idea magazine 9/1996


Interview with Shinro Ohtake

Idea: Mr. Ohtake, you have been continuing with your work to produce collage books over the past 19 years. To Begin with, what led you to start producing collage books?

Ohtake: Since I was a little boy, I always liked pasting things together. It was perhaps when I was a first grader: I indulged in pasting cutouts of magazine cartoons on drawing paper. I found out that there was something as interesting as drawing and was very excited. At that time, Iwas quite unaware of the existence of collages.

It was in 1977 when I was 21 years old that I became interested in creating collages. I visited a foreign country -England- for the first time. In London, I found myself surrounded by English words. Quite naturally, printed matter, tickets and many other things which had been left behind on the street were all written in English. That was really something. Until that time I had been surounded by Japanese characters. That was why I started pasting all that I collected on the street on draing paper every day, as if keeping a diary. That practice developed into collage creating. Anyway it met my taste, I think.

Idea: You have recently completed your 51st collage book. When you started creating collage books, did you expect to continue with this work until you create more than 50 collage books?

Ohtake: At that time I never imagined what I would be doing 20 years ahead. I didn`t think so far ahead. It never occured to me that I would be 40 years old in due course of time. It seemed it was all right if I did something or other and thereby earned my living. I was happy if I had time to create something.

Immediately after I started creating collage books, I could create two collage books or so a month. In those days, each of my collage books was a thin book - about 50 pages.

That was why I could create so many collage books in a relatively short time. But gradually my collage books have become more large-sized and thicker, with more and more cutouts included in them. I myself am surprised at this big change. My 51st collage book has as mamy as 700 pages. I have no intention of making my future collage books even thicker. But as far as the latest one is concerned, I simply couldn`t help it having as many as 700 pages. I felt that the book itself demanded so many pages. But I don`t want to put particular emphasis on size and thickness in creating collage books. It so happened that the latest book had as many as 700 pages. I don`t expect that the next one will have, say 800 pages. If I intended the next one to have so many pages, I would suffer from a sense of purpose and would get tired of the work to create it. As far as I am concerned, a sense of purpose is a major stumbling block. Whenever I become aware of a sense of purpose, I begin to feel repelled by what I am doing. So with me, how many collage books to create is out of the question. When I completed my 10th collage book, I felt like creating about 100 books in total. But soon I became aware of a sense of purpose. I felt myself becoming increasingly scrupulous about my own style and tastes or being excessively self-conscious. So I made up my mind to be free from a sense of purpose. I have since then creating collage books just for pleasure and excitement.

Idea: How do you evaluate your own activities?

Ohtake: I don`t like to insist on engaging in some particular artistic activity - for example, creating paintings, collages or wood prints. I just want to be doing something. I believe in things that pierce me to the heart things which are pleasing to the eye or the ear. Some say that such a way of thinking is too naive, namely, nothing more than complacency or masturbation. But I want to say, What is wrong with this way of thinking? Why shouldn`t I havea way of thinking others refuse to sympathize with? In my view, all forms of art are essentially personal.

Idea: But there seems to be a wide difference between what was created for personal purposes being appreciated and it being not appreciated at all.

Ohtake: If others are excited at what I am excited at, I shall be happy about it. Everyone has the instinct to be recognized or sympathized with by others. I am no exception. If one does not have the instinct, one has no need to create something. But I don`t want other artists to sympathize with me. Art is interesting to us because it often creates new values which are quite different from the existing ones.

Idea: As regards your way of expression, you have been making ample use of fluorescent colors of late.

Ohtake: For 3 years or so, I have been making ample use of fluorescent colors and silver. But on balance, I don`t like fluorescent colors. It is ironical that I am charmed by what I have an instinctive dislike of. When I use colors other than fluorescent colors, I find it difficult to keep my own tastes from coming to the fore. It suits me to craete collages using colors I dislike. Works of art are what their creators give expression to through forms, colors and some others. It may sound contradictory but I don`t have the slightest intention to try to know what other artists assert. I dislike most those works which easily reveal their creators` assertions.

Idea: Lastly, what do scrapbooks mean to you?

Ohtake: Well, my everyday life would be meaningless without scrapbooks. If I was told to stop using scrapbooks today, it would without doubt affect my mind. That practice is now as important as taking regular meals to me. I don`t suffer from a sense of mission but I can`t stopcreating collages using scrapbooks. Others may say, „What nonsense it is to be crazy about what is of no use!" A single false step would have resulted in a crime. I have no idea what would have become of my myself if I had taken no interest in art. I would have been at a loss what to do with my violent emotions simmering in the subconscious. Perhaps I was once on the verge of committing a crime. Crimes are values that run counter to generally accepted values, aren`t they? They represent our desire to be out of the ordinary, I think.

Following the easy morals of the world, as it were, most of us are simply discriminating between right and wrong. But that desire sometimes turns out to be what we can firmly believe in. It seems to belong in irrepressible, primitive human desire. To me, scrap books are the very objects of my desire. When I am pasting cutouts on a scrapbook, I feel I am having a trip - indeed I feel very happy. Scrapbooks may be meaningless to many others, but they are irreplaceable with me.

Idea: It seems you are creating collage books as you like, paying little attention to what you are doing. What is your objective description of your feelings toward many collage books arranged on your bookshelves?

Ohtake: Sometimes it looks as if I am acting important. If I am really acting important, it will come to no good. I shouldn`t hold fast to what I am doing, I think. But I have always thought it interesting to fill my bookshelves with things I picked up on the street.

I have always wanted to see my bookshelves filled with collage books, I get so excited. That`s why I have been continuously creating collage books for as many as 19 years. And I become excited all the more for this very fact. These collage books are really suggestive of the long time I have indulged in creating them. It took me that long time to have a trip. I am excited at the very fact that these scrapbooks are filled to capacity. None of them are books as art forms.

If a man from an ad agency thought it would be possible to create an ad based on my bookshelves filled with these scrapbooks and proposed to make a poster by filling a bookshelf with books with colored edges and placing the bookshelf in front of a model, I wouldn`t find it very interesting. In the first place, such a man is morally bankrupt. There is an essential difference between a roll of blank sheets of paper with a real bill on their top and a wad of bills. To use a roll of blank sheets of paper with a real bill on their top is one thing, to use a wad of bills is quite another. My bookshelves are filled with real things. To say the least, they are not filled with fakes. I could design a bookshelf first and then fill it with what look like books. Such a bookshelf may look like one of my booksheves but it is quite different from any of my bookshelves. So I am not interested in such an idea.

Some artists may be content to continue to do designs on a commercial basis. But I wouldn`t do such a thing for anything. With me, to do such a thing is nothing more than a waste of time and energy or an accumulation of fakes. Fakes are fakes, after all.