By JORDAN IKEDA
Rafu Staff Writer
The life of an artist is rarely easy. Even those in the pantheon of greatest of all time struggled to find relevance during their lives, often bereft of money and lacking in fame. While death has elevated a handful to the realms of genius, there are plenty more who have simply been lost in the cracks, destined to obscurity.
Today’s artists share a similar lifestyle (if not fate), struggling in one-bedroom flats, trying to pay off art school loans, and making ends meet with uninspiring side jobs. For up-and-coming artist Teruyuki Sato, life has had its share of ups and downs. Fortunately, art has been a haven, a means to share his life to the rest of the world.
Born in Tokyo in 1967, Sato has been putting ink, paint and lead to paper since he was little. In fact, little is an apt description, as Sato was physically weak as a child. Athleticism and health avoided him, while his classmates often went out of their way to bully and ridicule him.
“Drawing was the only thing I could be confident in,” Sato told the Rafu Shimpo during an interview at the Rafu office. “It was my chance to become a classroom hero.”
In yearbook, during art classes, Sato’s artistic sensibilities began to paint him in a new light. His art wowed his classmates, many of who began to look up to him and even praise his talent.
“I wanted a place I could call my own,” Sato said. “Drawing and painting became my identity and have defined who I am since then.”
Ironically, this identity would take a backseat during a decade-long affair with music following his mother’s death when he was 17. To cope with her death, Sato buried himself into art, including music. The 80s was a musically decadent era. A decade in which MTV was born. A decade ruled by, among many other things, movie soundtracks. While his favorite musician was David Bowie, Sato was drawn to the music of “Flash Dance” and “Top Gun.”
After high school, he attended PAN School of Music in Tokyo and began working for Koba Music, a commercial music production company, as an intern after he graduated. While at Koba, he assisted musical production of some of the most well-known TV commercials in Japan. When he lost his job at Koba, Sato ventured into musical performance by starting a band. He ended up designing a CD cover for his band, which received high praise from his peers and put him back down the path of drawing and painting.
After 10 years unsuccessfully pursuing a career as a musician, Sato returned to his true identity.
“Destiny is an interesting thing,” Sato said.
At the age of 37, Sato began his second career, teaching himself how to paint in oils. In 2007, he was selected to be part of the annual Tokyo Metropolitan Public Art Show and his painting was put on display at Tokyo Metropolitan Museum in Uyeno.
In 2008, his painting was selected to be part of the annual Paint Japanese Nature show.
Since then, painting has become the center of his life.
While he spends his days working as a salesperson for a food company, at night, his true self emerges as he lovingly labors on his art. Currently, he is working on his own show, which he hopes will open later this year.
His art is an eclectic mix. His oil paintings delve into his imagination and truly push the envelop. They mostly pay homage to his favorite artist, Salvador Dali, with their surrealist and dreamlike images and symbolism layered in each piece.
“His works overwhelmingly reflect his inner scenery,” Sato said of Dali. “They always make me curious about his state of mind when he drew them. I want to be an artist who captivates audiences like Dali.”
Captivating is an apt way to describe Sato’s “Messiah,” an art piece trying to encapsulate the end of the world. Set as the work’s background anchor is a tree ablaze with life, growing like a mushroom cloud amidst a crumbling city. To the left, an old man, near death, retains hope in new life, in the baby growing inside him. Trippy stuff, but beautiful and bizarre and full of meaning.
Dali would be proud.
Sato has also recently been drawn to the lyrical and poetic nature of Sumi-e (ink and wash painting).
After his father suffered a myocardial infarction five years ago, Sato began to feel a real connection to the casual facial expressions of the elderly.
“The deep wrinkles in their faces tell a story,” Sato said, “Using only black and white, I can express someone’s life story on paper. I’m truly drawn to the Sumi-e’s magical power.”
In the end, it is Sato’s dream, his life’s goal, to make his identity the sole driving force behind all that he does.
With one foot stepping out of youth, and one foot firmly planted in the realm of the aged and learned, at 43, Sato’s artistic vision is to provide a communication bridge between generations.
“I can understand both young and old generations,” he said. “I can use myself, my art to help.”