Kentaro Okawara never stops creating. In fact, in one month under quarantine, he made fifty paintings — each one exudes the brightly-colored and charmingly carefree style that he’s become so well known for. Catch one of his shows and you’ll be equally impressed by the amount of work that graces the gallery’s walls. Sometimes nearly a hundred pieces reside shoulder-to-shoulder leaving the viewer engrossed in Okawara’s fantastic world, often filled with smiling figures, endearing creatures, and personified objects.
Okawara’s work addresses the simple sentiments that surround love, personal connections, and being able to remind yourself of the things that make you fall in love with the world each day — even the grim days we’re currently encountering. There’s nothing he cherishes more than the happiness and joy he gets from his personal relationships, which fuel his creativity and have a powerful, inextricable affect on the sunshine-y pieces he shares. Sure, everyone has a different way of seeing and experiencing the world, but if there’s one thing Okawara has discovered, it’s that everyone has the capacity to feel. Feel the good, the bad, the whatever. Okawara can’t help but interject his feelings, emotions, and experiences into each of his works, and his ability to candidly share his perspective forges deeper connections to anyone he or his work comes in contact with.
In between the countless paintings Okawara has been busy creating, he took some time to chat with me about the things he misses most during quarantine, where he has been finding inspiration recently, and why he can’t stop making things.
How are you doing during these unprecedented Covid-19 times? Where are you currently sheltered-in-place?
I have been living in my studio in Tokyo all this time. In the studio, there is a bathroom and kitchen. I go to the grocery store to buy food and cook in the studio. My family lives within walking distance, but I don’t go there very often.
Your style seems very intuitive, instinctual, and free — the marks, the shapes. How would you describe your style?
I feel that my objects and concepts are gradually getting simpler. That is because I want to create work that can be shared with all people of different cultures and ages. Situations in the world or people’s emotions are always complicated and can be seen in many ways. I create my work based on my emotions or experience, but I would like them to be in such a way that people who look at my work can interpret them from various perspectives.
How were you first introduced to art?
I liked to create ever since I was a child, but my grandparents loved art too. There were paintings they bought hanging in their house. I grew up listening to their memories about the paintings and how much they cost. They used to go into nature and sketch and paint.
When did you start making artwork seriously and did it always look and feel like it does now?
Not until the end of my sophomore year in art college in Tokyo. I was not so serious nor passionate about creating artwork, but when I saw a book of Basquiat’s work in the library, I was shocked by his artwork and seriously started to create artwork myself. At that time, I did not have much knowledge about painting or art, so I looked at many materials in the library, applied many methods and just drew. Unlike now, I did not know what I wanted to do, so I just drew a lot in order to discover something.
Your work depicts bright colors and figures, animals, plants, and objects that are smiling. How are the colors and overall upbeat vibe of your work a reflection of who you are?
I think it is natural that there is a reflection of yourself in your work. No matter what you are depicting, you select each line and color to put into the work and that is the reflection of you. I have many sides just like my artwork.
How do you start a piece when you have a blank piece of paper or canvas in front of you? Do you work quickly?
There are times I just draw directly on canvas without any underlying drawing, or I draw many sketches first, or I use the projector to project the sketch on the canvas. It all depends on my feeling at the moment. Basically, I think I’m a fast worker. Even large work takes about a week. When the finished works are small, I might create 5 or 6 pieces at the same time.
How do you get in the mood to create?
Mood does not matter to me much. When I decide to draw, I just face the canvas. Sometimes it goes towards a good direction, sometimes bad, but I tell myself I will not finish until I am satisfied with the work. But when I feel like I’m going through a really tough time, I can’t draw anything.
What motivates you to make the work you do?
I experience many things and think many thoughts everyday. The ideas for my pieces come from aspiration of emotions. For example, my emotions are aroused when I see a dog and I think it is cute, or when I see my girlfriend smile and feel happy or I see a child crying and get upset. Even if they are little things, I feel something, and by accumulating those, ideas are created. I draw on my current feelings in order to feel many worlds.
You often present a lot of work at one time, especially for a show, you include so many pieces. Is there a specific reason you create such a large amount of pieces for one body of work?
A space is more fun when it is filled with many pictures. And by having various art pieces — monotone, 3D, different sizes — I think people can enjoy more because there are all kinds of perspectives. I simply pursued an exhibition that I wanted to see, and it turned out to be like this.
How do you want people to connect to your work? What are you hoping they get out of viewing and experiencing your art?
I create my work based on the theme of ‘love’. That is because everyday I feel the importance of having the feeling of love towards things that surround me. How people feel when they look at my work or my exhibition is up to them, but I would feel honored if by looking at my work, people can see or feel something that they did not notice before, like smiling or starting to have conversation about them with other people, or telling people that they love them.
What are you obsessed with drawing currently? Why?
From April 1st, I started working on diary style work. This is a way for me to face myself and the current world by drawing everyday no matter how I feel, good or bad. I have paper and paint with me. By limiting the size or the medium, I can focus on drawing only. It also is an experiment on ideas and paint.
Has the current state of the world and having to remain at home away from friends and family affected your creativity?
Right now, because my activities are limited and everything has been cancelled, it cannot be helped that my emotional waves fluctuate greatly everyday. I tell myself that I’m fine. It is difficult to see families and friends right now unlike normal times, but I have an iPhone so I can see them and talk to them. But I have not stopped creating.
How are you staying inspired while quarantined?
Since staying home, I have been cooking things that I normally wouldn’t cook, and taking walks around the studio. Now I am able to do things I couldn’t do before, or I made new discoveries, so that is fun. Also, FaceTiming with my girlfriend and friends is most inspirational. I cannot live without that.
What are some of the things you miss being able to do the most?
See my girlfriend in Korea. Go overseas, eat meals with my family, drink sake with friends, dance and have fun at clubs.
What are some of the people or things you can’t live without?
Family, girlfriend, friends. Without them, I cannot create. It’s not worth existing if I cannot create. So I would not have any reason to live.
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