Last year’s International Collage Exhibition organized by Retroavangarda showcased many prominent collage artists, amazing Koji Nagai from Japan being one of them. His pieces stand out in terms of big size and masterful precision and are a mix of various inspirations but at the same time remain very original and Japanese. in my opinion it is a splendid connection of good design with the so-called ‘high art’. Retroavangarda asked Koji Nagai some questions in a short, exclusive interview:
RA: When did you begin collage art and what made you go in this direction (before you specialized in graphic design?)
K: I became attracted to the world of free spirit of he collage art at the age of thirty-five. However, before I have also incorporated elements of collage in my graphic designs.
RA: In your artworks there are various influences, both Japanese and European. What are your inspirations? What are your favorite artists and what do you like in them the most?
K: I get ideas for my collages based on my first impression of the materials I have. I am a big fan of Tadanori Yokoo, Shinro Ohtake, Tadashi Tonoshiki, Joseph Cornell, Kurt Schwitters, Max Ernst, Clovis Trouille and Peter Beard. Each of these artists has given me great inspiration and has influenced my collage work.
RA: Please tell us about your technique. Your collages have a great number of elements in them but at the same time they seem very holistic, homogenous.
K: My technique is cut and paste collage. I use simple and widely available tools: cutter knife, glue stick, spatula, ruler, divider, tweezers etc. Every day I crop out materials that seem interesting to me. If I decide on the theme, the selection will become more restrictive. Next step is the background, which is very important. After that, I arrange the materials and create a composition. I create multiple works at the same time. As for the digital collage, the part of cutting out the material is very important. I cut them out with a pen tool instead of cut out software. I also often use cut-pasted collages that I have already made as a material.
RA: The number of fascinating details makes viewing your collages a similar experience to viewing Bosch’s paintings. How do you choose elements for your pieces?
K: It is a very difficult question. My work is not a magnificent spectacle. Shall I call it the world I’ve peeped through with magnifying glasses? I believe that there is a world beyond imagination. The moment when I see the material, when I feel that ‘something’ in it, it is selected.
RA. Are there any stories you try to convey in your collages or do you prefer the viewer to have his own interpretation?
K.I do not have any particular stories I want to convey to my collage. I would be very pleased if the viewers felt something in them, for example discovery, pleasure, humour, etc.
RA: Apart from collage art, you design postcards, zins, artbooks and mail-art as well. Please tell us about this.
K: Hiroshima prefecture, where I was born, has two world heritage sites: “A-Bomb Dome”, a symbol of Hiroshima’s prayers for world peace, and the mysterious maritime shrine “Itsukushima Shrine”. Both are places I would like people to see and know. We are creating postcards etc. to communicate the charm of Hiroshima to tourists. The reason for creating an art book is to let more people know my work. Also, I can easily look back on the path of my creation.
RA: What are your further artistic plans and dreams?
K: I would like to find a new collage technique . I also want attract new people to collage art and make my artwork more widespread and known around the world. My dream is an exhibition – ‘Koji Nagai Collage Exhibition – World Touring Exhibition’.
RA: I hope Retroavangarda will be able to help and make at least some of your dreams come true 😉 Thank you for the interview.
Koji Nagai born and raised in 1950 Hiroshima, Japan. Koji Nagai is a collage artist and a graphic designer. He studied graphic design at Hiroshima Designer College. After working at several design companies, he became a freelance designer at the age of twenty-four. Nagai earned a wide variety of awards from Hiroshima Advertising Association for his design works in posters, brochures, and calendars. At the age of thirty-five, Nagai was attracted to the world of free spirit of the collage design. Nagai generates ideas for his collage arts based on his first impression of the materials. The interfusion of the different types of elements, which are old and new, fiction and nonfiction, life and death, and western and oriental leads to Nagai’s new design creation of the collage arts. Nagai currently lives in Hiroshima with his wife, Naoko.
text by Anna Klos
translation by Karolina Klos