When he was only five years old, Kentaro Okawara’s grandfather passed away. Noticing his grandma might be feeling lonely, he decided to start sending her hand-drawn postcards every week. Now as a grown man, his blissful, effervescent multimedia work is proof that he never quite left that sweet, naive part of his life – or his love for his grandma – behind.
Sadly, however much we fight it, there tends to come a time in life when you have to get your head down, stop daydreaming and start being serious. There’s bills to pay, obligations to fulfil, a reputation to uphold. Work must be done. Perhaps this is why we find ourselves turning to the art world, to remind ourselves that there are some people out there who seem to have been handed some kind of magic key to a life completely uninhibited by sadness, commitments and functionality. People for whom the glee of childhood never really ebbed away, and who are able to visualize their state of wonder for us to enjoy and learn from.
In Tokyo, an artist called Kentaro Okawara is one of these keyholders. A popular, prolific graphic artist who, like so many creatives of his kind, is as comfortable filling a gallery with endless canvases of his paintings as he is making childrens’ books, streetwear or funny cushions to sell in his online shop. It’s a very beguiling Peter Pan – or millennial – mentality: a two-fingers-up approach to what an “artist” should be. Where many other similar multimedia artists can be poe-faced about their output, Kentaro’s work and the way he talks about it is the physical embodiment of an impish grin. A refreshing, childlike, sunshine-y disposition that beams through his work, reminding us of what it felt like to be a happy kid many, many moons ago.
We spoke to Kentaro about keeping the flame of his youth alive through his art, and the powerful, direct affect his love for his family and friends has on his prolific, buoyant work.
“It all started when I turned and said to my mother, “Now that grandfather has died, grandmother must be lonely by herself. I will send her a letter.” In those letters I would draw pictures of what I had done that day: things I liked, my favorite fictional characters, or monsters that I drew from my imagination. I was only five years old, so my mother would write down what I had been up to on the back of the card."
“My grandmother would reply immediately: sending me the most beautiful watercolors of flowers, fruit, or me and my favorite characters. She would write to me, thanking me for my postcards and telling me how much she missed us. I really enjoyed these beautiful pictures that arrived every day. I don’t really remember when or why it stopped. It probably had something to do with me getting obsessed with soccer instead.”
“Ever since I was young, I’ve always loved making things. I’ve always drawn exactly what I want to draw. But over time, bit by bit, I got distracted by more sensible ways of thinking. As I grew up and began adjusting to my surroundings and pretending to be “successful,” I felt suffocated. Now I’ve luckily managed to escape that feeling. I only think about things that matter and I only do the things I want to do. I hope that sentiment is visible in my work.”
“As humans, we are able to feel love for all sorts of things. The feelings and spirits that are invisible to the naked eye can touch our hearts and make us think in a way we haven’t done before. Those kinds of experiences make us who we are. When I make art, I try to treasure the feeling that I have at the very moment I face the canvas. I also try not to go back and retouch anything that I made afterwards, so that each picture I make reflects the exact feelings I had at the time I created it.”
“It makes me so glad to hear that some people can be reminded of why they fell in love with the world and with life in the first place when they look at my work. If art makes people notice trivial things around them or even just encourages them to thank their family more often, then that’s great. Personally, I can’t live or create without my family, friends or lovers, because to me they are the world. They are life.”
“Through my work I just want to laugh and talk to as many people as possible of any age and from any kind of culture. In the future I might have even more family members or friends, or I may even live in a new environment, but I want to make sure I continue to celebrate creating from what I learn from my relationships with them.”