The name “ITO Mineo” crowds the surface of the paper
Like a businessman commuting to work every morning, ITO Mineo arrives at the Regional Life Support Center Passo (Fukushima Prefecture) in a suit and tie. He creates artwork quietly at a dedicated desk. When he catches someone raising their voice or not sitting properly in their chair, he gives them a warning, just like a manager. No wonder he was the first artist affiliated with 〈unico〉 to hold a solo exhibition at the 〈Hajimari Art Center〉.
Ito’s creative pursuits stem from the practice of writing his own name. He learned to write from his father and was able to write in hiragana (Japanese syllabary) before going to elementary school. Yet it wasn’t until his father passed away in 2003 that he began practicing writing his name in kanji (Chinese characters), determined to sign the documents in his own hand. He continues this practice even now, at the age of 58.
Bringing his face close enough to the paper to obscure it from view, Ito writes slowly and deliberately, one character at a time, sometimes in hiragana and sometimes in kanji. Rows of characters stretch across the paper free from hesitation, seemingly the work of a skilled craftsperson. At times, the string of names appears as organic as a living creature. Each time he writes his name, it has its own unique shape. All bunched together, the names become a graphic design that transcend their literal meaning.
In 2010, Ito’s work was exhibited at the ‘Art Brut Japonais’ exhibition in Paris. Japanese actor Issey OGATA who saw Ito’s work after the exhibition, was struck by its resemblance to a musical score and was inspired to create a short story from it. As this story shows, Ito’s work has the power to capture the imaginations of those who view it.
Written characters aren’t the only thing for which he is known. Like his name artwork, Ito has created powerful pieces which depict row upon row of nothing but human faces. No two faces are alike; some are slightly troubled, some have furrowed brows, while others smile sarcastically. Each face is uniquely expressive and bursting with life.
Ito drew these portraits by looking at the faces of nearby support staff, photographs, and other reference materials. Thanks to his unique perspective and distortion of their features, the faces are full of humor that makes viewers chuckle, conveying the gentle gaze with which “Manager Ito” views others.
Among the subjects Ito draws most often are characters from the Ultraman series. Some he draws in black-and-white, but many are colorful, such as Ultraman (of course), as well as Ultraman Leo, Alien Godola, King Joe, and the monster Dada. When asked, “Do you like Ultraman?” Ito replies by singing, “Ultraman, Ultraman,” getting into the groove of the theme song. He sings along with the staff on the ride to and from the group home, and when everyone is enjoying karaoke, he often grabs the mic. Whenever Matsuken Samba comes on, he starts to dance and quickly becomes the leader of the party, enlivening the atmosphere.
Creating opportunities to see Ito’s work in person
“Ito-san used to be very particular about many things and a bit uncooperative, but as he has grown older, I get the impression that his personality has mellowed out a bit. He now will draw anything the staff asks him to without issue. He even draws pictures on the spot and gives them as gifts to visitors who come to see Passo. That’s why the staff and I would like to make various proposals so that we can create another exhibition opportunity for visitors to meet Mr. Ito in person and get to know his personality,” says staff member HOSHI Mikoto.
Recently, Ito has been so focused on washing his lunch box after eating the lunch he brings from home that he has had less time to create artwork at his desk. The many loyal fans of his work will have to wait a while for his next exhibition.