Illustrator’s vision is distinctively Japanese

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Illustrator’s vision is distinctively Japanese

The appeal was clear for the “been there, done that” crowd at a hip club in Cheongdam-dong, Seoul: Seeing a Japanese artist, clad in black leather pants and a see-through crocheted top, create a painting.
The group of around 100 curious onlookers watched as Keeda Oikawa, a painter and illustrator from Tokyo, carefully poured small cans of white paint on a transparent plastic curtain “canvas,” then bent and stretched in sweeping motions to create her artwork. Each stroke became an abstract form or two in white, red or black.
What started out as a large circle, a curved line and a couple of tall shapes was transformed into sleek ladies sipping cocktails atop the Hollywood Hills.
Even as Ms. Oikawa worked, the crowd, mostly fashion industry professionals, seemed more interested in the slender and photogenic artist herself, who is virtually unknown in Korea.
That might change soon.
The artist says she recently had several interviews with local magazine editors, who expressed their interest in using her illustrations.
Ms. Oikawa, better known as just “Keeda,” was making her first trip to Korea to do the live performance as part of a promotional party for the Chivas Regal liquor brand. For the same purpose, she had traveled to three cities in China ― Guangzhou, Beijing and Shanghai ― earlier this year.
“I was chosen because of the strong Japanese character of my work,” Ms. Oikawa said, leafing through her portfolio containing her recent work.
In China, the theme was “Tokyo,” a city deemed “cool” by young Chinese, but in Korea the theme was changed to “Hollywood.”
Most of Ms. Oikawa’s work, which has been showcased in exhibitions, consists of graphically fused images of painting and photography.
One of her favorites was an exhibition titled “Le Pittoresque Au Japon 2003-2004,” held in Tokyo. Several images ― half-photomontage, half-illustration ― consist of a Caucasian woman dressed in an immaculate kimono juxtaposed with a Eurasian woman’s face. The main images are surrounded by traditional Japanese motifs, such as cherry or lotus blossoms or oriental painting-style brushstrokes.
Some of this extremely modern work is presented on a traditional scroll, or kakijiku in Japanese. The overall effect is an ethereally light, feminine yet very contemporary illustration that’s undeniably Japanese.
Other pieces, mostly inkjet prints on paper, exude an ultra-modern urbanity yet embrace her distinctive drawing style of lithe silhouettes and primary colors that carry a dynamic energy.
The Tokyo-born artist says she is fascinated with bold colors and various faces that embrace the East and the West. Thus, most models appearing in her work are hafu, or of mixed Japanese and other ethnicity, “or someone who feels a strong affinity to Japan,” she says.
One particular model in her work with raven hair is a pure Caucasian, but the woman felt “so Japanese at heart” that she dyed her hair black to express her strong feelings for Japan, Ms. Oikawa adds.
To attain the images she desires, the artist uses various media, ranging from watercolors or colored pencils to india ink, and incorporates almost any technique, which may mean using paintbrushes or her hands, or dribbling or pouring paints. She often collaborates with a photographer, and the images are later combined on a computer.
Ms. Oikawa notes that she has a relatively conservative art background, having studied fine art and music at the prestigious Tokyo National University.
Her first exhibition in 1994 at Ginza Kyubido Gallery in Tokyo displayed more traditional types of oil paintings.
But, gradually the artist’s style evolved, becoming more abstract and expressing her own line and colors, as she was solicited to do illustrations for fashion magazines, such as Elle Japon, GQ and Harper’s Bazaar.
She also has developed something of a “fan club,” with more than 500 people who communicate with her through her Web site (, mostly in Japanese).

by Ines Cho
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