
- 1993 – Haiku 'Rain', Biblioteka Gallery, Legionowo
- 1994 – Haiku 'Water', Biblioteka Gallery, Legionowo
- 1994 – Sky's Bottom, terrace of Edward Krasiński's studio, Warsaw
- 1995 – Works of 1991-1995, 72 Gallery, Regional Museum, Chełm
- 1996 – S. Sasaki's Moon, Miejsce Gallery, Cieszyn
- 1997 – Boat of Reeds and Other Works 1963-1997, Centre for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- 1998 – Works – in Seven Rooms. Koji Kamoji 1998, Upper Silesian Museum, Bytom
- 2003 – Water, Centre for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- 2003 – Still Life, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw
- 2004 – Blue Tape and Shade (with E. Krasiński), Foksal Gallery, Warsaw
- 2005 – I Hold a Mirror Up Before Me, Sektor 1 Gallery, Katowice
- 2005 – The Sea and White Pictures, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw
- 2006 – Evening – Reed Boats, Starmach Gallery, Kraków
- 2007 – Inner Drawing, Andzelm Gallery, Lublin
- 2007 – Works from My Studio (1964-2007), Zamek Culture Centre, Poznań
- 2007 – Ever the Same Still Life and Landscape with War, AT Gallery, Poznań
- 2008 – Hollow Pictures (Obrazy drążone), Muzalewska Gallery, Poznań
- 2008 – Height of Sky, Width of Earth (Wysokość nieba i szerokość ziemi), Foksal Gallery, Warsaw.
- 2015 – Prayer to Being, Foksal Gallery, Warsaw
- 2015 – Koji Kamoji – Krystian Truth Czaplicki, Entropia Gallery, Wrocław
- 2018 – Silence and the Will to Live, Zachęta Gallery, Warsaw
Selected group exhibitions:
- 1972 – Atelier 72, Richard Demarco Gallery, Edinburgh
- 1977 – Winners of the C. K. Norwid Critics' Award in 1967-76, Dom Artysty Plastyka, Warsaw
- 1980 – Individual Mythologies, Akumulatory 2 Gallery, Poznań
- 1982 – Echange entre artistes 1931-1982 Pologne - USA, Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris
- 1983 – Sign of the Cross, Church of Divine Mercy, Warsaw
- 1984 – The Language of Geometry, Zachęta Gallery, Warsaw
- 1986 – Geometry and Expression, Parko Eleftherias, Athens
- 1986 – Die Ecke, the corner, le coin, Galerie Hoffmann, Friedberg
- 1988 – Geometria es metafora, Budapest Galeria, Budapest
- 1991 – Collection of 20th Century Art in Museum of Art in Łódź, Zachęta Gallery, Warsaw
- 1995 – Fragment of Collection 2, Zachęta Gallery, Warsaw
- 1996 – Diagnosis, Bunkier Sztuki, Kraków
- 1997 – Art from Poland 1945-1996, Mucsarnok, Budapest
- 1997 – The Limits of an Image: Polish Painting of the 1990s, Centre for Contemporary Art at Ujazdowski Castle, Warsaw
- 2004 – Collection of Bieńkowski Brothers, Polish Sculpture Centre, Orońsko
- 2004 – Duty and Rebellion, Zachęta Gallery, Warsaw
- 2007 – Classics and Virgins (from the Starmach Gallery collection), National Museum, Wrocław
- 2008 – Sensualia, Starmach Gallery, city space, Kraków
- 2009 – Koans, Masovian Centre for Contemporary Art Elektrownia, Radom.
Originally written in Polish by Ewa Gorządek, Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Feb. 2005; updated: Aug. 2018; translated by Marcin Gozdanek, Oct. 2018.