INAGAKI / イナガキ: A Character on the Battlefield

INAGAKI / イナガキ

Painting’s Title: A Character on the Battlefield
Materials Used: Oil on canvas
Inagaki, A Character on the Battlefield, Oil on canvas, 170 x 130 cm, 2023

Can you tell us about the process of making your work?

I primarily use oil paints, airbrush, and spray paint as my basic mediums. I find it nice how they sound like an unusual combination. As for spray paint and the airbrush, my teenage years spent doing graffiti have made these media feel more natural to me than a brush.. What’s interesting is that studio work is entirely different from painting on the streets. Street art has limited time and feels dynamic, leaving an immediate, lasting impression, but creating a painting is more of a “quiet” experience. It involves designing various elements like composition, background, and color. When I realized this, I understood why street artists who now dominate the art scene use an entirely different language on canvas quite often. 

In terms of technical bit, quite often I roughly draw fashion-related photos from Instagram or elsewhere, going through dozens of trial and error attempts until I achieve a pleasing form. I never received formal art education, so applying oil paint with a brush on canvas is still a fresh experience for me.

How would you define your work in a few words (ideally in 3 words)?

ーOutsider, Fashion, Now. 

You are currently presenting your new solo exhibition, “HYPERFLAT”, at Soho Square in London; what sort of new artworks do you showcase at this exhibition?

ーI’ve showcased my work in three main categories: Youth Paintings, Character Paintings, and NPC Paintings. What ties them all together is the theme of a diminishing sense of belonging. Two years ago, I moved to London without even knowing much English, and I embraced the title of ‘Outsider Representative’ to introduce a fresh body of work centered around the concept of cultural flattening in today’s hyper-information society. In these pieces, I’ve used a single black color to represent the loss of identity. In essence, I believe that what’s happening right now, with Takashi Murakami’s Superflat concept maturing and spreading globally, is the current reality.

I also believe that contemporary art is like hardware meant to break rules and activate new ideas as software, rather than being confined to a specific artistic vibe or genre. So, in a way, my first show was a declaration of my commitment to studio production.

Inagaki, HYPERFLAT”, at Soho Square, London, Exhibition Photo

Could you share with us some insights on this ‘A Character on the Battlefield’, (2023) painting? Is there any particular story behind this new work?

ーI’ve named this new series ‘Character Paintings,’ and it’s a part of it. It’s all about my deep-rooted love for characters, even as I sense a fading Japanese identity. No matter how hard I try, I’m not great at painting human figures, but I’m really skilled at creating characters like Pokémon, quickly crafting cute icons. I find the contradiction in this situation interesting. So, I wanted to depict something cute, like characters that manage to maintain their form even amidst a contrasting, burning landscape.

I titled it ‘Battlefield.’ I’m an outsider, and I’m very cautious about this topic. However, last year, when my Russian wife went back home for some minor medical treatment, we saw tanks from the sleeper train window, and she encountered crying soldiers inside the train. While I didn’t directly or literally connect that experience to my art, I’m inspired by everything happening in the world right now, even if it’s just a glimpse of the unforgivable Russian invasion and a tiny part of the tragedy. I’m definitely influenced by everything I see now.

Based on recent paintings of yours, it seems that there is a fascination on more vague or amorphous body shapes on your canvases which characterise your visual compositions providing a well structured mystery to the viewer. Could you give us some more details about your figures that always feature your paintings some of whom they look to have a very distinguished presence on your canvases? 

ーAbstractly deconstructing the human form is something that people who know me have likely noticed, and it’s all thanks to the influence of Francis Bacon. As a newbie in Art world, last year’s Royal Academy exhibition was actually my first chance to see his work properly grouped together, and it left quite an impact. I can’t help but wonder what’s going on in that guy’s brain.

His paintings somehow remind me of some of today’s AI art, and I’m currently really into the wild errors AI can produce. I’m studying these quirks, but I also realize that as AI gets closer to perfection, those kinds of errors will likely disappear. Then, I think causing errors will become a human job.

Another influence on my work is fashion. I have a liking for black attire, asymmetry, and form exploration, particularly with designers like Yohji Yamamoto and Comme des Garçons. I’ve reinterpreted these elements in my art. I’m particularly interested in how the form of clothing and fashion can leave an impression on people.

What about those seemingly random letters and numbers you usually mention on your canvases?

ーYeah they’re totally random. It all started by directly mimicking those arrows and numbers you’d find in old anatomy or biology books, and it eventually became part of my style. What I later realized is that it’s quite intriguing how people viewing my art tend to focus on the numbers, trying to find meaning in them. Perhaps we’re getting to a point where we can’t make sense of things anymore without numbers.

Could you tell us about your colour selection? It looks like you put a great emphasis on black.

 ーIt primarily consists of a minimal palette of off-white and black. My earliest style revolved around mimicking Western Victorian-era etchings, but I believe this stemmed from my upbringing in Tokyo, a place saturated with information. As a Japanese person, I longed for the calm and quiet colors of the West. The off-white background might have been influenced by that time, somewhat resembling the color of old paper.

Regarding the black, as I mentioned earlier I was influenced by designers like Yohji Yamamoto. And when I wanted to convey the theme of a fading sense of belonging, I thought, ‘Well, in that case, it has to be black.’ In Tokyo, hard working office workers are often cloaked in black suits, and while I respect them, they sometimes seem robotic. Before deciding to become an artist, I actually graduated from a business university and even wore a suit for job interviews myself, but I was just really bad at it, so I gave up on that path. 

Do specific artworks have been created by random experiments in your studio or do you usually come up with a particular concept or narrative in the very beginning of your artistic process?

ーOne of my rules is not to decide on a concept too rigidly from the start. Through the process of creating and over time, I often find that as I explore what this piece means on a deeper level, it sort of emerges from within me. It’s like discovering the reasons behind it, my own inferiority complexes, or why I’m drawn to certain things. That’s what makes art intriguing. But at the same time, I often find myself thinking, ‘What’s going to be the next ‘XYZ Series’? or ’The next ‘ABC Series’? I enjoy daydreaming about various new concepts.

Can you mention any artists you, lately or generally, take inspiration from?

ーLately, I’ve drawn inspiration from Takashi Murakami and Damien Hirst. The reason is that I’m an introverted person, and I don’t readily take action. But I firmly believe that what the artists of the future need is action. These artists are always on the move, creating events. I believe they’re delving into the essence of art and capitalism, questioning what it truly means, and dedicating their lives to it.

Which are your plans for the near future?

ーI plan to meet various new people. I want to create opportunities for people to experience my art in many different ways, transcending genres and industry boundaries. While continuing with street art, I also aim to enhance the quality of my studio work and actively exhibit in galleries. Ideas keep flowing, and I want to focus on capturing the essence of the present moment. My artwork is evolving rapidly, much like a growing child.

Inagaki, Young Man Walking the Pets , Oil on canvas, 170 x 130cm, 2023
Inagaki, HYPERFLAT”, at Soho Square, London, Exhibition Photo
Inagaki, HYPERFLAT”, at Soho Square, London, Exhibition Photo
Inagaki, A Character Running, Oil and aerosol paint on canvas, 95 x 170 cm, 2023
Inagaki, NPC Paintings, Oil on canvas, 150 x 50 cm each, 2023

@INAGAKI / イナガキ

All images courtesy of the artist

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