Art is brought closer to the visitor at the Tokyo International Art Fair which provides crowds with a unique opportunity to engage with artists.

The vibrant event held at Shibuya’s Hirake Hall on May 26 and 27 draws artists from across the globe, either by organiser Satoshi Maruhashi’s invitation or the artist’s application of interest.

The fair is European style, according to Maruhashi, to bring those interested in buying art together in a bid to grow the shrinking art market in Japan.

As I wander the rows of striking artistic creations during Friday evening’s paid VIP viewing, a time intended to offer potential buyers first pick of the art, it is the global influence of various pieces which makes an impact.

Strolling through the fair takes me from Greece, to the Netherlands and on to Australia before drawing my mind back to Tokyo with exhibits of home-grown artists.

Take your mind for a wander; I spoke to six exhibiting artists from around the world.

From Barcelona to Bangkok; in conversation with Marcelo von Schwartz

Artist Marcelo von Schwartz experiments with architecture and photography.

Marcelo, tell me about the inspiration for your art.

I am an architect. I am trying to work in photography, always trying to take a picture inspired by visionary architects we have discovered since the renaissance. Since the renaissance, we have found a lot of architects who try to imagine impossible pieces of architecture. I try to make, in a very realistic way using photography, utopian architecture.

Picture: Marcelo von Schwartz. 

How do you go about creating your pieces using photography?

I have an idea in mind and I take a picture of buildings to try to arrive at this idea. Once I have a picture, I take some parts of the picture and I recompose according to some new generating rules. I use new composition to generate new buildings.

You’re from Barcelona, but you live in Bangkok most of the time. Were these photos taken in Bangkok?

I am working in about four different metropolis: Bangkok, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai. To this exhibition I have brought work from Bangkok, but I am definitely looking at doing some other work in the other three cities.


Escaping from the claustrophobia of Bangkok through art. Picture: Marcelo von Schwartz.

What is it about Bangkok that you have encapsulated in this piece?

This composition is called Escape from Bangkok. Bangkok is a very claustrophobic city, not only in a topographic way, not only physically, but psychologically. This is a way to escape from Bangkok.

What is it like for you living in so many different cities and away from your home?

I really like to find diversity. I really feel I get richer and richer from finding different cultures and trying to learn from different cultures.

So this piece is encapsulating your feelings?

Totally, absolutely. This is my feeling. It is interesting to see how this picture connects so much with many other people. I don’t know why.

Picture: Marcelo von Schwartz. 

Do think it is something to do with what you were saying about utopia and escape?

I think everyone, or many people, has this feeling sometimes, that they need to run, to escape from something. This is why I think it is connecting so much.

I really hope the work can speak for itself.

You can see more of Marcelo’s work on his website

Hong Kong’s precious children; in conversation with Freda Lu Kei Yi

Artist Freda Lu Kei Yi captures love in her paintings.

Freda, can you tell me about your pieces on display?

My pieces are about my son. I want to express the feeling between me and my son. I use rough textures to speak in a natural, imperfect way about love. You know, I love him, but when he is naughty he can be annoying!

I want to express myself and capture some of the beautiful moments.

Your pieces are for sale. How do you feel selling pieces of your son and pieces that were made from love?

I want to share. If people love it, they maybe also capture some of the memories of their sons and love. I don’t mind sharing.

They really do capture emotion and love.

I hope people can feel it.

What does it mean to you to be able to create these pieces, for your feelings and your relationship?

This is just the start. I want to continue my pieces to explore some of the issues in Hong Kong. Children face so much pressure, so I want to get parents to care more and spend time with their kids. It is simple. This is just my first step. I want to experiment a bit more, explore and share more feelings.

You can see Freda’s work on her website

Capturing Tokyo’s complexity; in conversation with Tanja Houwerzijil

Artist Tanja Houwerzijil captures Tokyo’s complexity though layered photographs.

Where are you from Tanja?

I am from Amsterdam, the Netherlands. But I live here in Tokyo. This is my second time living here, in total it has been eight years.

Are your pieces created in Tokyo?

Yes, they are all taken here in Tokyo, mostly on the streets. I try to do multiple exposures, many frames on top of each other, mostly in camera or sometimes afterwards in photoshop.

Coming back to Tokyo, one photo wasn’t enough because I knew the city already. I was out on the streets taking photos and I thought it was a little boring. So I started to experiment with multiple exposures. One piece is five, and another is three photos layered on top of each other. It’s always a surprise for myself to see what comes out of it.

Picture: Tanja Houwerzijil.

So it is a different way of encapsulating Tokyo?

For me it is, because I think the city is quite complicated. There is so much to it. Just one shot of Shibuya crossing didn’t make me feel as if I captured the whole atmosphere there, so I started to do more. I have many different Shibuya crossing shots.

This whole city has so many layers. I still don’t think I get it all, but this is a way to make sense of it.

Has your art helped you transition when you are living here?

It has actually. First of all you go out and take photos, so you really get to know the city better and on the street you meet people. It’s a nice way to connect and to practice some of my language skills.

I actually wasn’t that happy to move here in the first place all these years ago and then I picked up a camera and started to do photography classes. Photography, 13 years later is keeping me happy. Tokyo is an amazing city to take photos in because it is so diverse, from old to new, to hip and old fashioned. I think you can go forever taking photos here.

Picture: Tanja Houwerzijil.

Do you look differently when you have a camera in your hand?

I do I think, but I always look even without a camera. If I don’t have my camera with me I am really upset about myself.

I do look differently. What I have learnt in Tokyo is that you have to look at details. Sometimes the bigger picture sometimes isn’t that beautiful. The details here are what makes it very special and beautiful.

You can see Tanja’s work on her website 

Deep into Australian bushland; in conversation with Jonathan Gemmell

Melbourne’s Jonathan Gemmell’s work is inspired by Australian nature.

Have you travelled to Tokyo for this exhibition?

Yes, I have come from Melbourne to Tokyo to get my name out there. I don’t really care about the sale, it’s just about getting my name out there.

What has the response been to your work so far?

A lot of the people are seeing the Blue Mountains and the rainforests and the hills, which is a good start considering abstract is so different, it is unpredictable – you don’t really know what you are looking at.

Where were you when you created these pieces?

I was in the studio but I like to stop when driving and look over the views, the hills and the mountains. In Australia, there is so much to look at. It is one of those peaceful things you can do when you have that chance.

That was the stories behind these guys. I went to some lookouts at Hanging Rock, went to all these different hills and was inspired to create something that was like a view, and relaxing and soothing with greens and blues.

It is interesting that people are seeing these as Australian pieces.

A lot of people are seeing rainforest, I got told before ‘deep nature’.

Art to me is like meditation really. It’s a way to get out of the hustle and the bustle of everyday life and stop to take it all in.

What sort of state of mind are you in when you are creating your pieces?

Everything around me stops. If the phone rings I wouldn’t hear it. Everything just stands still. It is a peaceful area, I can paint for hours and time will just go. I can start at seven and finish at two in the morning and not even have a clue, music going and just paint.

I’m a landscape gardener by trade and I do this as my side hobby. I wish I could do it full time.

What does it mean for you to bring your art to Tokyo?

The feedback is amazing, to be in another country and still get a positive response. It’s one of those things you don’t know until you try. I do it for the enjoyment for me and for people to look at it.

You can see Jonathan’s work on his website

The voice of architecture; in conversation with the Netherland’s Paul Brouns

The Netherlands’ Paul Brouns is continually drawn to architecture as the source of his art.

What is the inspiration for your work?

It’s all about architecture, about rhythm, about colour. It’s about squares and colours intersecting and playing music.

Picture: Paul Brouns.

How do you create your pieces?

It is photography. Sometimes I make collages of elements I combine and other times it is just the right angle and timing of getting the moment where the person is just in the right place to make the composition complete.

And do you just know when you have got that right photo?

Usually it takes a little time. When I see something I keep clicking and when I am at home I see which is the best. But usually I have some kind of gut feeling that this is a good place to do something interesting.

Picture: Paul Brouns.

How do you feel when you find that right photo you want to work with?

That is an exhilarating moment of course, when you see some kind of spark coming from it. I always know when I can do something special with a building but when you take a picture and to look at it in a different way in a computer, there is a special feeling. When you browse through the images, some just keep popping out, you want to look at them again – then you know there is something magical going on. 

Are these photos taken in the Netherlands?

Yes, in many different towns in the Netherlands. 

What meaning is behind some of your art?

The meaning is difficult to describe. It is all in the interplay of the colours and the rhythm and the structure you see. Some people can imagine a whole story behind some of the images. When that intriguing element comes across, that is part of the meaning.

Picture: Paul Brouns.

When you are creating your art, do you imagine your own story for the photo?

Not immediately, but when I am intrigued myself by a certain image my mind starts thinking about what would be a good title for it and I start imagining what it is about, trying to imaging what kind of mood it creates. 

Sometimes I take titles from pieces of music, sometimes it is a reference to a special mood someone can have. 

For me, taking pictures, also here in Tokyo, is always an adventure. I never try to fix myself to one subject but in the end I always come to architecture. For me, it is an exciting life to lead and to explore the world. 

You can see Paul’s work on his website


Pressure on Hong Kong’s children; in conversation with Michael Wong

Michael Wong’s art speaks to the pressure placed on Hong Kong’s next generation.

Are these your children?

Two are my daughter, one little boy is Freda’s (Hong Kong artist) son. This is another friend’s son.

What is your inspiration for the use of colour?

Children are so young, and they have a bright future – so I use bright colour. The way I leave space, you see the lack of colour, I want to represent their future. I don’t want to fill in everything, so I left something. I used the raw canvas and decided not to paint the background to make a contrast. I want to represent the children.

What have you encapsulated of your daughter’s character and personality?

Actually, you look at the picture and see they are not very happy. Those little kids have a lot of pressure on them, especially in Hong Kong. Parents put a lot of pressure on children, so they are not actually very happy, so they are not smiling at all. This is something I want to capture.

What does this mean for someone from another country who is looking at your work?

Different cultures have different education systems and ways to treat their kids. In Hong Kong, every parent puts pressure on their kids and wants them to go to the best school. So from kindergarten they ask them to learn how to write, play violin. It is different in other countries. At three years old children are learning how to write. They don’t rest. I want to represent this depression of the children inside our country.

That is why I leave some space in my paintings. I don’t want to push them. My daughter is so active and happy because I don’t push her. But in Hong Kong, sometimes you feel guilty because other people are pushing you.

You can see Michael’s  work on his website

Feature image: Tanja Houwerzijil.