Japanese Artist Keita Sagaki and a Swarm of Lines

Iconic works of art have a way of convincing us we know them like the back of our hands. So pervasive are these masterpieces—their reproductions popping up on clothes, tote bags, billboards, and greeting cards—that we sometimes forget to really look at them. Japanese artist Keita Sagaki playfully takes on some of these widely circulated images to slow down and concentrate our encounters with imagery we might immediately recognize but only cursorily consider. “Meronyms,” an exhibition at Munich’s Micheko Galerie, showcases Sagaki’s work within this idiom of appropriation alongside a cluster of intricate, mandala-like works that spotlight the Tokyo-based artist’s technique and process.

As the exhibition’s title suggests, Sagaki’s pen-and-ink drawings are concentrated exercises in mereology—a nuanced exchange between micro and macro, part and whole. The artist works freehand in India ink, without drafting his works, and his densely scrawled compositions can take up to a year to create. Mandala-inspired works, such as 1000×1000×1000 I (2013) and Three Children in my Head (2010), are concentrated studies in symmetry and form, their chaotic shapes feverishly encircling and mirroring each other.

Other compositions, such as Metropolis (2015) and In the Garden 2 (2013), reproduce famous works of art and other iconic imagery out of an elaborate, unexpected menagerie of  doodles. These latter works in particular are at once highly detailed drawings and manic muddles of ink. Delicate lines and meticulous shading produce a swarm of tangled, competing imagery that culminates in astonishingly accurate representations of appropriated images.

Sagaki cites Hieronymus Bosch and Vincent van Gogh as influences, but his elaborate compositions also bring to mind the work of Giuseppe Arcimboldo, the 16th-century Italian painter best known for curious portraits consisting entirely of objects such as fruits, vegetables, books, and fish. Stylistically, Sagaki’s compositions are reminiscent of pixelated images as well as aspects of Pointillism and photographic mosaics, though rendered with spontaneous fluidity absent in such techniques.

From a distance, Sagaki’s works may present accurate renderings of famous artworks, iconic places, and detailed mandalic designs, but up close, they often reveal a frenetic mess of hybrid creatures. In a series of work based on woodblock prints by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai, including The Yoro Falls in Mino Province (2015) and The Waterfall at at Ono on the Kisokaid Road (2015), lush landscapes teem with activity, including—and, on closer inspection, consisting of—a heap of offbeat cartoon characters, which inject a quality of animation to Hoksai’s original compositions. Similarly, works such as The Battle of Evermore (2015), and Ophelia (2015)—based on Leonardo da Vinci’s Bust of a Warrior (circa 1475) and Sir John Everett Millais’s Ophelia (1851–52) respectively—engage in a sustained tug-of-war between original and appropriated image. The result is something like the visual equivalent of a musical variation, where spirited improvisation pays homage to an original score.


—Grace-Yvette Gemmell


Keita Sagaki: Meronyms is on view at Micheko Galerie, Munich, Germany, Jan. 8–Feb. 13, 2016.


Discover more artists at Micheko Galerie.