Saiko otake drew her sense of the expansion by looking back her own roots

Saiko Otake is a highly regarded artist who accomplished her solo exhibition at PARCO Museum in 2020 and won Kiyosato Museum of Photographic Arts Young Portfolio Award this year. We were able to speak with Otake, whose solo exhibition, UWAJIMA⇄TOKYO, and her first-ever co-exhibition with her sister, BS Channel ~ Black by Sister channel ~, are now open at Gallery Art Unlimited in Nogizaka and Pearl Book Shop & Gallery in Hatagaya, to learn about her new masterpieces and background of her creations.  

Cutting out images and collecting

At this exhibition, besides an array of her photographic works comprised of photos taken in the city of her production base, Tokyo, and her hometown, Uwajima-city in Ehime, she is also releasing her painting series, SPELLBOUND-MASK, which document her paintings of women’s faces. In addition, she is publishing her 14th zine, UWAJIMA⇄TOKYO, which is comprised of the photos from the exhibition.

What’s interesting about her artwork is that she combines two photos to make one artwork. The respective photos were shot in two different cities—Tokyo and Uwajima—though, hardtell in which city they were taken At first, these pictures seem irrelevant to one another, yet once they are conflated, the various colors, shapes, and chain of images together form a whole new image.

Otake has been putting out photo albums as zines, with all having a single theme: A place where she had visited. The idea of publishing a zine originated from when she made a photo book for her graduation project at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, where she attended. For her, the process of making a zine is not a matter of shooting photos as artworks and collecting them into a photo book. Ultimately, she takes photos as a simple means of assembling materials for her works. “It’s like relentlessly gathering evocative images. When I take photos, I cut the unnecessary stuff out of the frame and only include what I want in the picture. Later, I line up these photos and assess the combinations—and that’s the fun part of the entire process. It feels as if the places, times and everything in the photos melt and fuse into one. This is how I make an art piece.”

No words or blank margin required. She wants to create a book of images only. And her will is morphed into the solid series of zines that go on to this day. She, presumably, acquired her sense of layout—in which her works are made with facing pages—from studying graphic design at Saint Martines University. It is quite astonishing that, in the beginning, she did not rely on Photoshop but used a free software instead to edit images. She allegedly took as many photos as possible of the things that came to her attention, and the zine was spawned from outputting the copious materials she had garnered and organically became an emanation of her multifaceted view of the world. It also shows how uniquely she captures the world.

She currently uses a compact digital camera in order to take many pictures and for precision. Where she differs as an artist is that she uses the camera as a tool to collect images that she likes rather than to make photographs into artwork.

“It can be any camera, even an iPhone, but mine is a bit old. Wherever I go just walk around and take lots of pictures. I think a compact digital camera is best for that.”

Uwajima and Tokyo—Two important cities

Uwajima and Tokyo are the cities incorporated in the exhibition title, as well as the motifs of the artworks. The artist told us that she has been going back and forth between the cities and they are both important places for her.

“I was born in Uwajima and grew up until high school. My father is from Tokyo, and I visited there often when I was little to see my grandparents and had fun in the city. Tokyo is an exciting city where time flies fast. I wanted to juxtapose the two cities—Uwajima and Tokyo—and that curiosity led to this exhibition. Before, I didn’t have a strong feeling for Uwajima, but now I’ve become more aware that the place is my home and where my family lives.”

Since Otake came back from London, she has been based out of Uwajima traveling back and forth to Tokyo, but now because of Covid, she has not been able to go back to Uwajima. It is a detrimental situation for the artist as her travels have been a direct inspiration on her creativity.

“I want to make sure that I always have fresh eyes, so I’m most dreaded of ‘getting used to things.’ Every time I left Uwajima, I was motivated to take more pictures when I was back, and even though Tokyo is an exciting city, I get less inspired if I’m trapped in the same area. I’ve been blessed to have been able to visit different places to produce and do exhibitions, and that’s been the source of my creative drive.”

Yet, on the flip side of being stuck in Tokyo, she has been able to solely focus on production. For canvas paintings of course, but the process of drawing in general is done in one place, and for the past one or two years, Tokyo has become an essential production base for her. This time, she released a collection of acrylic paintings, SPELLBOUND-MASK, and each piece emanates a strong presence, which is further enhanced as we now live in a world where people’s faces are veiled in face masks. Her photographs are remarkable often espousing vivid colors, yet the paintings are rendered in even more vibrant colors. The paintings and the photographs are quite distinct from each other as they use different motifs, however, they appear to be somewhat related.   

“I think the images that are in the photobook have become sources of inspiration for my paintings. Acrylic paints are bright colored and I use them to achieve my ideal colors—they are perfect for me.”     

She says, she also wants to try oil painting in the future.

“Now, I draw pictures with striking color contrasts, but I like the distinctive soft touch of oil paintings as well, so I want to experiment mixing colors and draw leisurely with oil paints. I self-taught myself how to paint pictures, and I do some research on different art mediums and drawing techniques; recently, I’m getting keener on studying various means of expression in art.”

Under any circumstance, I want to keep creating

It goes without saying, Otake’s father is a renowned painter, Shinro Ohtake. Since little, Otake drew pictures together with her father, and interacting with her father through creating things was her childhood life, and that experience has unequivocally led to what she does today, but she tells us that, in retrospective, she was a mundane, countryside middle school and high school girl. Even when she was studying in London, surprisingly, she wasn’t intending on living the rest of her life as an artist.

“In London, first, there was the Foundation course, then it went up to BA and there were couple further courses; and every time I was done with one, I thought about flying back home…. Especially since I knew deeply that it takes a lot to be like my father. But, at the same time, I knew, deep down, that I was always eager to create something. I never had the urge to live life as an artist, but I merely loved creating things, and broadly, I wanted to have a job that involves producing artworks, and that feeling has always stayed the same.”

After she graduated university, she rented an exhibiting space in a hair salon in London and opened her first solo exhibition, and when her artwork was sold on site, she finally swore to herself that she will pursue her career as an artist. Ever since, and to this day, she affirms that she wants to continue making artworks, whether the works sell or not.  

The pandemic gave me time to confront myself. Luckily, the exhibition was carried out without getting canceled, and I still get to work on my artworks every day.

“It’s a big deal for me that I haven’t been able to see my family for this long. Since I had to do everything on my own, it re-fueled me to get myself through this situation. Before, every exhibiting work was a challenge to me. In some parts, I deliberately keep a consistent style, but I feel like I should start altering and evolving my works little by little. Especially with my drawings, I feel like my emotions are explicitly revealed, and at the exhibition in Osaka (GALAGALAGALA that took place in Shinsaibashi PARCO from February 11th to March 8th, 2020) I wanted to pep up both myself and the viewers with colors. This exhibition is in its extent, but probably, with a slightly mellower vibe. I think it has toned down a bit from the dazzling state. In the future, I want to keep my artworks impactful but make them in softer tones.”

Currently, Otake’s co-exhibition with her younger sister, titled BS Channel ~ Black by Sister channel ~, is taking place at Pearl Book Shop & Gallery in Hatagaya, where her small monochrome collage artworks are displayed. The artist, who has an ambition of drawing a massive artwork, utters, “there are many more things I want to accomplish,” with a spark in her eyes. We can’t take our eyes off this burgeoning artist aspired to take diverse challenges.

Saiko Otake
Born in 1988. She graduated University of Arts London in 2016. With her multifaceted perspectives, she renders her unique worldview through drawings, paintings, photography, collages, and various other mediums. Her successful exhibitions include, solo exhibition EXUVIA (2016/London and Singapore), VISUAL SAMPLING (2018/Taichung),COSMOS DISCO(2019/Tokyo),GALAGALA(2020/Tokyo) and GALAGALAGALA (2021/Osaka)

Dates: Currently open until July 31st
Location: Gallery Unlimited
Address: Roppongi Diamond bldg. 3F 1-26-4 Minamiaoyama, Minato-ward, Tokyo
Open hours: 1PM – 6:30PM (Last entry)
Closed: Sundays, Tuesdays, Holidays
Admission Fee: Free

■Saiko and Shoko Otake Duo Exhibition: BS Channel~Black by Sister Channel~
Dates: Currently open until August 1st
Location: Pearl Book Shop & Gallery
Address: 2-26-5 Nishihara, Shibuya-ward, Tokyo
Open hours: 1PM – 7PM
Closed: Mondays and Tuesdays
Admission Fee: Free

Edit Jun Ashizawa(TOKION)
Translation Ai Kaneda



Ichico Enomoto

Born 1974 in Tokyo. Editor/writer. After working in the editorial department of a TV magazine, he became involved in the editing of "Corocal," a web media that deals with local issues, and also edits and writes in the field of culture, including film and art. Travels around Japan and abroad to see art and soccer.