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An Interview with Sala

Updated: Apr 16, 2019

Japanese illustrator Sala (an English pen name she gave herself after studying in England) likes to capture the ordinary. Her drawings are of street life; she attempts to recreate the bustle and character of the European cities she visited while she was abroad a few years ago, a transformative experience for the artist. Her work also reflects the idiosyncrasies and eccentricities of her current city of residence, Tokyo (where she moved upon her return to Japan). Regardless of the location, her illustrations communicate the often-ignored humanity of city life. They have an immense amount of heart.

I do not feel connected to Sala's drawings because they tell a story. I am drawn to them precisely because they only tell part of a story. With a few strokes of a pen, Sala creates characters that you want to know more about, that appear to contain unimaginable wonders and tragedies behind their pursed lips, or closed eyes, or outstretched arms, that will never be fully revealed to the viewer. Perhaps this is because she herself does not know the full story of the faces she sees on the street, from which she takes inspiration.

Browsing through her work is like once again getting a glimpse at all those people on the street, or on the subway, or in the coffee shop that you wished you'd talked to but didn't. If I could encapsulate her body of work in one word, it would be sonder, a word defined in The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows as "the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk."

Where do you get your inspiration from?

I'm inspired by Europe. I stayed there two years ago. At first, I went to a language school in London. After that, I went to Germany, Italy, and France. The languages, the facial expressions of the people, the cityscape, the feeling of the air... I remember it well even now. The most inspiring place was London. The people gathered there from different countries were comfortable and chaotic. I also liked the fashion. I was always excited because the city kept exceeding my expectations. I also remember fragments of the other places I went to in Europe: a tree I saw in Germany that was higher than the apartment, Italy's comfortable climate, walks on the Seine river. But after returning to Japan, I once again realized Tokyo is an interesting city, and I am stimulated by it every day. What I want to convey in illustration is "love your likes." This is a magical word that my mother often told me when I was in pain. I like to draw pictures of nice people, who care for their lovers and their favorite things. This is something we don't understand before we become an adult, but it is very important. I've started wanting to convey my mother's words to many people through illustration. This feeling has become stronger recently, so I think my pictures will change from now on.

What made you want to become an illustrator? Was there a particular moment when you realized that's what you wanted to do?

I worked as a maker of clothes and accessories, and made clothes from the designs of textile patterns in Europe. When I came back to Tokyo, I decided to get a job as a textile designer. However, I confronted the president of the company and quit after just two months. And I asked myself what I would really like to do and decided to draw a picture. At that moment, it seemed like something opened up. It was a refreshing feeling.

What work are you most proud of?

I cannot be proud of it with confidence, but [I would say I'm proud that] I cannot exhaust the quest for shapes and colors. I remember nice hues from daily life. I try a variety of materials, such as crayons and fountain pens to recreate them.

Does your background in fashion influence your illustrations at all?

It affects them for better and worse. I've drawn a lot of old paintings, and many people say "There are many other people who can draw well," whereas working with textiles is harder. I'm happy if my work in apparel comes out in the illustrations. In the future, I would like to draw more of my world.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

I was invited by MOUNT Tokyo to their exhibition in February of next year. I am looking forward to it.

Does where you are geographically shape your work at all? Is there any difference between the work you produce in Japan vs. the work you produced in Europe?

Well, I am currently in Tokyo, but in my mind, I'm still travelling Europe. I went to Europe to study design, art, fashion, and architecture, so I would like to go back to study illustration.

Images used in collage via @sala_s.i


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