Without ever devolving too far from the graffiti modus operandi that defined and continues to define his city - New York - KATSU delivers powerful contemporary takes on themes like commercialisation, technology and privacy through his innovative interpretation of old school graffiti stylings.
Whilst undoubtedly the sole conceptualiser of his output, Katsu often shares the actual creation of his art with an inanimate collaborator - usually some kind of technology - like computer software or hardware like a drone. This process itself becomes imbued in the art, a comment about the very nature of that which he is subverting.
Virgil Abloh, founder of OFF-WHITE described Katsu, “I’ve seen just how ahead of the curve he is when it comes to fusing a kind of subversive tradition with a radical future. He crosses lines, and dissolves them.” This speaks as much about the artist’s work as his philosophy. Having created the Icarus One drone with open-source code, Katsu also welcomes other graffiti writers to build on his own pieces.
Making a name for himself with a huge daubing of his tag in fire extinguisher, covering a large part of The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA facade, his pieces tie together with this philosophy of a shared and evolving ecosystem of work. Rather than just hoping for observation, as is the age-old norm for the consumption of art, Katsu provokes participation.
There’s a sense of ‘a life of its own’, that permeates his paintings, whether it be the asynchronicity of a drone’s flying pattern - always subject to certain inconsistencies - or the open-source code for the art and devices he’s created digitally, Katsu seems most interested in the process of art - not just when he’s involved, but in its various life cycles after he’s finished.
Evolution in art is a controversial topic. The vast majority of artists are precious about their vision, maintaining complete authorship of each creation, establishing a relationship of artist and audience, with a clear periphery between the two. When art leaves the artist’s hand and is changed, is it still theirs?
This volatile interzone is where Katsu’s work is most interesting. It is provocative and sparks debate in a field saturated with dated orthodoxy (the art establishment, although the same could be said about graffiti in general). This grey-area is also present in his clout - which he holds in both of the aforementioned communities, a rare occurrence even in a time of the pervasive mainstream acceptance of ‘street art’. If anything, both want him to themselves.
His language is still aggressive and confrontational, straight out of old school New York graffiti’s playlist, but it comes peppered with the highfalutin questions usually reserved for academic and gallery art. Both communities want to claim him, but his independence remains imperative to his brand value.
Boundaries are something that Katsu, as Abloh stated, dissolves. Those of man and machine become permeable, those of the conscious and unconscious blend into one another. Graffiti writer or ‘street artist’ is irrelevant, too. Where one ends and the other begins is a fertile land of opportunity for the Japanese-American to make pertinent statements on how far each is able to stretch.
As evidenced in his recent KATSU DOT exhibition and the fire extinguisher or drone pieces that have garned him a huge global following, the boundaries we perceive are largely set in our minds and to cross them isn’t revolution - it’s evolution.
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