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Toyoharu Kii: Master of Modern Mosaics

A leader in the global craft resurgence, Japan-based artist Toyoharu Kii works with hand-cut Italian marble and smalti, Venetian glass handmade by the same Italian family for over 400 years. Constructed using traditional techniques, his art is nonetheless modern. Kii’s work is abstract and highly textured — highlighting the intricate process in the often-overlooked art of mosaic making.

Toyoharu Kii’s white marble mosaics add incredible texture to the PAGODA RED showroom.

Born in Ehime, Japan in 1953, Toyoharu Kii began his art career as an oil painter. Uninspired by the medium, he sought out another form of expression and found it in art of stone mosaic making. While studying at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts in the 1970s, Kii learned Italian to prepare for a trip to Italy to learn directly from the masters. After graduating, he moved to Florence on a scholarship from the Italian government and honed his craft at The Art Institute of Florence. When he returned to Japan in 1982, he took this new found knowledge back with him and he opened his own mosaic studio Atelier ING.

Toyoharu Kii leads a workshop at the Chicago Mosaic School.

Toyoharu Kii has come to be revered as one of Japan’s leading mosaic artists and teachers, and has served as Chairman of the Mosaic Art Association. He is a longtime visiting instructor at the Chicago Mosaic School and shares his knowledge with students and amateurs alike. His work has been featured in exhibitions worldwide, most recently in exhibitions in the US, Ravenna, Italy, France and Turkey.

In addition to smaller fine art works, Kii has also created over 90 incredible large-scale mosaic installations in public spaces throughout Japan.

Installation at the Mizuho Ceremonial Hall in Saitama prefecture by Toyoharu Kii.
Installation at the Community Center of Ono in Hiratsuka by Toyoharu Kii.
Detail of the installation at the Community Center of Ono in Hiratsuka by Toyoharu Kii.

Kii’s inspiration is frequently drawn from traditional art forms, especially evident in his “Heavenly” mosaic series, informed by traditional Japanese byobu screen-painting. In traditional Japanese byobu screens, clouds are expressed as solid shapes of gold color and juxtaposed with bird’s-eye views of intricately painted cities.

The Inspiration: Traditional Japanese Screen Painting. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Kii modernizes this language, using gilt glass tesserae to create abstract forms that envelop each mosaic in a halo of golden light. Conveying notions of spiritual rebirth and healing, the gilt elements embrace each jagged marble form, representing the soothing company of an angel or heavenly guardian. Like the gilt clouds of Japanese screens, these golden halos at once obscure and reveal, guiding the eye to linger on life’s unexpected moments.

The smaller mosaics of Toyoharu Kii’s “Heavenly” series form a golden halo around the mosaic “Accumulated Roads.

In recent years, Kii has become widely known for his monochromatic approach to mosaic, creating works entirely of Italian white marble. “I love monochromatic expression,” says Kii. “Using white color only, people can really see the character of the tesserae. In order to create new impressions, without the use of color, I must invent new combinations of tesserae.” In absence of color, each mosaic becomes a meditative exploration of pattern and form, relying on only the careful placement of tesserae to instill a work with movement and tension. At once approachable yet highly sophisticated, Kii’s signature monochromatic works are a celebration of positive and negative space, shadow and light, and order and disorder.

In recent years, Kii’s expanding influence has moved from Asia to the rest of the world. We are honored to represent a true pioneer and visionary of mosaics.

Toyoharu Kii at our Chicago gallery

Join us on Saturday, February 24th for the opening of Kii’s upcoming exhibition Toyoharu Kii: Geophytes at the PAGODA RED gallery. Like the plant that regrows every year from a source of strength hidden beneath the earth’s surface, Kii’s latest body of work celebrates nature’s ability to heal and thrive, departing from the monochromatic in favor of vibrant colors and stark contrasts.


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