Kazuya Sakai (1927-2001)
Kazuya Sakai (1927-2001) was an artist, designer, radio host, translator, critic, and editor of Japanese origin, born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on 1st October 1927. He belonged to the intellectual and artistic communities of Argentina, the United Kingdom, and Mexico, where he worked with Octavio Paz on the Plural review.
His parents (who were Japanese citizens) took him to Japan to study in 1934, where he earned a degree in philosophy from Waseda University in Tokyo. In 1951, he returned to Argentina, where he stayed for eleven years. In 1956, he founded the Argentine Institute of Culture in his native country. Two years earlier he had organised an exhibition of Japanese prints. His participation in the artistic scene was mostly of an incentive capacity as opposed to creative: he founded the New Art Association in 1955, which brought together independent artists who practiced free abstraction. In 1958, he became a professor at the University of Buenos Aires and received a gold medal at the International Exhibition in Brussels.
Having acquired a great deal of experience in Argentina, he decided to emigrate to the United States for a period and then, in 1966, he joined the University of Mexico as a professor; he lived in Mexico until 1977. In Mexico Sakai worked as Editor-in-Chief and Artistic Director of the magazine Plural, led by Octavio Paz (Noble Prize, Literature). Sakai also hosted and produced jazz radio programmes, designed theatre sets and costumes, album covers, and worked as a curator and critic. After this period in Mexico he moved to Dallas, Texas, where he died in 2001.
His nomadic temperament and its effects on his work were summarised in 1981 by Albert Espinosa in the magazine Vuelta: ‘a man born under the sign of movement, mutation, and change: his ancestry and cultural heritage come from the East, Japan, but this is imbued with the Spanish West, Argentina: these two constellations meet in the skies of New York and Buenos Aires. Four poles therefore of an ideal sphere defined by a quaternary rhythm and centripetal point and place of those confluences is in Mexico, where the artist spent fourteen years. Destiny forged in the vertiginous centres of a culture without centre, which on its periphery, speaks to us of its need of purity and originality. The traveller’s straight line projects wings on the way to become curved and summarised.’
Self-taught, he developed different styles following a succession of stages, but his painting mostly represents abstract art. In his early years, after returning to Argentina in the 1950s, his production was influenced by Concrete Art, especially by Thomas Maldonad and Lidy Prati. It is also characterised by brush strokes resembling Japanese calligraphy.
In 1958, he exhibited for the first time at the Galeria Bonino in Buenos Aires. Two years later at the Museo Nacional de las Bellas Artes in Argentina, he participated in the exhibition of Group of Five, with Fernández Muro, Sarah Grilo, Miguel Ocampo and Clorindo Testa. In 1965, when Sakai arrived in Mexico, he joined the Generación de la Ruptura during the Salon des Indépendants in 1968.
The artist adopted a geometric style during his Mexican period, which was at the time entirely new in his country.
‘Kazuya Sakai was not only a complete geometric, but included in some of his works are a soft optical enclave and elsewhere a free lyrical geometry, which complicates the structure of each painting. In comparison to this more mature production, at first, in the early stage of his work a vigorous calligraphic gesture emerged, mingled with synthetic and abstract expressionism as well as an incisive non-formalism. In his first paintings a geometry elegant and refined in its precision emerges.’ (Leila Driben, art historian and critic.)
Albert Espinosa described Sakai’s work in 1981 as follows:
‘Far from the hard-edged era and the “maskin tape” in which the eclectic and wise hand traces silent stripes and streamers, a more developed and ripe Sakai produced his best, most lyrical works after a thirty-year evolution. Transforming natural figures into geometric silhouettes loaded with vast areas of colours, his paintings seem to encompass everything: architecture of light where placid mountains reside recall the tradition of the Japanese landscape, lakes and sleeping clouds framed by overlapping planes; visible remains of the light of dawn or the melancholy of twilight…
The spaces in which Sakai’s oeuvre was formed belong to the domain of abstraction: one of the most radical and fruitful attempts to find a system of expression of our time. For what lives at the heart of abstract aesthetics, in this rejection of figuration, is a time of self-foundation: a break with the tradition arising out of his own memory, attention paid first and foremost to the plastic elements and the tools themselves in order to sharpen them and permeate the eye at will.’
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