For 32 Years, This Japanese Chef Has Been Making a Painting of Every Single Meal He Eats. See His Mouth-Watering Work Here

Itsuo Kobayashi first began keeping food diaries as a teenager.

A work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.
A work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Long before there was Instagram cuisine, Itsuo Kobayashi was taking the time to document each and every meal he ate—not with his smartphone, but with pen and ink, filling notebook after notebook with delicious-looking paintings.

The Japanese outsider artist and professional cook, born in 1962, first began keeping food diaries as a teenager. In his 20s, he began adding illustrations of the dishes he made at work, and those he ate while dining out.

His 32-year practice really kicked into high gear, however, when his health took a turn for the worse. At the age of 46, Kobayashi began suffering from alcoholic neuritis. The debilitating neurological disorder made it difficult for him to walk, leaving him largely confined to his home. In the years since, Kobayashi’s art has become all the more important, with each meal serving as a creative outlet for the homebound artist.

“After getting sick and having difficulty going out, he began to draw lunch boxes,” N. Kushino, the artist’s dealer, told Artnet News in an email. The dealer, who runs Kushino Terrace gallery in Fukuyama, Japan, learned of Kobayashi in December 2014.

Itsuo Kobayashi has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Itsuo Kobayashi has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

“I found a small painting of Kobayashi’s at an exhibition of the art of the handicapped in Saitama Prefecture,” Kushino said. “When I visited his home, there were thousands of artworks.”

These days, Kobayashi relies mostly on food deliveries—sometimes from restaurants, sometimes from his mother. And though his day-to-day existence rarely varies, he’s been pushing his practice in a new direction, creating a new series of pop-up paintings.

Kushino Terrace gave Kobayashi his US debut in January, at New York’s Outsider Art Fair. His works sell for between $500 and $3,000.

See more of the artist’s work below.

Itsuo Kobayashi, <em>Untitled</em> (1982/89). Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Itsuo Kobayashi, Untitled (1982/89). Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Itsuo Kobayashi, Untitled (Pop-up Paintings) 2018–19. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Itsuo Kobayashi, Untitled (Pop-up Paintings) 2018–19. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.

Work by Itsuo Kobayashi, who has been turning his every meal into art for 32 years. Photo courtesy of Kushino Terrace, Fukuyama, Japan.


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