Hajime Kato

Japanese, 1925-2000 Biography

Hajime Kato was born in Kanda, Tokyo on February 7th, 1925, and lived his life at full speed, both as a painter and a competitive cyclist, right up to his death in Paris on February 10th, 2000.

As a young man he was an all out cyclist: following World War II, for a period of 3 years between 1947 to 1949 he won a number of titles in various categories and also was a candidate for the Olympic team to compete in Helsinki. Unfortunately, because of a large and unexpected land tax bill that fell upon the family home, he had to give up the Olympic debut he longed for. He had no choice but to become a professional cyclist of Keirin which was the most humbling experience as a top athlete at the time. Kato however turned this bitter experience into a source of motivation. As a result he became a vice president of The International Professional Cycling Federation (FICP) and was able to make three of his dreams come true. The first was to include Keirin, which was not well respected at the time, as one of the world championship events (accomplished in 1980). The second was to have a Japanese cyclist competing in a world Championships (K. Nakano won 10 times between 1977 and 1986). The third was to host a world Championships in Japan (accomplished in 1990).

At the same time, his love for painting since childhood was also well known. He was one of those people who could not survive without a piece of paper and a pencil available at all times. As a boy, like many other kids at the time, he devoted himself to drawing airplanes and has left a great number of detailed sketches where one can even sense the texture of the steel used. Kato was two when his father passed way at the age of only 33. It was in 1958, when he turned 33 that he decided to test his potential as a painter, throwing away everything and escaping Japan for Paris. For 42 years thereafter, he worked in his studio under the transparent neutral colored sunlight he was so fond of, building his own style and doing his best to avoid falling under the influence of the Paris art world. He would set off for his studio on days of rain or wind. In fact, he always looked happiest when he was working at the studio.

His first 10 years in Paris were spent executing various novel ideas, but he seemed to find his own style in the late 1960's. From then, he was starting to produce works that can be distinguished as his own by anyone. Yet he would remark on occasion that while there is a white finishing line in a bicycle race, no such goal exists in the art world - it is sort of like chasing a mirage.

"Of course my life has not been dramatic like in the movies. I was but one of many Japanese men of the same generation living in the Showa era. To stop is to fall down, so I had to keep running. On top of this, I have been obsessed with desire to run at full speed, and that lingers to this day. So if the desire or motif ceased to exist then perhaps I have no other way but to gracefully be brought to ruin." He mentions this in the introduction of his autobiography "Peindre dans le vent" (Painting on the Wind), as if he was predicting his own death.

Kato's implacable desire to paint never disappeared throughout his life and in fact I have a feeling that he even carried the desire over to the next world. This is because he left a few unforgettable words before his death. With an incredible amount of effort that amazed even his doctors, he continued to travel to his studio every day to work until two and a half months before he passed away. He completed a work for submission to the Salon d'Automne that year. However, he had to be confined to bed thereafter.

At the end of January 2000, in between morphine shots when he was conscious, I asked him "What is it that you want to do most?" and he answered promptly and clearly "I want to paint!" and those were the last clear words he ever said.

Excerpt from biography by Masako Kato, wife of the artist