Enrico Isamu Oyama: On Abstract Motifs & Aerosol Writing

Enrico Isamu Oyama, FFIGURATI #207, 2019, Artwork ©︎ Enrico Isamu Oyama, Photo ©︎ Go Sugimoto
Enrico Isamu Oyama in his Brooklyn studio, 2018, Photo ©︎ Collin Hughes
Enrico Isamu Oyama, FFIGURATI #253, 2019, Artwork ©︎ Enrico Isamu Oyama
Enrico Isamu Oyama, FFIGURATI #254-#259, 2019, Tower 49 Gallery, New York, Artwork ©︎ Enrico Isamu Oyama
Enrico Isamu Oyama, FFIGURATI #261, 2019, Artwork ©︎ Enrico Isamu Oyama
Installation view, Kairoshpere, Pola Museum of Art, Hakone, Japan, Artwork ©︎ Enrico Isamu Oyama, Photo ©︎ Shu Nakagawa
Installation view, Kairoshpere, Pola Museum of Art, Hakone, Japan, Artwork ©︎ Enrico Isamu Oyama, Photo ©︎ Shu Nakagawa
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Japanese-Italian artist Enrico Isamu Oyama’s interest in street culture has been revealing itself in multiple ways. Drawing inspiration from his experience in the Veneto region he used to visit as a child with his half-Italian family, as well as from the urban aesthetics of the Tokyo underground scene, Oyama has been transforming the performative nature of aerosol writing in a unique way.  He took his interest in aerosol writing to another level when he authored the book Against Literacy: On Graffiti Culture, published in Japanese in 2015.

Text: Julia Tarasyuk
Images: Courtesy of the artist.

Enrico Isamu Oyama in his Brooklyn studio, 2018, Photo ©︎ Collin Hughes


The signature visual methodology he named Quick Turn Structure (QTS) has been shaping his artistic identity in native Tokyo and current home, New York City, where he came in 2011 with the help of a grant from Asian Cultural Council. In his work Oyama explores alternative dimensions of predefined notions experimenting with the QTS motif. Composed of spontaneous repetition and expansion of free flowing lines, it is influenced by aerosol writing of 1970’s-80’s. The artist has been on the radar of the contemporary art scene in Japan with a recent sold-out exhibition at Takuro Someya Contemporary Art, Tokyo and two museum shows currently on view in Japan. Enrico speaks to us about the inspiration behind his work and newest shows at Pola Museum of Art and Nakamura Keith Haring Collection.


How did you first become interested in aerosol writing?

When I was a high school student in Tokyo around 2000, NY street culture was trendy among young people. Many of my friends were into skateboarding, breakdancing and street fashion. While I was also attracted to the culture, I wanted to find something unique that others were not doing. Aerosol writing was a part of the street culture but more underground than other genres. None of my friends really knew about it and so I found it more interesting. There were also a couple of publications about aerosol writing that caught my attention around that time.


Enrico Isamu Oyama, FFIGURATI #253, 2019, Artwork ©︎ Enrico Isamu Oyama



You immersed yourself in the Tokyo underground art scene in the early 2000s. What was it like?

I did not attend art school until 2007 and did not really know about mainstream contemporary art until then. Before that, DJ club events provided opportunity for my activity. Somehow I had some DJ friends organizing Drum’n’bass events in Tokyo and I started doing live painting performances in those events constantly. It was around 2003-2006. At its height, I participated in 3-4 different events per week and did live painting. Most of them were all-night events so I often went to school without sleeping. I would say that beginning period in my career was activity with underground / sub-cultural context.


It’s fascinating how your research of aerosol writing resulted in a book on the subject. Did writing it influence your art making?

While it is not easy to accurately measure how making and thinking influence each other, they do so for sure since they both happen in same one person / artist. Rather, I’d say they are one thing with different output form. Making is thinking and thinking is making. I shape both thoughts and objects.


Enrico Isamu Oyama, FFIGURATI #254-#259, 2019, Tower 49 Gallery, New York, Artwork ©︎ Enrico Isamu Oyama


Did moving to New York, the birthplace of aerosol writing challenge your perception of it?

I’d rather say it deepened my perception of the aerosol writing. I could obtain a sense of understanding it as an experience through five organs, not as knowledge. Especially, befriending some of the original pioneer writers and being immersed in the vibe of the city helped a lot to deepen the understanding.


The visual language of your works is a Quick Turn Structure (QTS) that you created. What was the inspiration behind it?

QTS is the result of long-time drawing practice rather than a product of instant conceptual idea. It was established over the years, slowly and gradually. There was a period where I used to draw traditional letter drawings everyday. Aerosol writing is an act of writing one’s name, so the language there is based on letter shapes. While I was improving at producing this type of drawing, I realized that I do not need to be restricted by letters, also because I was mainly drawing on papers, not in the streets. I decided to remove letters and extract just the dynamic motion of lines to expand it freely. In other words, it became pure abstraction. After years of drawing and live painting practice, I could establish a sort of language / idiom / vocabulary that is unique to myself. At some point, I decided to call it Quick Turn Structure.

Watching your live performances of QTS almost feels like you’re performing a certain ritual, as if the energy of the surface possesses you. Can you elaborate on what you mean when you say that QTS has its own life?

QTS is a motif that exists across every work that I create. While we can see its appearance on the surface of each physical work, the substance of QTS lives in higher level that is invisible to us. It is like ultrasonic sound or ultraviolet light; it is there moving and happening but we can’t percept it directly. My role as an artist is to catch the motion of QTS and transcribe its trace into the physical world. Each physical trace that I succeed to catch and transcribe out of the stream of time that QTS lives in becomes a physical piece of art with its own singular moment of creation embedded.


Enrico Isamu Oyama, FFIGURATI #261, 2019, Artwork ©︎ Enrico Isamu Oyama


How important it is for you to continue creating works in public areas as well as presenting them in white cube art spaces?

For me, they are all equivalent as surface / platform where I transcribe the motion of QTS onto. The difference between white cube / street or contemporary art / street art is a social structure that human created and it does not have much to do with the way QTS drives. As an artist, I would take any project opportunity that I feel appropriate for the boundary-crossing nature of QTS.


The title of your works FFIGURATI comes from the combination of the word graffiti and Italian word figùrati (literally translated as figure it out yourself). How do you think the mixture of various cultures you grew up in has influenced your artistic practice?

I prefer to specify the influence of the environment I grew up in rather than to generalize or abstract it by using catchy terms such as multicultural or international. Although I am half Italian and half Japanese, I grew up in Tokyo most of my life. I personally think Tokyo is different from the rest of Japan, so I always specifically say that my growing environment was Tokyo, not Japan. Though, I also lived in Veneto region of Italy for one year at the age of 17, and also visited there for one month almost every summer for 2 decades with my family. North Italy is culturally different from the South, so it is important for me to mention that too. Indeed, my father’s family name is Bavarian descent. Since the age of 28, I live and work in New York. All those cities and environments that I inhabited obviously influenced my personality and thus my art practice as well.


Installation view, Kairoshpere, Pola Museum of Art, Hakone, Japan, Artwork ©︎ Enrico Isamu Oyama, Photo ©︎ Shu Nakagawa


Time is an important element of your vision. You explained that your works exist in one-time-only singularity. How is this idea reflected in the current shows on view in Japan?

The title of one of my exhibitions on view at Pola Museum of Art is Kairosphere. It is a term coined by myself and is a combination of “kairos” and “sphere”. “Kairos” means subjective or internal time, which one can feel when being absorbed in something. Like when you are having fun time, you feel time passes faster. I use the term “sphere” to express a space whose border can expand and shrink without being solid and fixed, like an atmosphere. So “Kairosphere” means a realm where time and space overlap, stream, vibrate and transform altogether. Because I am an artist and it is a title of my exhibition, the term specifically means the sphere that is generated by the network of my artworks created in different place and time in my career.


Installation view, Kairoshpere, Pola Museum of Art, Hakone, Japan, Artwork ©︎ Enrico Isamu Oyama, Photo ©︎ Shu Nakagawa



Enrico Isamu Ōyama ‘VIRAL’
Nakamura Keith Haring Collection, Kobuchizawa, Japan
May 18, 2019 – November 17, 2019


Enrico Isamu Ōyama ‘Kairosphere’
Pola Museum of Art, Hakone, Japan
March 23, 2019 – July 28, 2019



About the Artist

Enrico Isamu Ōyama (b.1983, Italian / Japanese) creates visual art in various mediums that features Quick Turn Structure; the motif composed of spontaneous repetition and expansion of free flowing lines influenced by aerosol writing of 1970’s-80’s New York and beyond. Originally from Tokyo and currently based in New York, Ōyama has authored the book Against Literacy: On Graffiti Culture, edited the special issue on aerosol writing for Japanese art magazine Bijutsu Techo, and undertook collaboration with brands such as Comme des Garçons and shu uemura.




Julia Tarasyuk is an art consultant and art writer with over a decade of experience collaborating with museums, galleries and independent art projects in Russia, UK, France and Japan. In 2015 she started an online magazine Museeum.com and runs the platform as its editor-in-chief. Julia is currently based in Tokyo, where she organizes tailor-made art tours for various institutions, arts councils and private collectors and actively supports the exchange between the Japanese and international art scene. Julia is an author of “Art Tokyo” book published in Russia in 2018.



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