Souzou: Outsider art from Japan

Posted on June 19, 2013 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments


The Economically Booming City of Tianjin, China by Norimitsu Kokubo ( 2011)


I don't usually like to use outside sources ( i.e. photographs) for this blog, but since I wasn't allowed to take photographs at this exhibition, I will make an exception. I am aware that this exhibition has been going on for a few months now and has been written by art critics and other bloggers, but I still want to write about it!

I didn't expect much before the visit ( usually the best way), but I was so inspired by what I saw at the Wellcome Collection's Souzou: Outsider art from Japan exhibition that I feel like I need to return again before it ends on 30th June!

The meaning of 'Souzou' is described at the exhibition as follows: "Souzou is a word which has no direct equivalent in English but a dual meaning in Japanese: written in one way – 創造 – it means creation and in another – 想像 – imagination. Both meanings allude to a force by which new ideas are born and take shape in the world. In the context of this exhibition, Souzou refers to the practice of 46 self-taught artists living and working within social welfare facilities across Japan."


shota KatsubeShota Katsube

Untitled by Shota Katsube - twist ties art ( 2011)


The work shown here is not refined nor polished, and it's not supposed to. Walking around it reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend recently who is suffering from anxiety disorder ( I don't like the word 'disorder' because I think almost everyone has some kind 'disorder' anyway including myself). I told her that I believe that the most effective therapy ( backed by published research that I have come across) for mental disorders is to express creatively whether it is through art, music, design, writing, dancing, cooking, making etc. I think humans are born to create and in doing so, it will help us to explore our full potential as well as to express the emotions or suffering that we are unable to express in our daily lives. And after seeing the work by these amateur artists who have been diagnosed with some kind of mental disorders or illnesses, it has only confirmed my belief.

At the exhibition, there are some pieces of work here that can only be created by people who are quite 'obsessive', which is also part of its appeal. But most importantly, these artists are working from their hearts, following their intuition without thinking about the trends or market. It makes me wonder how 'sad' are the 'sane' population because we can't even live our lives in the most honest and authentic way without worrying about the images we created for ourselves. Instead of discriminating against or isolating the mentally unwell people, perhaps we need to start learning from them, and try to understand or develop more compassion towards them.

The exhibition is full of wonderful and inspiring work, but I have picked some of my favourites by the following artists:

Hiroyuki Komatsu - For those who often tease daytime TV watchers, they probably never expect to see 'art' inspired by it! Komatsu is a fan of morning TV/ soap operas, and his work contains all the key characters from different popular series with airing dates and time. The work is not so much about the artist's drawing skills but his perspectives and obsession, which make his work very humane.


Hiroyuki Komatsu

Morning TV series drama, 'Tsubasa' by Hiroyuki Komatsu


Norimitsu Kokubo ( see above) is the youngest artist ( only 17!) in the show, he creates fictional cityscapes of real cities that he has never visited via sources from newspaper and internet. His 10-metre scroll piece, "The Economically Booming City of Tianjin, China" is yet to be completed, and so far it has taken him 2 years to reach 8.3 metres! The piece is made up of detailed drawings including skyscrapers, cars, train tracks, people and even space ships and tanks! The style is not consistent, which makes it more fascinating...

Shota Katsube ( see above) - It's impossible not to love Shota Katsube's detailed and colourful miniature twist ties action figures. The 300 on display are all different and are skillfully made by hand, it only shows how creative you can be with an everyday object that we often oversee in our busy daily lives!

Keisuke Ishino - There is something very primitive and childlike about Keisuke Ishino's simple yet intriguing paper cartoon figurines. I watched a short video at the exhibition showing the artist making these figurines and an interview with his mother who seems quite puzzled ( and slightly amused) by her son's persistence and productive energy. Sweet.



Girl by Keisuke Ishino


If you are interested in similar art work, check out Outside In, an arts agency providing a platform for artists who find it difficult to access the art world either because of mental health issues, disability, health, social circumstance or because their work does not conform to what is normally considered as art.

Currently there is also an Outside In: On tour exhibition at the Royal Brompton Hospital ( free entry, until 14 August) showcasing around 80 works by artists from the margins.

This also coincides with the Creativity and wellbeing Week which is currenly taking place in London until 22nd June. The aim of this event is to make people be aware of the positive effect can have on people's health and wellbeing through engagements in the arts and creative activities. There are still a few days left to enjoy the free events taking place in the city.


This post was posted in London, Exhibitions, Social issues, Art, Anything Japanese, Japanese art and was tagged with London, art and design exhibitions, Japanese art, wellcome collection, outsider art