Inspired by the paintings of Rembrant, Keita Morimoto crafts narratives with light and darkness

After leaving Osaka for Toronto at the age of 16, the now Tokyo-based artist found himself enraptured by the European and North American artistic canon.

22 June 2022

Keita Morimoto’s artist practice is primarily founded upon the process of “observation”. Taking care to observe everything around him and happenings in his everyday life, Keita also places the fundamentals of his style upon his observation of famous paintings. While at school in Canada, Keita found himself becoming invested in canonic painting traditions, “obsessively” studying and beginning to discover patterns in how they were all formulated. Reflecting on the period, Keita identifies Dutch painter Rembrant as having the biggest influence on his work, “as I came to so many realisations about how these historical genre paintings were constructed through their use of light and dark to create narratives”.

It’s this dramatic, high-contrast use of light or dark that is most initially striking when viewing Keita’s series After Dark. The series features a mix of wide spanning landscape shots, and close up portraits, all realised in the latter hours of the day and early hours of the morning. On top of this foundation of sombre darkness, the artist uses varying sources of light – whether that be a glowing, artificial vending machine, or a deep red sunset – to add depth and perspective to his pieces. In the evocatively titled Last Train, a short train platform is lit by harsh white lighting from above and it almost becomes a stage in amongst the quiet darkness, the three subdued looking figures that stand upon it becoming central characters to the ambiguous production.


Keita Morimoto: Tobacco Shop (Copyright ©  Keita Morimoto, 2021)

Originally from Osaka, Keita found himself leaving his hometown at only 16. After failing his high school entrance exam, the artist ended up convincing his parents that allowing him to study abroad would be a better investment than sending him to private school. Moving to Toronto and attending a Canadian high school was where Keita found himself learning about North American and European art history. After living and working in Toronto for 15 years, a year ago Keita made the decision to move to Tokyo, where he now has a studio and draws inspiration for his work.

When sourcing people and places to paint, Keita likes to rely on a degree of “randomness”. Enjoying “the process of serendipitous encounters”, Keita generally paints people he knows, who then connect him to people they know, creating a loose sense of interpersonal connection throughout his pieces. This is also replicated in the way he finds his locations, often coming across them upon his strolls around different neighbourhoods. And certainly, this feeling of having simply happened upon is evident throughout the series. In one of his favourite pieces from the series, Searching for Home, Keita feels to “fully encapsulate the main exhibition idea of ordinary and magical”. Showing two people atop a flight of stairs off a side street, the way in which the subjects are captured – perhaps in the midst of searching for direction, or engaged in loose conversation – alongside the painting’s composition give the impression of a chance encounter. “The place is anonymous and it could be anywhere,” Keita adds, “but it also feels familiar, at least to me.”

Composition is also another element the artist pays close attention to, gaining inspiration from his love of films and animation. Utilising both their use of “strategic close-ups” as well as “panned out panoramic scenes”, Keita used differing compositions in order to “create specific moments of emotion”. With wide angle shots of silent, far away couples contrasted with close ups of single people, looking into the distance, the series perfectly captures subtle, uncertain emotions, with a powerful cinematic quality.


Keita Morimoto: After Light (Copyright ©  Keita Morimoto, 2021)


Keita Morimoto: After Dark (Copyright ©  Keita Morimoto, 2021)


Keita Morimoto: At Dawn (Copyright ©  Keita Morimoto, 2021)


Keita Morimoto: Bathing Light (Copyright ©  Keita Morimoto, 2021)


Keita Morimoto: Night Walk (Copyright ©  Keita Morimoto, 2021)


Keita Morimoto: Until the Sun Comes Up (Copyright ©  Keita Morimoto, 2021)


Keita Morimoto: Until the Sun Comes Up (Copyright ©  Keita Morimoto, 2021)


Keita Morimoto: Calling (Copyright ©  Keita Morimoto, 2021)

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Keita Morimoto: Last Train (Copyright ©  Keita Morimoto, 2021)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English literature and history, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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