Ill and Happy World of wackwack’s Paper Cutting: Interview with wackwack on his exhibition “Circle of friends”, playing hard and making art -Part 2-

Following the first part of the interview, here is the second part of the interview with paper cutout artist wackwack.
Listening to him about his solo exhibition “Circle of friends” held at the book and gallery space “Bookmarc” in Harajuku (see Part 1 for details), it is clear that he had been working hard with his hands and mind to create works for the exhibition during the coronavirus pandemic over the past few years. Each of his works seems to contain ideas that he has gained from the friendships he has made and the experiences he has had from the nightlife. He transforms the “wackwack” stories that he has experienced in real life into a dreamlike world through paper cutouts. We bring you more of the charm of this artist in the second half of this extensive interview.

The 1990s rave and hip-hop culture are essential for my works

ーーBy the way, what was the first character you created?

wackwack (Hereinafter WACK): A bear and a boy. There were characters like those at the margin of a foreign picture book. I thought they were kind of cute, so I sampled them. Although I finalized them in a completely different taste, that’s how I created them. Bear characters are everywhere, but I keep making them because they are popular with both men and women. The bear is called Dokuganryu Bear. The male character is called My Boy, and I’ve been drawing that kind of character since I started drawing. I think I like things with a girly touch. Some of the visitors to this exhibition who didn’t know me believed that I am a female artist. But when they actually met me, I was like “Sorry, I’m a middle-aged guy”.(laughs)

ーーThere is a bit of a psychedelic feel to them as well, as exemplified by your color choices.

WACK:Yes, that’s because I like rave culture. The works of aliens are based on the image of 1990s raves, or some kind of acid feeling.

ーーOne thing I am curious about is if you are listening to the music when you are working on artworks.

WACK: I listen to the radio a lot. I can immerse myself in a task even while listening to the radio. When I listen to music on shuffle, sometimes a song I don’t want to listen to comes on. With the radio, however, I don’t mind leaving it on, and I can feel uplifted when I unexpectedly hear a song I like. Or if I hear an old song, it reminds me of my old days. That’s why I listen to Kan Takagi’s radio show (J WAVE “TOKYO M.A.A.D SPIN”). He invites people from my favorite era to talk on the show. I listen to them while I work and remember how cool they were.

ーーIn this exhibition, the works of Dokuganryu Bear, which are on the cover of the flyer and art book, are exhibited as initial pieces, and how they lead off the exhibition is wonderful.

WACK: It’s like they’re all playing together. They got silly and engaged in play. They (the bears) went back to their own houses, but suddenly they all became squishy. They ate a lot of sweets and took a rest, and they are as cute as Boo-chan(ISSAC from ROCKASEN). I created them just out of that kinds of rough idea.(laughs)

ーーIn terms of the eyes, I feel that they have somehow evolved and have finally become round dots.

WACK: They have indeed become dots. I have come to believe that a simple dot is the best way to represent an eye, so all the bear eyes in my latest work are dots. The eyes are the most important part, so I draw them a number of times. When I drew an illustration, I leave the eyes blank and just tried various shape of the eyes. But in the end I realized that the normal dots are the cutest. I think they just fit naturally into faces. If you look at old packages of cereal or American comics, you can see the characters that have dots on their eyes. So I came to the conclusion that it was better not to do anything unnecessary.

Representing street style and incorporating the sensation obtained from the nightlife into my work

ーーAre there any artists who have influenced you in your paper cutouts?

WACK: I check out the cutouts made by people from overseas on Instagram, but their taste is different from mine. They tend to have goth-like tastes. So I don’t have any particular influences, but maybe that’s good for me. I’m sure there are people who are better than me technically, but there weren’t many people like me who were doing paper cutouts with a street-style twist.

ーーYou just mentioned the word “street”, do you consider yourself to be from street culture?

WACK: Well, I’m not sure. I think people who like to have fun are street people, and I myself grew up in that kind of cultural background, and I love the nightlife as well. Lately I’ve been staying at home a lot because of the pandemic, but I don’t like to stay at home all the time, and I think my work is based on the idea of having fun. In fact, the people around me are all like that. I would like to aim for the top in this environment.

ーーI think one of the charms of wackwack is that you bring in the essence of ILL (ILL means “cool” or “dangerous”) from his playfulness.

WACK: There are so many more ILL people around me, and I’m not ILL enough. That’s why I’m trying to catch up with them as quickly as possible by working on my artworks. I’m still embarrassed to be called an “artist,” and when people ask me to give my autograph on the books they bought, I’m like, “Autograph? I don’t have one!”(laughs) I’m still in the middle of my own dream, and I think it’s fine to just hang out, drink and be wrecked on the street. I’m still far from being big artist. But because of the coronavirus pandemic, I couldn’t go out on the streets very often, and I accidentally became an indoor person. But I was able to make these works shown in this exhibition because of that period.

ーーDo you think there will be any changes in your style after the coronavirus pandemic?

WACK: I feel like I’m gradually being matured, so maybe my style will change. My future works will possibly focus on flowers, nature, or something even weirder. The other day I painted a landscape of the Hakone mountain range seen from a ryokan called Hakone Suisen, which is run by my friend in Hakone. I actually went to the ryokan and took a picture of the scenery and drew it later while looking at it. It was my first time for me to draw something with no creatures, and I felt that landscape painting was not so bad. I also thought that maybe it would be easier to hang this kind of work in a room. If there is a character in the picture, it gives quite intense impression. That’s why I’d like to try landscape painting in the future.

Creating a good work of art makes me feel good

ーーI like your landscape works too. It seems like you feel good when you make them.

WACK: I feel somehow purified when I make them. But at first I was worried about how it would turn out. Since my signature pieces are those with creatures, I wondered if it would be okay to make something without them. However, after making it, it turned out to be quite good, and I’d like to try making more artworks with nature as a motif in the future.

ーーDo you usually feel purified when you make your works?

WACK: Yes, I do. It’s probably like a way to relieve stress. I’m happy when I finish a piece because it contains my thoughts and feelings. This time in particular, I’m really satisfied, and it feels good to finish good pieces of work. It’s a detox. And on days when I finish a good piece, I go to a public bath and have a beer or something!(laughs)

ーーIn addition to the book, you also made incense burners and plates. Are they still available?

WACK: Even after the exhibition, they are sold at “Bookmarc”, “Stacks”, and at my web store. The wooden incense burner and plate were made by “WORK STUDIO KIDUKI,” and the incense burner looks like WW of wackwack when viewed from the side. I really like it because it can also be used as a accessory case, and it can also be displayed as an art piece.

ーーThere are so many things I want to get.(laughs)

WACK: I’ll send anything you want on COD. Haha. I’ll send you your favorite piece that you picked out today, and that big piece too, non-returnable!
Anyway, I spent a whole year of coronavirus pandemic to produce artworks for this exhibition. I think that doing “Circle of friends” at this time was a really good turning point for me.

Born in Chiba Prefecture, Japan, 1977, he started his art career as wackwack in 2009. Before shifting his focus to paper cutouts in 2017, he had produced many art zines, and designed album jackets, flyers, and T-shirts for ROCKASEN, BUSHMIND, and other friends. As a paper cutout artist, he held a solo exhibition titled “PLAY EVERYDAY” at Henry Howes in Harajuku in 2018 and “Circle of friends” at Bookmark in 2021. He had a solo exhibition titled “Circle of friends” at Bookmark in 2021. In recent years, he has designed official goods for GYAO! x TOKYO FM’s “Kimura-san!” He has also designed official goods for the ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION’s 25th Anniversary Tour 2021 “Quarter-Century”.

Photography Yoshiteru Aimono
Translation Shinichiro Sato


Kana Yoshioka

Kana Yoshioka is a freelance editor and writer. After studying abroad in New York in the early 1990s, she returned to Japan, where she became an editor at a club culture magazine. From 2003 to 2015, she worked as an editor for the street culture magazine warp. Today, she works as a writer/editor for various media in music, art, and fashion with a focus on street and club culture.