Takeshi Kitano‘s career has included stints as a comedian, a host on Japanese TV, a writer, and a painter—with detours into boxing and tap dancing. But he’s best known for directing a string of pulp movies (in which he also stars, under the name Beat Takeshi). These have inspired such filmmakers as Quentin Tarantino and led to his winning the Golden Lion at the 1997 Venice Film Festival, for Hana-Bi (Fireworks).
Kitano’s work has always had an artistic side that plays against the cops-and-robbers scenarios he usually films. In Hana-Bi, a detective who was paralyzed in the line of duty turns to painting as a way to deal with his physical limitations. His paintings (which were made by Kitano) are for the most part colorful images of animals with flowers for heads, though in one striking picture, the Japanese character for “suicide” is painted in bright red on a snowy field. In 2008’s Achilles and the Tortoise, a boy struggles throughout his life to become a successful painter; the filmmaker plays the character as an adult.
Now, Kitano, who was recently named a commander of the French Order of Arts and Letters, has moved his artworks from the movie screen to a museum setting. In the exhibition “Gosse de peintre” (Painter’s Kid), which runs through September 12 at the Cartier Foundation in Paris, he juxtaposes his often childlike paintings with sculptural versions of paintings from Hana-Bi, and with such whimsical items as a half-fish, half-submarine assemblage. The result is a sort of Surrealist amusement park in which Kitano taps into fantasies both innocent and frightening.
“I don’t define myself as a contemporary artist,” Kitano says. “I’m just a modest ideas maker.”
The idea to put on a show of Kitano’s work came from Hervé Chandès, general director of the Cartier, but the artist was told to put together whatever kind of exhibition suited him.
The works on display at the Cartier range from the fanciful to the outright morbid. One assemblage combines a locomotive, a Singer sewing machine, and a giant pair of cartoonish red feet, made from polystyrene and resin, whose constant motion appears to power the entire contraption. In another piece, cutouts of samurai, children, and grandmothers in kimonos bob up and down in a multi-level Punch and Judy show. But there’s also a dummy in a prisoner’s uniform that hangs by his neck from a gallows, and a statue, looking more than a little like Kitano, holding its own brain.
Kitano—whose latest film, Outrage, was selected for this year’s Cannes Film Festival and is set to open in Japan this month—also acknowledges other artists in his show. In one installation, a clear plastic ball labeled “Monsieur Pollock” rolls over a white canvas, leaving seemingly random swaths of paint in its wake. But his own childhood is what leaves the greatest mark on his work. “The artists that I like are the Impressionists,” he says. “I appreciate Matisse and Picasso. But if I had a main influence in my life, that would be my father. He was a house painter.”