Home > Culture > Art > Japanese artist Gaku on translating his autism into art and his installation “Life is a Playground” at IFC Mall
Japanese artist Gaku on translating his autism into art and his installation “Life is a Playground” at IFC Mall

Comprising three sections — a carousel installation, an art gallery and a digital experience — “Life is a Playground” is autistic artist Gaku’s first large-scale, three-dimensional project.

If you’ve been to IFC Mall lately, you’ve probably noticed the dreamlike wonderland that is Gaku’s newest art installation. Located in the mall’s atrium, the life-sized, pastel blue artwork is open to the public from 1 to 28 August.

The artist behind “Life is a Playground” — the official name of the installation — is Gaku, a 22-year-old up-and-coming artist from Japan. Diagnosed with severe autism at the age of three, with an IQ of only 25 and the language capability of a five-year-old, Gaku makes up for his lack of verbal skills by expressing himself through his artwork.

At 16 years old, Gaku toured an art museum and found himself inspired by Japanese artist Taro Okamoto’s works. Since then, he has pursued art professionally, creating up to 200 pieces a year and hosting more than 20 exhibitions in the six years he has been active.

Gaku’s driving force for painting is his desire for communicating with the world. At the same time, the characteristics of autism are reflected in his art. For example, he has a need to squeeze out all the paint tubes once he opens them, so his works are saturated with layers of colour. The base coats for his paintings are meticulously even, demonstrating his fixation on perfection. His heightened concentration also pushes him to paint faster — part of the reason why he is able to finish one painting within two days. Because of this, many have commented that his works are “full of energy”.

This month, Lifestyle Asia had the chance to meet Gaku and speak to his team about the artist’s childhood and background, how he conceived his unique style and the “Life is a Playground” installation at IFC Mall.

In conversation with Gaku


When and how did Gaku’s journey as an artist begin?

Gaku is diagnosed with severe autism and has an IQ of 25 and the language capability of a five-year-old. When he was 16, he visited the museum of Japanese artist Okamoto Taro and began painting the next day.

Have Gaku’s upbringing and culture influenced his art? How?

From five to 14 years old, Gaku lived in Los Angeles, a city known for its bright sunshine weather and vivid colours. The bold use of colours in Gaku’s works reflects his time in LA. Additionally, not being able to communicate with others due to his autism, he cultivated a rich inner world and a unique style of painting.

How would Gaku describe his unique style?

Gaku understands that he is recognised for his work. He is happy he can communicate with people through his art and loves the feedback from visitors at his exhibition.

Because his sense and reception of the world are so different, Gaku has his own way of approaching things and comes up with new patterns and colour combinations from an original perspective. His art radiates positive energy as they stem from his happy emotions.


What does Gaku love most about the “Life is a Playground” installation?

Gaku’s favourite part is the carousel because he can interact with the three-dimensional artwork physically. As a child, his favourite ride in the playground was the merry-go-round.

What is Gaku’s experience partnering with IFC Mall?

It’s very important for Gaku to know that his artwork is being recognised overseas. IFC Mall’s installation is his most significant and first-ever three-dimensional world. For the first time, Gaku’s art is translated into a 3D space. He can physically go inside the world created in his mind so this project is very special.

What message does Gaku wish to deliver to visitors when they visit the installation?

Having any disability makes life a little bit more difficult. But having “difficulties” is not equal to unhappiness. It does have a negative side, but if you can accept the given life conditions, you can turn them into your own strength. If we can have a positive perspective and create a happy environment, we can unleash the individual’s potential ability.

For Gaku, his autistic character and language disability is a “handicap”, but he realised he can utilise his unique senses and translate them into his art expressions. Gaku’s talent was nurtured in a happy environment and by happy people who supported him throughout his journey.


What does a typical day look like for Gaku?

Gaku paints in his own workshop in the morning. As a professional artist, he finishes an astonishing 200 pieces every year! In the afternoon, he likes to visit art museums, see movies and visit shopping malls. He also likes to visit bookstores to look for his favourite kids’ DVD, Baby Einstein from Disney. When he gets the chance, he goes to hot springs to relax. He’s a very curious kid who likes adventure.

What upcoming projects is Gaku working on?

In addition to his ongoing projects with LeSportsac and The Body Shop, Gaku will unveil a special collaboration with Godiva in Japan this autumn. His biography also just came out this month.

“Life is a Playground” runs from 1 to 28 August at IFC Mall, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong. Find out more on the official website.

Japanese artist Gaku on translating his autism into art and his installation “Life is a Playground” at IFC Mall

Charmaine enjoys eating steamed broccoli and knocking back cups of spearmint tea, all in the name of health. Covering art, beauty and music :)

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