Born in Oita in 1906 in Japan, Key Sato is the eldest of the Japanese artists who settled in Paris after the war. He is one of the great faces of the Ecole de Paris.
Graduated from the Fine Arts School of Tokyo in 1929, he exhibited at the National Salon of Tokyo from 1926 where he excelled in winning the speciality prize in 1932. At this point, he was widely recognised as a figurative painter in his home country. It was during his first trip to Paris from 1930 to 1934, when he was a student at the Colarossi Academy, that he became fascinated by Picasso's cubist works. Upon his return to Japan in 1934, he deliberated his painting style, and gradually moved towards abstraction. He attempted to move away from his virtuoso technique in order to find a more mature style of painting, applying layer after layer to create a ruggedness in the relief, far distant from the Japanese raffinement he had relinquished. In 1936, he became the founding member of the Shinseisaku association (“New Creation”), and also became a board member of the Museum of Modern Art of Kamakura.
Key Sato returned to Paris in 1952. Heavily inspired by nature and minerals, his works bring about his memories, into a sort of geological dreamery; bathed in browns, blacks, earths, ochre, and parts in violet and red. His studio, located at Cité Falguière, accommodated a large number of stones, driftwood, branches and bark, used to decorate his canvases. Key Seto’s work sits outside of time, between the ephemere and the gestual.
His first exhibition in Paris took place in 1954 at the Mirador Gallery, and he went on to join the Massol Gallery in 1959. He made his debut at the Salon de Mai in 1955 where he exhibited until 1961, travelling vastly in Europe and the United States. He regularly exhibited in solo and collective exhibitions. In 1960 he took part in the Venice Biennale with seven large works of art previously exhibited at the Massol Gallery. In 1966, his work was presented during a collective exhibition entitled “New Japanese Painting and Sculpture: an exhibition” at the MOMA in New York.
The artist passed away in 1978 at the age of 72, and a tribute was made to him at the Yoshii Gallery in Paris.