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I discovered Sayaka Adachi (1977), or Chitchi, while I was taking Street Fashion photos in Osaka’s very trendy Horie district. Walking out of a park my eye got a glimpse of a huge painting hanging in a second floor gallery. The work pulled me into the building and up a gaudy staircase until I arrived in a large space with paintings showing faces of young Japanese that were very colorful and very ‘now’.
Adachi’s faces are emotionless, almost sulky. The corners of the mouth downward, the eyes staring straight ahead into emptiness. Even when they look straight at you. They wear trendy clothes and hairstyles and seem to say “I don’t need you. Take me as I am or don’t take me at all.” They exert great presence. They pulled me right off the street into a building where I had no business.
Her way of working is unconventional. She uses anything with color: acrylic paint, but also lacquer spray, nail polish, cosmetics, and even stockings. “I especially like cheap things. I often go to discount shops and search for items to inspire me.” For her lithographs she uses the rolled sheet paper that is usually used to keep the press clean. It is thin and cheap looking. “It is garbage paper,” she says with a broad grin. “I tried it once and really liked the result. The effect is very different from usual paper. It absorbs the ink really well and is very smooth so the colors come out clear and beautiful.
She experiments. Her art magnetizes. Yet, Adachi says she is not an artist. “Art should protest, art should shock. If art doesn’t assert principles it is not art. That is why I am not an artist. I just paint because I want to, and because I enjoy doing it. There are lots of people like that.”
Suddenly a Western woman softly interrupts our conversation. She apologizes to me because her son of about six or so had been staring at me. They live in the Japanese countryside, she says, with no other Westerners. They really stand out and people always look at them. Her son seems to have adopted the habit. Adachi is surprised. She is even more surprised when she sees the mother getting angry at her son over this. “I have never seen a mother like that. She tells her son exactly what is right and what is wrong. Japanese are much more ambiguous.”
She uses the episode to explain why she feels she is not an artist. “That,” Adachi says while looking in the direction of the mother and her son, “is a culture based on a philosophy. It is a mature culture. A culture of adults.” She herself is just a child she asserts, not an adult with a message. “I paint to make people happy. Colors and shapes give people energy, I think. That is the power of art.”
Adachi’s art is rooted in herself. In her world, her emotions, her moods. It is her way of expressing herself and connecting with the world around her. She draws especially, she explains, when she is moody or depressed. “I use my work to draw people’s attention and in that way get myself back on my feet. I am not good with words. I can’t explain things well. To digest my feelings and impressions, I paint. While I’m painting I start to understand things more and more.”
This may even be how she started art. To overcome the loss of her father who died when she was only eleven years old. For years she drew mostly chairs. “After my father died, my mother took my brother and me back to Osaka. We lived in this tiny house with just one small table and three chairs. Our mother took us shopping and we all choose our own chair. So we had three different chairs in our house. That chair was the only real private space I had. But it also became a symbol of ‘family’ and the strength of my mother keeping us together.” One of Adachi’s first assignments at Art College was themed ‘family’. She had no problem selecting her subject. She drew chairs.
Family, friends, people, these are the things that matter most to her. Her self-professed goals in life are “to paint” and “become a mother.” Her friends loom large in her life philosophy. “The most important thing in life is to enjoy it. Not just me myself, but together with the people that are close to me.” That takes effort, she says. “To get along well with others you must forgive them. You must forget.” She laughs out loud. “I am really good at that. I forget everything. But I try very hard to remember the good things.” This is the soul of Adachi’s art: people. Her art is for people. Her art is about people. It is about being alive and feeling good about it. Maybe that is why Adachi’s faces seem to say “I don’t need you. Take me as I am or don’t take me at all.”