“Circle of friends”, a memorable solo exhibition by wakwack, who started his career as a paper cutout artist in earnest, was held at the book and gallery space “Bookmarc” in Harajuku. The world of wackwack is made up of elements of culture that influenced him from childhood through to adulthood, such as the Japanese manga, American movies, the street culture of the 1990s, even rave culture and hip-hop music.
He has been creating one-of-a-kind paper cutout artworks that have been gaining a lot of attention, such as cute characters with a bit of venom that makes you smile, psychedelic color combinations, and playful stories. What is it about them that fascinates us so much?
In this article, we bring out a private interview with wackwack in two parts, the first part and the second part, about his highly successful solo exhibition “Circle of friends” as well as his motivation for starting his career as an artist.
What I wish is to expand my circle of friends
ーー”Circle of friends”, such a good title.
wackwack (Hereinafter WACK): Yeah, that’s a circle of my friends. As I was making the works, I started to think that “Circle of friends” had a nice ring as a title, and I thought it would be nice if this exhibition became a place for people to meet, and if the people who came to the exhibition made new friends. Since the start of the exhibition, I’ve seen a lot of people I’ve never met before, and I feel that my circle of friends is actually expanding. I hope I can use this opportunity to expand my circle again.
ーーMy impression is that you started graphic and paper cutout art, inspired by an expanded circle of friends, so I thought it is a great title.
WACK: I’ve been blessed with good friends. As you said, I got into art after my friend told me to try drawing something. So that’s why I chose this title.
ーーDid you like to draw pictures since you were a child?
WACK: Yes, I did. I really liked Japanese anime that I was watching in childhood, such as “Kinnikuman”, “Dragon Ball”, and “Dr. Slump Arale-chan”, and I drew characters from them. I also liked American comics, so I drew Felix and Mickey when I was in elementary school. I wasn’t aware of it at the time, but I was naturally influenced by those works and drew illustrations of them. My father used to let me watch a lot of American and foreign movies, so I think that had a bit of influence on me as well.
I play a lot and put the feeling I get from that into my work
ーーSo, how did you get into illustration and graphics as a career, and why did you start paper cutting?
WACK: I started illustration 10 years ago when I was asked to draw something for friend’s CD jackets and flyer. The first friend who asked me to draw was Tonan from the rap group ROCKASEN, and I just gave it a try as I thought maybe I can do it. Looking at what I drew, I thought it was pretty good, so that’s how it started. After that, I started drawing for T-shirts released to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the event “FUTURE TERROR” organized by DJ NOBU, and designs for BUSHMIND‘s album jackets. I also learned how to print T-shirts from Joji Nakamura and others. Also, when I made a zine, I took it to Tower Books (Tower Records Shibuya), where I met Mochida-san (Takeshi Mochida, currently manager of Bookmarc) and Murata-san (Yasuyuki Murata, currently a store manager of Marc Jacobs Shibuya Parco / ambassador of Bookmarc), and they kindly dealt with my zine in their store. In this context, Murata-san approached me and the exhibition at “Bookmarc” was realized.
ーーSo it was your circle of friends that expanded the scope of your activity, right?
WACK: Yeah, that’s right. I had a lot of interesting people around me, and when I went out to hang out with them, they introduced me to new people. So my circle of friends was expanded further and further before I knew it.
ーーWhat kind of culture did you get into?
WACK: I went to techno parties hosted by my friends in Chiba who are older than me, and hip-hop parties because I was close friends of ROCKASEN. I love places where there is music, and of course I love to drink. So it’s not too much to say that I started illustration to earn some money to play there. But when I went to clubs, I would spend as much as 800 yen on a drink. So in the beginning, even if my artworks were sold, I spent pretty much everything on drinks, haha.
ーーAnd you are found drunk in the morning, right? (laughs)
WACK: Yes, deadly drunk, haha. But when I go out, I meet a lot of people, and I get a lot of inspiration from them, like how cool it is to draw something like this or how nice this atmosphere is. There were always things I could learn even if I had to pay for drinks. Now, it’s hard to go out under the coronavirus pandemic, but I always think it’s very important to play and have fun.
ーーYour works seems to be filled with what you have seen through having fun.
WACK: That’s right. But now that I’ve quit my job to focus on art, it’s no longer about playing.(laughs) I need to go to the next level.
ーーHow did you start doing paper cutouts?
WACK: I started it when I create the artwork for the cover of Struggle For Pride’s album “WE STRUGGLE FOR ALL OUR PRIDE. They had a specific image that they want the artwork to look like which was made with paper cutouts. So I used that as a model and just tried it out. If I hadn’t had that opportunity, I wouldn’t be doing paper cutouts now. I didn’t know anything about paper cutouts before that, so I was just following what I saw, but the first time I tried it, it came out beautifully. That’s how I got started, but what made me decide to continue was that there were many artists who were truly skilled in drawing or illustration. Although I predominantly exhibited drawings in my first exhibition, I felt I couldn’t compete with such skilled artists in drawing, so I decided to show paper cutouts in my second exhibition.
ーーBy the way, does wackwack consist of multiple members? Or are you a solo artist?
WACK: Two people plus one. In the beginning, we were a crew. I’m not very good with computers, so I was in charge of drawing. The one of two was Mambu, a classmate of mine who used to make advertisements for companies and flyers for music venues, and the other person was Ugajin, a skater who, I think, acts as a kind of ambassador of wackwack. At first, the three of us were working together, but now it’s more like my solo project, with a graphic designer named Yamamoto supporting me when I need help.
“I’ve got to do it,” I told myself, and I began to live as an artist
ーーWhat was the reason why you decided to focus solely on art?
WACK: I didn’t want to go to work after I took a break due to the corona pandemic.(laughs) So I quit my job, and then I got an offer for this exhibition a little over a year ago. After that, I started getting a lot of client works, such as the ones for Takuya Kimura’s TV program (GYAO! x TOKYO FM “Kimura-san!”). I’m 44 years old now, and I think it was the time when I wanted to pursue my last dream. There were many successful people around me whom I admired, so I thought, “I have no choice but to do this. I had saved up some money as I was working at the company, so it was a desire to take on a new challenge. If it didn’t work out, I thought I’d work again.
ーーIt’s so cool that you’ve take that path.
WACK: Really? I’m glad to hear that. Everyone was laughing and saying “Are you crazy?”
ーーBut I suppose people around you must have had high expectations of you. They must have been sure you would be able to do it.
WACK: I’m glad if people would think so. I made this decision just with a spirit and vibes. As it turned out, more people showed up in my exhibition than I expected, and I met a lot of people I hadn’t seen in a long time, and even people I admired showed up. I’m very happy just to have my work seen by a lot of people in this way.
ーーWhat kind of response did you get from the people who visited the exhibition?
WACK: The squished bear was the most popular. Everyone said it was good. I don’t have to make many cuts, and it’s not that difficult, but it is said to be catchy. Also, the other day at Freaks Store Shibuya, we had a group exhibition (“stacks JUNE 2021” EXHIBITION Supported by FIRST DOWN BOOK LAUNCH & ART SHOW). I was influenced by the abstract patterns of the artists I was exhibiting with, so after the group exhibition, I made works of aliens and spaceship. This was the first time I tried something abstract. Up until then, I had always made my works after thinking about the story to underpin the image, and I would often add some words on it. But I realized that it was sometimes difficult to hang such artworks. I thought that if I used an abstract style, maybe it would work anywhere. And as I expected, people responded with such abstract works very well. That’s why I came to the realization that it’s important to make works catchy and impressive, and to be able to add your own personality to it.
ーーThis is your first attempt at abstract works, right?
WACK: Yes. I tried not to add too many elements or stories that could complicate the image, but I wanted it to be incomprehensible at the same time. So in terms of works of alien and spaceship, I just wanted to make aliens and spaceship, so I didn’t put in any extra information, and just added more and more parts. I also thought about how I could put this part here, or how I could use the smoke from the spaceship. I have no idea why I chose to use an electrical plug as one of motifs, but I wanted to make something that was winding.(laughs) I didn’t decide on a particular theme, but just let myself work on it freely. I guess it’s a bit like making a collage.
(Continue to Part 2)