Abstract artist Masaaki Hasegawa creates large-scale conceptual paintings. However, he hasn't always been an artist. Masaaki has worked in investment, as an MMA fighter, and as a writer. Now an artist who has exhibitied throughout Europe, Masaaki tells us about his creative process, his approach to abstract art, and his new series, 'Invisible Social Ladder-a reality of an Asian guy in Europe'.
How would you describe the art you create?
Through my art, I express complex ideas in an aesthetically beautiful and abstract way. It could be from something philosophical to something social or even something personal. It is having dialogues with society and humanity. There are different series with different styles and techniques, but they are all connected deeply in the way each artwork reflects who I am and the world.
Art is a way of thinking, communicating, and living for me. I explore the unknown, challenge common sense, and experiment with the new. It's a journey to find possibilities and show alternatives. For me, abstraction is the nature of the universe. Figures are concepts that exist only in our mind, and borders of countries exist on a map. When we start seeing things through abstraction, we can get closer to the truth.
How has your practice evolved over the last few years?
It is an ongoing process of trial and error. I’m an autodidact and I started making art without any formal education or training. My background is in finance and visual media communication, and I also used to be a professional MMA fighter. My life used to have nothing to do with art. Interestingly, that enabled me to experiment with lots of things without fear of being judged by others because there is no sense of “right” and “wrong” given by others. My practice of art is not looking for what is correct but what is possible. Visiting museums to see masterpieces of great artists is the best way for me to learn. Observing details, feeling the energy of a piece, and imagining what artists were thinking while creating allows me to understand the process of creation behind what is visible.
Of course, books are important for keeping up with how the artworld has evolved, but relying just on knowledge hinders your interaction with what is in front of you. If it is just about knowledge, we do not have to create something. That is why I give importance to “experience”. To create experiences, I need to be someone who experiments a lot, just like how great athletes train a lot. I can fairly say I experiment more than other artists, which means I have failed a numerous amount of times.
Who are your key influences?
I could name several artists who influence me, such as Kandinsky, Jackson Pollock, Joan Miró, Jeff Koons, and Olafur Eliasson. When I share this, people tend to say “they are so different” and “they are so different from what you do.” What truly inspires me is the thinking process behind a work of art, that includes both conscious and unconscious thinking.
Some artists inspire me through their verbal communication, like the concept of an artwork and their reasons for creating something. Other artists directly impact me through sense and experience. You don’t know exactly why some dots or lines are located somewhere on a canvas or why they are in certain colours but they move you so much. Instead of trying to understand what art is, we need to use our imagination and senses, because it is often beyond what is understandable. Language is a great tool to communicate, but it is not a perfect means of expression. For example, how can you define love?
Talk us through your career and your journey to becoming an artist.
I started making art to demonstrate that everybody can be creative more than they may think. In the past, I have written books on creativity because I believe creativity is not only for artists and designers, but for everybody. From this, I was often asked why I do not practice art if I write books on creativity. So, I thought it could be a great demonstration of my own ideas if I could become an internationally successful artist without having any prior experience in creating art.
I found that art fits me perfectly because it is such a powerful means to communicate with people beyond the borders such as language. In art, there is no taboo. It is obvious that each art series and artwork has a different message and expresses a different concept. However, at large, I’d like to share a message that we all have infinite possibilities. Living as an artist for me is sharing this message with the world and demonstrating that we all can be way more creative than we think.
What does a day in the studio usually look like for you? Tell us about your creative process.
More than 90% of my creation process happens outside the studio because execution is just a small part of it. What takes so much time is developing ideas that require me to think, imagine, and experience life outside the studio. What I do in the studio is converting my ideas into something tangible and visual. In this process, I think like an athlete, and my concern is how I can improve my performance during time in the studio. It does not matter whether it takes 100 hours or 1 minute to create. What is important for me is how I can set up an environment in which I can perform best and lead myself to be in the best state to create something.
I practice art as a professional artist, so it is important for me how I perform. So, I spend a lot of time in preparation and conditioning because great creation won’t happen naturally. It is a myth that drinking a lot and acting crazy leads you somewhere. I must be strategic in thinking about how to increase the probability of creating something great. Everything I do in my life is reflected in my art, so first I need to live seriously.
How did you find working throughout the pandemic? Do you feel that your art has changed much because of it?
The pandemic has influenced me in many ways. All of my exhibitions planned in 2020 were canceled as soon as the pandemic started. However, I saw this as a challenge for me to grow as an artist. The pandemic has forced me to reinvent myself. As it is now more complicated to organise events and exhibitions, I started the series “A Dialogue With Nature”, where I paint in the middle of nowhere, creating an interaction between art and nature .
I’ve also developed a new project using artificial intelligence, so AI learns my art and my inspiration and generates artwork that I could have done but not yet have: showing possible worlds. All these positive changes have come out of the pandemic. In the middle of crisis, the bottom line is “failure”, so nobody cares if you try something new and fail. So, the pandemic has accelerated my experimentation process even more than usual and has allowed me to create new art.
Name a formative experience you've had in the art world and what it taught you.
Art has taught me that creativity is not a skill, nor a talent but an attitude towards life. I have had multiple challenges that seemed impossible to realise. However, I can overcome them because of my attitude and mindset. Creation is not about coming up with cool ideas or painting something beautiful, it is about the process of converting your imagination into reality. In art, there is no limit, you can integrate all the essence and inspiration you get in your life into your artwork. Limitations exist only conceptually in our mind but not in art. It is like going into another world to look for possibilities and bringing them back into this world. I do not create something because I’m merely a catalyst to visualising what is possible. Everything I do has been technically possible since the beginning of the universe. It is not like I change the physics so I can make something. Creation is the visualisation of possibilities.
What have you been working on recently? Talk us through your latest work.
My new series 'Invisible Social Ladder-a reality of an Asian guy in Europe' reflects a reality of Asian people living in a European society from my perspective as Asian. Because of Black Lives Matter and the Asian hate crimes that happen these days, more and more people now talk about racism. However, it is difficult for most people to accept that we are all a part of it.
What I try to do through this series is visualise what is not comfortable for most people to talk about, and demonstrate it in an aesthetically beautiful way. Working in a minimalistic style transmits the message, “we all look different but we all have the same colour of blood.” Sometimes, such a simple visual expression is a much more powerful tool to provide people with an alternative perspective, rather than explaining it verbally.
Art for me is all about showing possibilities and alternatives. You can talk about whether racism is there or not, but when you experience it, you have a completely different idea and understanding of it. You cannot be Asian unless you were born Asian. So, through this art series I visualise what some people cannot experience, offering them an alternative perspective.