Artist Spotlight: Keita Morimoto’s Old-School Millennial Portraits
Young Toronto painter Keita Morimoto, profiled in the October 2017 issue of House & Home, is garnering plenty of attention for his portraits, with solo shows both in Canada and the U.S. But the Japanese-born artist’s renderings of his peers have more in common with works by Dutch masters than the 17 million selfies uploaded each week. Keita’s renderings of light and dark elevates downtown hipsters, and turns nondescript restaurants into glowing beacons. Here is a selection of his works, and insights from Keita about what makes each one unique.
Keita will often search for models on Facebook, or call on friends, as he did for this painting. “After The Rain depicts three peers of mine who came by my studio separately to do photo sessions. The background is a peculiar staircase structure in the middle of the Humber Bay Park in Toronto’s West beaches. The piece took quite a bit of digital collaging, which I utilize quite a lot in my work. It’s a similar idea to other pieces like At The Stop, where superimposed figures become a visual trigger and invitation for the viewer to create their own narratives.”
Many of Keita’s paintings depict the city at night, which allows him to play up the contrast of light and dark. In this piece, a suburban streetscape conveys a sense of isolation. “At The Stop is in my neighborhood where there was this very triangular house that I found visually intriguing. I always enjoy the idea of vague narratives between a figure and an environment like the ones in Edward Hopper’s paintings. They tend to create a kind of visual tension.”
The delicate details of a gauzy skirt overlay, dark background and the subject’s luminous skin recalls John Singer Sargent’s portraits of society princesses. “The girl in a karaoke room was a very simple idea I got from Aya (my friend in the painting) who was jumping around the room while we were doing a photo shoot. We were arranging the chairs in a way that she could play hopscotch on them. I really enjoy the mismatch of activity and the space the person occupies. Once it’s painted, I find it lends an ambiguous quality to what’s actually happening.”
The focus of Keita’s newer works shines a spotlight on often overlooked storefronts on city streets that people pass by many times a day, yet might never notice. “Storefront is based on a restaurant in Koreatown in Toronto, near Christie subway station. The colored LED lights in the store window instantly caught my eye, and made me want to paint it.”
Even a humble linen store is bathed with a golden light, so it seems to glow amid the dark alleys and sidewalks. “The yellow storefront is a bedding store in my neighborhood. What really got me excited about the scene was the cat in the window above the store: I felt as if this creature was surveying the store as a guardian angel.”