Koichi Sato

Exuberant portraits bursting with colour and pattern.

Koichi Sato (he/him) was born in 1974 in Tokyo, Japan, and now lives and works in New York City, United States.


In 2021, Koichi Sato created three NFTs. Each one shows four of Sato’s painted portraits in rapid succession. The works were shown digitally and IRL at Breadcrumbs: Art in the age of NFTism. The curator was Kenny Schachter, a US champion of art and NFTs.

Did you know?

Sato’s paintings often feature people with polydactyly. This is when there are more than five fingers on a hand. "If it looks good then all is fine," he says – sometimes that means seven digits.

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Collaborations with this artist

Practice overview

Paintings by Koichi Sato celebrate cherished characters in American culture. The portraits feature wrestlers, bodybuilders, preachers, cheerleaders and musicians. Individuals and groups bedazzle with cheerful smiles and uplifting optimism. “To me, these characters are my friends. They like beer, they’re very trashy.” Trained as a graphic designer and in film, Sato is not formally educated as a painter. That said, the Tokyo-based artist Tomoo Gokita has been a mentor to him over the years. To create the works, Sato uses a mix of acrylic and oil paint influenced by the Japanese Sumi-e ink technique. Quick brush strokes create a dense, textured effect – semi-transparent washes of paint evoke faces and hands. Throughout, the colour palette is bright and intense.

A lot of Sato’s inspirations come from childhood. In particular, the American TV, comics and magazines that he grew up with in Tokyo. In 1999 at the age of 25, he arrived in the United States from Japan partly in search of these early influences. To this day, his studio is based in multicultural downtown New York. Many ideas for his paintings come from this surrounding community. His characters are nostalgic too – often sporting moustaches and hairstyles from the 70s and 80s. All My Stars (2017) is one such painting. It shows a baseball dream team made up of Sato's favourite players. More recent paintings include plants, objects and even ET. As such, Sato's work contains a lively mix of culture and history – a blend of passion, painting and experimentation.

“I think innocence is the thing, I only work with figures I like.”Koichi Sato