Masatoyo Kishi, Opus No. 60–145, 1960.

Masatoyo Kishi (1924–2017)

Abstract sculptor and painter Masatoyo Kishi, best known for mixing elements of traditional Japanese culture with Western abstraction, died in Grass Valley, California, at the age of ninety-three. Hackett Mill, the San Francisco–based art gallery that represents him, confirmed his passing.

Born in Sakai, Japan, in 1924, Kishi studied physics and mathematics at the Tokyo University of Science. “As a Japanese artist in the 1950s in Tokyo, I didn’t go to art school,” Kishi said. “Japanese artists studied literature, economics, science; then you explored art.” After graduating, he pursued a short career as a mathematics teacher before he began exhibiting with Tekkei Kai, a group of abstract painters associated with the Kyoto Museum of Art.

From the late 1950s to the 1960s, he created his Opus paintings, which feature softly dripped pigments and sweeping brushwork. Using large brushes, Kishi painted his works by laying canvases horizontally and using wooden sticks to drip paint onto them, which he said created “an orderly conversation between me and the canvas.” The works reflect the artist’s interests in Zen Buddhism, Taoism, seventeenth-century Japanese architecture, and Western classical music. In 1960, Kishi moved from Japan to San Francisco, where he lived until 1988. Over the course of nearly thirty years there, he transitioned from primarily painting to sculpting. He taught at Holy Names College in Oakland and the Dominican College in San Rafael.

“Kishi’s paintings inspire a sense of chaos and awe. To look at a Kishi painting is to accept a challenge of sorts, one where you find yourself completely immersed in the rhythm of the paint as you try to trace the artist's hand not to learn how or why he painted in this way but rather to gain access to the lyrical complexity that resulted from it,” Jessica Phillips, director of Hackett Mill, said.

Kishi’s paintings were frequently exhibited in the Bay Area and at national and international institutions, including the Palace of the Legion of Honor, de Young Museum, San Francisco Museum of Art, Richmond Art Center, Oakland Museum of California, Carnegie Institute, University of Illinois, Jane Voorhees Zimmerli Art Museum, and the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto. Hackett Mill has represented Kishi since 2007.