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, between 1947 and 1949, he won a number of titles in various categories, and was a candidate for the Olympic team to compete in Helsinki. Unfortunately, because of a large land tax bill that fell upon the family home, he had to give up his Olympic debut. He became a professional cyclist of Keirin, which was a humbling experience for a top athlete at the time. Kato, however, turned this bitter experience into a source of motivation. He became Vice President ofThe International Professional Cycling Federation, and achieved three major goals. First was to include Keirin, which was not well respected at the time, as a world championship event. Second was to have a Japanese cyclist competing in a World Championship. And third was to host a World Championships in Japan.
His love for painting since childhood was also well known. He would not survive without a piece of paper and a pencil available at all times. As a boy, 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 at the age of 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, he worked in his studio, building his own style and doing his best to avoid falling under the influence of the Parisart world. His first 10 years in Paris were spent executing various novel ideas, but he seemed to find his own style in the late 1960s. By then, he was starting to produce works that could be distinguished as his own.
Kato 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.
Kato’s implacable desire to paint never disappeared throughout his life. 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, he was asked “What is it that you want to do most?” and he answered promptly and clearly “I want to paint!” Those were the last clear words he ever said.
Solo exhibition, Duncan Art Gallery, Paris, France, 1960
Solo exhibition, Itoh Art Gallery, Tokyo, Japan, 1964
Solo exhibition, Creuze Art Gallery, Paris, France, 1966
Solo exhibition, Osaka-Forme Art Gallery, Japan, 1967, 1972, 1976, 1977, 1982
Solo exhibition, Villand et Galanis Art Gallery, Paris, France, 1972, 1976, 1978
“The World of Light and Wind”, Mitsukoshi, Tokyo, Japan, 1978
Solo exhibition, Aubusson National School of Decorative Arts, France, 1983
Solo exhibition, André Pacitti, Paris, France, 1985
“Contemporary Japanese Art Created in Other Lands”, New York International Gallery, 1986“Paris: Coloring the Wind”, Seibu Art Forum, Yurakucho, Tokyo, Japan, 1987
Solo exhibition, Tokyu Bunkamura, Tokyo, Japan, 1995
Retrospective exhibition, International Art City, Paris, France, 2006