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Ohtake's paper pulp paintings (such as Pasture, above) stand out with their neon colours.
His scrapbooks (Layered Memories, above) are physical layering of different colours and drawings.

Japanese artist's life is an open scrapbook

Sep 30, 2016 5:50 AM

FOR an artist known for his voluminous scrapbook compilations, a residency at the Singapore Tyler Print Institute (STPI) seems to be a natural fit and expansion of the core of Shinro Ohtake's artistic exploration.

Before he came to STPI, he had an idea of making a book about memories, layering them and binding them into one book.

As he had also not worked with paper pulp nor made paper from scratch before, he wanted to try his hand at doing so, along with lithography and silkscreening - things which he had done a long time ago in school and had wanted to revisit on a larger scale at STPI.

"So there wasn't a technique I had a preference for, or that I didn't like - they're different in their ways," shares the 66-year-old artist from Tokyo, speaking through Eitaro Ogawa, the master printer at STPI. Screenprinting, for example, was an appropriate medium for his book of layered memories because the physical layering of different colours and drawings is also reflective of the layering of memories.

Ohtake started his ongoing series of scrapbooks in 1977, when he was in London. He has made 68 unique books to date, each varying from 50 to over 200 pages. A complete presentation of the scrapbooks was shown at the 2013 Venice Biennale as part of the Encyclopaedic Palace.

Besides his scrapbooks, Ohtake's artistic practice also involves drawings, collages, paintings and large-scale assemblage pieces, as well as architectural projects and at least two experimental noise bands.

Ohtake says that what drew him to scrapbooking in the 70s was his desire to find an identity as an artist. From young, he had been cutting and putting things on surfaces; and when he went wandering the flea markets in London as a young artist of 21, he found some old matchboxes which he used in a collage.

"The most important aspects of this kind of creation of images in scrapbooks is that there are no rules. It's not like painting. You can use any material, and there's more freedom to it. So it's become my experimental state. The absence of rules and the ability to experiment - that's why I've been doing them until today," he elaborates.

The books are not autobiographical though, Ohtake clarifies, as they are not self-portraits. "It's more complicated than that," he adds.

At STPI, he created a giant sculptural scrapbook, consisting of 160 individual artworks. "I used completely new images and a new way of binding," he highlights.

What he also experimented with during his STPI residency is large-scale paper pulp works where he scooped up neon-coloured pulp onto white pulp to make a large-sized painting.

The prevalence of mass media imagery and neon colours stem from Ohtake's preoccupation with the brevity of life - following the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and Fukushima disaster. With that pulsing bright yellow, green, pink and so on, the works refer to the radioactive contamination and are a response to concerns that it raised.

"I wanted to use these colours and images to talk about chemical pollution," he says. As for the lithography, Ohtake used toner ink as a medium to create an indigo-and-white work. "I couldn't control all aspects of the toner ink, which was interesting for me," he shares.

One gets the sense that Ohtake is very pleased with his residency at STPI, where there is no clear definition or rules on how to make a "painting" or a "collage". "It's just art-making," he states.

Will he go back to making his scrapbooks after Singapore? Ohtake quips that he has way more material than he could find the time to use. "I'm as fascinated with it as before. It's just that I don't have enough time to do more, and I'll probably die before I finish using them."

Ohtake finds the Japanese trend of purikura - photo booths where the Japanese take photos of themselves and have it printed out in stickers - also to be fascinating and interesting. "I think it's in the Japanese blood that we like to collect and stick things," he quips.

  • Paper Sight by Shinro Ohtake, runs from now until Nov 5 at Singapore Tyler Print Institute, 41 Robertson Quay.
    Gallery hours are Mon-Fri, 10am-7pm, Sat, 9am-6pm. Closed on Sundays and public holidays.