From a graphic designer with international fame to a fine artist: Makoto Saito’s bold and unconventional expressions Makoto Saito received acclaims both internationally and in Japan for his simple yet strong unconventional work in the 1980s and the ’90s. He received many awards for exhibitions including the Warsaw International Poster Biennale Exhibition Gold Prize, and his work has been included in the public collections of more than 30 institutions such as MoMA, San Francisco Museum of Art, and Victoria & Albert Museum. Saito departed from his practice in design to present his first solo exhibition “MAKOTO SAITO: SCENE [0]” at 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa in 2008. This is his second exhibition at Tomio Koyama Gallery, and the first one in six years since his solo exhibition “Like Nectar Attracting Bees”, featuring about 7 new works.

Makoto Saito’s new pictorial space where digital and analogue cross Standing in front of Makoto Saito’s new works, the viewer is captivated by the technique. His use of dots combined with the organic unevenness of paint, and its density create an overwhelming sense of physical touch. The production of dots using four-color half tone reproductions, employed throughout his career, is similar to the process used in computer’s digital technique. In contrast, Saito’s analogue approach brings body to painting through the painstaking and time-consuming work that is impossible with digital media.

First motifs are digitally processed into various dots, and placed layers of data in repeated combinations. By doing so, Saito evokes a sense of chemical reaction of new noises or touches, and completes sketches called ‘photo drawings’. He then places eight colors of oil paint – green, blue, dark blue, pink, red, yellow, white and black – one by one. Through this delicate and long process flat photo drawings are turned into layered images of motifs with rich texture. As Saito himself states, “it cannot be completed only with senses,” this complicated and careful technique creates a completely new pictorial space.

Destroyed and reconstructed portraits of Freud and Bacon As the viewer moves away from the abstract surfaces of mere piles of paint, the dots start forming an image. The motifs are the portraits of Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, with whom Saito empathizes. He reads the characters of a person from their faces or eyes, picks up interesting people as his subjects, and experiments with his approach on the same subjects many times. Thus he has selected Freud and Bacon as their faces can stand with variety of Saito’s approaches.

A critic, Akira Asada, remarks on Saito’s works as follows: the way images burned into our retinae undergo monstrous changes within the shifting currents of unconscious memory. Faces lose clear outlines and defining characteristics, degenerating into animals, insects, smoke, any and all non-human entities; faces confront us even as they are mercilessly crushed. The results that issue forth are so very harrowing they summon up an accompaniment of countless ghosts, images of such intensity they mutate perforce before our eyes.

Alert to the destruction of humanity, an exploration of expression, and a challenge to face inherent tensions Saito reveals inner emotions and new images of humans. In our contemporary times filled with uneasiness about the potential destruction of humanity and the future with AI, how does Saito’s desire to express our underlying human “face” effect the viewer?

Makoto Saito was born in 1952 in Fukuoka. He started working in graphic design in the 1970s, and received International attention right from the outset of his career. He has received numerous awards at International competitions in graphic design such as the “Gold Prize” at the Warsaw International Poster Biennial (twice), “Silver Prize” (once), and “Honorary Award” (twice). “Grand Prize” at Lahti International Poster Biennial in Finland, “Gold Award” at New York ADC International Exhibitions (five times) and The 1987 Mainichi Design Awards, in addition to the title of Master from Graphis, a renowned graphic design magazine founded in 1944. His work is included in more than 30 institutions such as the Victoria & Albert Museum, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, and San Francisco Museum of Art that owns approximately 80 works. Saito has also presented painted pieces at exhibitions in Japan between 1977 and 1989 including The Contemporary Art Exhibition of Japan and The Japan International Art Exhibition (Tokyo Biennale). Subsequently restarting in 2003, holding his first solo exhibition “MAKOTO SAITO: SCENE [0]” at 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa (2008). His other major solo exhibitions include “Like Nectar Attracting Bees” (Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo, 2011) and “Face to Face / Composition” (Paul Kasmin Gallery, New York, 2012), and his major group exhibition includes “Son et Lumiere: Material, Transition, Time” at 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa (2012). “2100” is a long-awaited and eagerly anticipated exhibition, as it is his first in six years.