Towards the door into an imaginary portal, the greatness of the ordinary never fails to pique his curiosity.
“Like when I see children playing in the park, I imagine them playing on the moon, and how fascinating that would be,” Often, flights of fancy transcend to a realm beyond this world.
“I used to get excited about staying up late. I’d look up at the moon and indulge in my daydream,” To imagine is, quite literally, to look up – like one tends to do in bewilderment, as though in anticipation of an echo, a sign, from afar. Perhaps, it’s the distance that makes it possible for imagination to carry on – like faith.
Based in Osaka, Akira Kusaka creates works characterised by the presence of light, often in contrast to scenes of night time, of solitude in one’s own room looking out to the stars and the moon. One is attracted to the illustrations, just as one is attracted, guided and embraced by the light – or rather, one owns the light. More than once, I have misremembered Akira’s name as “Akari” (the kanji for Akira is 明, which is the combination of the two different characters 日 = sun and 月 = moon; Akari means “moon”). His name alone is fascinating.
The Chinese translation of “Akari Kusaka” means “everything is bright under the sun”. It’s a beautiful imagery. “It means the same in Japanese, but there’s an additional meaning conferred by makurakotoba or ‘pillow words’ – figures of speech used in Japanese waka poetry to refer to poems in the Man’yōshū or the Kokinshū. Used as pillow words, my name would be ‘hinoshita’ rather than ‘kusaka’,”
“As to why the difference in pronunciations, there are many explanations. One of them is that ‘fragrance of grass under the sun’ became ‘fragrance of grass (kusaka)’, which alludes to ‘under the sun’. So, ‘Kusaka’ can be read as ‘fragrance of grass under the sun’,”
“When everyone is asleep – that’s when I start drawing,”
“I usually come up with the scene before I start drawing. I like replaying ordinary moments in my head and, from there, creating the extraordinary. For example, I’m always fascinated by the paradoxical convergence between joy and melancholy. It always begins with a word, or a scene, or a piece of music,”
What kind of presence does music hold in the creative process? “Every time I picture a scene, it comes with a soundtrack in my head, just like a film,”
Kusaka used to be a member of a four-piece band. Following its breakup, he formed a new band “repair” with another former member, Yuka Taniguchi. Kusaka plays the trombone, whilst Taniguchi plays the piano and arranges. When Kusaka started drawing, Taniguchi complemented his works with texts and poetry.
“Drawing is a hobby, a living, and life itself. It’s probably the most important thing in my life, too. I hope that when people look at my illustrations, they can experience something in their own ways.”
“The most unforgettable illustration I have done is titled ‘Route of Thinking’. The whole time, I was thinking of the kind of journeys one embarked on in pursuit of answers. That illustration, in a way, reflects my thinking during the creative process,”
That is to surrender, quietly, to one’s stream of consciousness. It is as though through drawing, one tried to suspend the outpour of emotions and listened, instead, to the sound of leaves and seeds. The street lights up by the reflection of puddles. It is on nights like this where one can finally understand the message of the wind and decipher the shape of the ocean.
The night is long, but we press on, blazing our trails.
The world within the drawing is distant enough – on the other side of imagination.