Born in Kyoto in 1928 to a family of literates. Imai suddently started painting and drawing at the age of 19. He attends the Oil Painting Department of Tokyo University of Fine Arts for a year in 1950, then leaves for Paris in 1952 without the consent of his father.
He studies medieval history and philosophy at the Sorbonne, and attends the Academy of the Grande Chaumière where he meets Atlan, Michaux and Riopelle. Later he starts exhibiting his work along with compatriots Yasse Tabuchi and Kumi Sugai.
Toshimitsu Imai’s work is charcaterized by a high sensitivity to color. In 1955 he is introduced by Sam Francis to art critic Michel Tapié. From this point his painting shifts to abstraction, Imai becomes the first Japanese artist to joint the Art Informel mouvement. He gets acquainted with Fautrier, Dubuffet, Man Ray, Pierre Restany, and confirms his presence in avant-garde groups.
In 1956, Imai organizes a group exhibition in Japan accompanied by Sam Francis and Georges Mathieu. This event facilitates the connection bewteen Michel Tapié and the Gutai group lead by Jiro Yoshihara. It allows a large diffusion of Gutai art in Europe, and introduces European abstraction in Japan.
By 1957 Imai’s work is exhibited by Rodolphe Stadler in Paris, along with a written catalogue by Tapié and Shuzo Takiguchi. His success is unanimous, Imai is then considered as a renowned international artist.
Later he travels to New York where he is represented by the Leo Castelli’s gallery. Follows international success at the São Paulo and Venice Biennales. He is rewarded the Price of the 5th Japanese contemporary art exhibition in 1961. In 1982, his work is showed at the Centre George Pompidou and in 1984 he founds the Association of Contemporary Japanese artists.
In 1997 he is made ‘Officier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres’ in France.
or Imai art is an ‘eternal renewal’. He dies in 2002 in Kyoto.