Thursday, August 9, 2018

Diva Interviews OKAZU, A Sumi-e Artist & Live Art Performer


Last week's Japan Park SG exhibition was quite the cultural fest on all things Japanese. In particular, Red Dot Diva thought the events held on the Omakaze Stage was very engaging.

The schedule of stage events ran the gamut of talks with cosplayers, wrestler Jushin Thunder Liger, robotist Professor Tomotaka Takahashi, various types of traditional dances, a party with girl band Poppin'Party as well as veteran rockers Sunplaza Nakano Kun & Papala Kawai. However, Red Dot Diva's favourite performance on stage was the live drawing of samurai sumi-e art (Japanese black ink brush painting) by OKAZU, a talented artist who hails from Osaka.

OKAZU is well-known for his sumi-e art on historical samurai and warriors, but he also does fantastic artwork of characters from manga, anime, Western pop-culture, and even comic book superheroes!


On stage during the Japan Park SG show, in less than 30 minutes, OKAZU created striking warring samurai images that seem almost alive, as if they are to jump through the white canvases. Accompanied by a cinematic soundtrack, his live performances were both elegant and visually powerful.



Red Dot Diva had a chance to interview OKAZU at the Samurai Room on the 2nd day of the show, and learned more about his motivations and inspirations.

Red Dot Diva: Hi, I'm curious as to how you were introduced to the art of sumi-e? 
OKAZU: I started on sumi-e 13 years ago. My friend gave me an ink brush pen, and I started to use it. I thought it was fun using the brush pen, and that got me interested and involved in sumi-e.

Red Dot Diva: Before that, were you using any other art materials?
OKAZU: As a hobby, I used to draw a lot of watercolour and oil paintings.

Red Dot Diva: After you decided that sumi-e art was your kind of craft, did you research on any artists or topics?
OKAZU: Well, I decided on focusing on samurais and Sengoku "Age of the Warring States" because there was so much happening in Japan at that time. I was invited to events about this era, and I started to study the history about this time period so that I can translate them into my drawings.

Red Dot Diva: I understand that you are inspired by samurais. Any special reasons why?
OKAZU: As a boy, I had always loved the yoroi (samurai armour). I have always been attracted to the samurai world so naturally, it has become a main subject of my artwork.

Red Dot Diva: What else inspires you concerning your art? 
OKAZU: I love American comic books!

Red Dot Diva: Well, that's interesting, because I wanted to ask you about your collaboration with Marvel. How did you manage to snag that project? 
OKAZU: As part of my social media interaction, I upload a lot of my artwork, and I posted some of my pieces on Marvel characters. I think some of the Marvel people saw those, and liked it. They contacted me and asked me to create some official Marvel artwork.


Red Dot Diva: What were your Marvel artwork used for?
OKAZU: It was for a special Marvel event held in Japan, and my artwork was used for various merchandise and promotional display.

Red Dot Diva: So, who's your favourite Marvel comic book character?
OKAZU: the Hulk!
Red Dot Diva: Hulk?? I would have thought you might choose a more graceful character.
OKAZU:  (laughs) Yes, Hulk! He's powerful and strong! 

Red Dot Diva: What is the most challenging aspect of sumi-e? 
OKAZU: Not that many people are familiar with sumi-e, so I find it a challenge to reach out to more people around the world, and to introduce sumi-e to more people through my artwork.

Red Dot Diva: How do you prepare yourself before you go on stage for a live art performance? Do you meditate? 
OKAZU: Before my performance, about 10 minutes before, I try to control my breath and my mind. I try to visualize the character that I'm going to draw. So that when I live draw on stage, the image is imprinted from my mind to the canvas.

Red Dot Diva: Of all the artwork that you have done, do you have a personal favourite piece? 
OKAZU: At my first stage performance in Kyoto, I drew Date Masamune, a famous samurai in history. The event was held at Uzumasa (the Kyoto Studio Park) in Kyoto, and that artwork which is on display in that park, is the most memorable one.

Red Dot Diva: Did you learn something about your experiences travelling to different countries doing your live performances?
OKAZU: I have been to Europe and different parts of Asia, and in every country I visit, I see totally different views, different people, and that inspires me and my art. My art may focus on traditional Japanese imagery, but I also notice that the audience react to them in different ways, and that in itself is so interesting. I did not expect the range of reactions concerning even when it is relating to a same kind of art piece.



Red Dot Diva: In what ways do you think your art stands out from other sumi-e artists? 
OKAZU: I use pure black ink, and I don't add any water to it. Some artists add a little bit of water so that it's lighter. Also, how I express the samurai in my art lean toward the anime style rather than the true traditional images. They kind of lie somewhere in between those two spectrums, and I think that is the unique aspect of my art compared to other artists.

Red Dot Diva: Is this your first time to Singapore, and what are your first impressions?
OKAZU: Yes. My first impression? The toilets are so clean!
Red Dot Diva: Haha! I would have thought toilets in Japan are also clean!
OKAZU: No, not all places!
 
Red Dot Diva: Are you going to visit or try anything while you are in Singapore?
OKAZU: I went to see the Merlion after the show last night. And the Marina Bay Sands. The typical tourist sights. I might eat some local foods tonight. 
Red Dot Diva: Chilli crab?
OKAZU: I haven't had time to sightsee or do many things here. I have to leave tomorrow morning. Maybe the next time.
Red Dot Diva: The next time then! We'll have to take you out to eat chilli crab!
OKAZU: Yes!



Red Dot Diva: Do you have any advice for those who are starting out in sumi-e?
OKAZU: The important thing is to always trust your instincts, and to draw powerfully and confidently. These are important things to know and learn.

Red Dot Diva: What your next projects or appearances?
OKAZU: My next show will be in Japan, at a temple in Sendai. There is going to be 2-month exhibition there, and I will be doing a live performance next Saturday.


A post shared by Red Dot Diva (@reddotdiva) on

OKAZU: Hello, people of Singapore. My name is OKAZU. This is my first time in Singapore but everyone has been very nice and warm, and I loved t. I will definitely want to come back here again. Thank you very much!


Hope to see you back again in Red Dot Island too, OKAZU!



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This interview was done via a translator.

Thanks to Amuse Entertainment and SPRG for the interview opportunity!




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