All photography by Jessie-Rose
SaiakuNana is a Japanese contemporary artist, currently based in London. She has been holding solo exhibitions in Tokyo since 2015, and in 2018, she was awarded the TARO Award at the 21st Taro Okamoto Award for Contemporary Art.
In 2021, SaiakuNana opened a gallery in Shoreditch exhibiting her original artworks. Situated on Redchurch street, the gallery’s outrageous appearance juxtaposes with the clean, modern shop fronts that surround it. Yet the gallery’s design speaks to the street art of the area and calls back to an independent and creative Shoreditch of yesteryear.
We had the pleasure of sitting down in conversation with SaiakuNana, and discussing art, music, influences and more.
Tell us about yourself; what drove you to be creative, how did you get where you are now, and what makes you happy these days?
I didn’t have any career aspirations in my high school days. I always thought
that you would need to have some special talent to be an artist. As I didn’t think I had any talent, I decided to study graphic design after high school, but my motive wasn’t pure. I chose graphic design because I thought that it might make it easy to find employment at a design agency.
At the graphic design school, we received short painting classes. During these, I met the painting teacher who changed my life. I had previously believed that I would have to paint ‘well’, in a kind of proper way, and within a certain conventional framework; but he told me that I didn’t have to paint in this manner at all. This overturned all the ideas I held about painting. Until then, I thought that paintings had to be done skillfully so that they could be accepted and admired by everybody. It was a total revelation to me that I was free to paint whatever I wanted to express – from the bottom of my heart. This was the moment when I found the space to express myself freely in life. Even now, I feel that I’m still driven forward by the jolt of realisation that I had back then. I get a sense of happiness when I create something cool.
Walk me through your work as an artist – how would you describe your artistic practice?
I don’t even do rough sketches beforehand, to be honest, my head is totally empty when I’m working. Like when I’m performing a song, my mind is blank and my hand moves of its own accord. In my case, if I plan ahead by making a rough sketch, the work doesn’t turn out well. It is the same with my view on life, if you have a fixed idea about how things should pan out, you restrict yourself and end up with something small.
Who and what are your main artistic influences?
I’m mostly influenced by musicians, particularly Hirozi Miyamoto, who is the vocalist of the Japanese rock band, Elephant Kashimashi. I also adore Oasis and the Gallagher brothers’ attitudes. And any painters would deeply appreciate the way Hayao Miyazaki directs his films.
How important is it for your work to be a conversational piece—allowing others to converse and draw inspiration from it?
Of course I’m pleased that people see and appreciate my works, but it’s not very important for me. If I thought too much about what people think, it wouldn’t be good for my artworks. What is most important is that I trust and focus on what I passionately want to create. It makes me happier if people appreciate the works born directly out of my heart.
At Underground we believe in a freedom of expression – how important do you think that mindset is both as a creative and as a person?
I agree that it’s highly significant. Without art, I wouldn’t be able to express myself as freely as I do. Having lived in Japan for so many years, I often found myself feeling that I wasn’t free. Leading an ordinary life, I sometimes feel stifled but when I’m painting, I come alive because I can freely express myself.
You opened your pop up gallery in Shoreditch in 2021. How has the response been and what doors has it opened for you?
I was completely unknown in the UK and I was very apprehensive about opening the gallery where nobody knew me. I had no idea if I would get any visitors at all in my gallery. But I’m really happy that I’ve been having lots of people visiting, having fun and spending time looking at my works here. My artistic base has been In Japan, where I had only Japanese visitors but here in London, I get people from all over the world, which is very stimulating. Although my English isn’t very good right now, it’s utterly joyous to find that I can still have heart to heart communications with people who resonate with my art.
Getting a bit more personal, what are some of your hopes and aspirations that you’d like to achieve in this creative space?
As my visa expires in the summer, I will have to close the gallery for a while, but I want to create as much as possible and exhibit them until then. Every day I renew my fervent wish to improve my gallery, it’s my heart’s desire to make it the coolest gallery in London, so I want to keep on creating to my heart’s content.
Your work has a very distinctive look. How does that reflect on you, and do you think the artwork can be, or should be, separate from the artist?
I create art out of my heart; it wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that my works ooze out all the contents of my heart – joy, sorrow, feelings that I can’t tell others, a multitude of feelings I experience every day. There are all types of artists and I think some of them may separate their art from their personal stuff but personally I prefer artworks, be it paintings or music, that are like having conversations between the artwork and the creator, expressing what they want to say honestly. In those works I can sense passion for their art. If the separation between art and artist becomes too wide, the artwork could become soul-less and lose the essence of art.
What are your current inspirations?
I find inspiration from the life in London and the music I listen to every day. As I’ve lived my life mostly in Japan, everything looks new and interesting in my daily life here.
Which pieces of work are you most proud of and why?
I probably have no pieces I’m most proud of. Of course I love my works though. Perhaps it’s because I have a feeling that I haven’t reached my maximum potential, I continue painting every day trying to achieve the best I can do. For the past ten years or so, I’ve never missed a day without painting or drawing and I have produced more than 4,000 works but I still can’t stop…that is probably because I want to do better all the time.
What is your favourite way to spend your downtime in London?
My favorite way to spend my downtime is to have a walk, visit the museums and record shops. I also like spending time alone in a cafe, reading and watching films. A special treat for me is going to a gig. Looking at pictures and music can really make me relax.
Like Underground, you seem to have a big love of music and it also influences your work. Who are your biggest musical influences?
My biggest musical influences are Elephant Kasimashi and Oasis.
Who would you like to collaborate with in the future?
What’s next for you?
I want to expand my artistic activities outside of Japan, in various countries; and I definitely want to do another large exhibition in the UK!
SaiakuNana Gallery is open Friday-Sunday until Summer 2022. You can visit the gallery at 30 Redchurch Street, London, E2 7DP.