Kikuo Saito was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1939 and moved to New York City in 1966. As a young man, he was a studio assistant to Helen Frankenthaler, Kenneth Noland and Larry Poons. Along with his painting practice, Saito is known for his poetic theater works that incorporated costumes, light, music and dance. His knowledge of choreography and stage direction have directly influenced his approach to painting. As art critic Karen Wilkin explains, "We discover that characters from his stage pieces have been reincarnated as abstract configurations within his paintings, reborn as the records of animated gestures that retain the individuality of their sources. The backdrop of a performance has influenced the layout and the component elements of paintings. The slow rhythms of a stage piece have somehow been transubstantiated into a slow accretion of marks across a surface.”
Paintings included in this exhibition explore the distinctive styles of color field abstraction that Saito developed over his expansive career. The artist often worked in the soak stain technique, as seen in Blue Trail and Red Door, that he learned from artist Helen Frankenthaler while working as her studio assistant. Within the soak stain technique, flat and deeply saturated bodies of color are juxtaposed against minimal textural paint strokes. He was also known to deconstruct text in his abstract compositions as exemplified in Summer Song and April Jump. These paintings were born out of Saito’s communication barrier as a Japanese man learning the English language. His gestural color field paintings, such as Sonnet and Uli, reflect the sensibilities of New York School abstract expressionism, and his work in dance and theatre. What carries through Saito’s body of work is his bold and harmonious embrace of color, movement and mark making. In addition to his works on canvas, the exhibition will include a selection of unique handmade paper works, which were created collaboratively between the artist and his mentor, Kenneth Noland.
Saito’s work has been exhibited both nationally and internationally. His work is included in public and private collections such as The Museum of Modern Art, New York; The Aldrich Museum, Connecticut; Duke University Museum of Art, North Carolina; AT&T Collection, New York; Estee Lauder Collection, New York; J.P. Morgan Chase Collection, New York and the World Bank, Washington, D.C.
Octavia Art Gallery is proud to be working with the Estate of Kikuo Saito to promote his legacy of color field and abstract expressionist painting.