Images by: Katsutoshi Yuasa

Text by: Karim Khan

Issue name: The Explosive Issue


I first came across Katsutoshi's work at the London Art Fair early this year. A truly awesome show by any measure, Katsutoshi's name was written down in my iphone notes because of his inspired blend of traditions and the notably complex nature of his work. The photos to your right are woodcuts. Images made by carving wood blocks that are then inked pressed upon paper. Traditional Japanese crafts caught up in Western waves. Literally, his large canvases splayed with delicate fauna are rendered even more fragile through the distorted wave splash of a badly-tuned analogue television set. Some might say a Western tradition. 

When did you realise you were disillusioned with contemporary photography?

I’ve been interested in photography since I was a student at Art College in Tokyo. At first, I made oil paintings based on photos taken by myself. I took photos frequently. The object of shooting was landscape, cityscape and nature. It hasn’t changed to this day. After I made photo-based paintings for 2 years, I felt that it was boring to transfer the image to a canvas from a photo. Then, I encountered woodcut in my printmaking class. Woodcut was very fresh for me at that time. Japanese people are familiar with woodcut because we do it in art class in primary school. But I found there is a possibility to make a new “image” between woodcut and photography. It might be textured or touchable, I’ve been looking for that image since my first experimentations. I’m not disillusioned with photography but my most important thing is to make the image that lies between reality and the ones we have in our mind. 

What gave you the idea of creating woodcuts from your photographs? 

I love the process of woodcut. It is a very long process to produce a print so I need to concentrate on it for a long time. In the process, the image is coming through woodcut. It is like a developing process of photography. When I realised that photography means a light picture, I had the idea to use photography for my woodcut.  Because my ideal image is in the light and it is self-shining. 

What was it like for you growing up? Were you always a creative child?

When I was in a kinder garden, I loved to draw mazes on paper. I was a child who preferred to be inside than going outside. I’m not special, I was born in an ordinary family. But my parents divorced before I went to kindergarden. So I spent much time with my younger brother and grandparents. I guess that is when it started.

Do you think your upbringing has affected your work in any way?

I’m not sure. But my mother tried to make me study hard and she wished me to go to a good school and a good company because she had a tough life without a partner. While at the same time, my grandparents were my inspiration in terms of my spiritual upbringing.

Your biography shows that you have travelled to many countries via your art already - can you tell me some of your favourite ones?

I have lovely experiences in every place – there are no bad ones. However the residency in Iceland was very special. When I arrived at airport in Iceland, I felt I came in another planet. There is beautiful and quiet nature but it is very strong. During the residency, I seriously thought about Art and nature. Since then, I have been thinking why we make more images as art work even if there are a full of beautiful views in front of us.

You seem to have a focus on trees, woodlands, flowers - organic things. Is this an homage to your Japanese heritage?

It is not only for Japanese heritage but it is homage to nature itself. I live in Tokyo now but I can find nature in our every day life - a reflection of a window, a shadow of a glass, a plant in front of a shop and a surface of a wall. My interesting objects are everywhere. I think we have respect for nature but we just sometimes forget it.

What story do you hope to tell through your work?

I put too many stories in one work so it is hard to tell all of them. The work is like a box. I try to fill up a box with as many things as possible. But if the box is covered, people cannot see inside of the box even there are interesting stones in the box. However if the box is opened, all the stones are rolling somewhere and missing. So I always look for the appropriate-opening of the box, when people can see inside and the stones don’t tumble over. The beautiful decollated box is eye-catching but the interesting stones are inside of the box. The important thing is how to guide the people there.     

How has your work been received in Japan? Is there a revival for old motifs expressed in a modern way and vice-versa?

I haven’t got many responses from the art scene in Japan because I haven’t had many chances to do a show there yet. I think because there is a strong printmaking society there and my work does not suit that society. I don’t know why but I think I’m also not interested in that kind of society either. I think my woodcut work is part photography (meaning as a light picture) but people don’t think my work is photography. Also I use a very old-fashioned printmaking technique with digital photographs. I love to meet craftsmen who make a traditional tools for woodcut and love to see the printmaking studio but I’m not an evangelist of traditional woodcut. So I use woodcut as a more exciting way of making a new “image” in the present.   

Which artists are you interested in right now?

I love the works of Wolfgang Tillmans, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Demand, Gerhard Richter and Luc Tuymans. They use photograph as a part of their work in a positive way. I don’t know why there are so many German artists in my list but I think I have a connection with Germany (actually I work with a German gallery).                       

What do your parents think of your work?

My mother has been a fan of my works since I started to make things in my childhood. I hope to invite her the private view of the exhibition in the museum in the near future.