Yu nagaba x Kosuke Kawamura

Collage artist Kosuke Kawamura visits artist Yu nagaba

Yu nagaba x Kosuke Kawamura

UT collaborators Yu Nagaba and Kosuke Kawamura both belong to the same generation of Japanese artists. They talk to each other about how their styles have evolved and about their T-shirt inspirations: Andy Warhol and Peanuts.

Yu Nagaba produces simple, gentle line drawings based on famous movies and paintings; Kosuke Kawamura creates elaborate, extreme collages using shredders and other unconventional tools. Although their styles could not be more different, they both hail from the same Tokyo art scene. The two artists were happy to meet at Nagaba’s studio for a chat—a meeting that has been in the making for almost ten years.

Nagaba I think we first met through a mutual acquaintance at an exhibition. If I remember correctly, you were still a graphic artist at the time and not yet a collage artist.
Kawamura That sounds about right. I was doing collages at the time, but they were barely putting food on the table. I think you were also in a different place than you are today. You were known mostly for your Kaeru-sensei*1 character, so much so that everyone was calling you “Kaeru-sensei.” So when I first saw your work in your current style, credited to “Yu Nagaba,” I couldn’t put two and two together. How did you end up developing this style?

Yu nagaba x Kosuke Kawamura

1.Kaeru-sensei|Created by Nagaba in 2004, this frog-like character is 34 years old and has a laid-back personality.

N A lot of trial and error. I actually started out in photo-realism. The problem was, there were so many people who could do it better than me. I was searching around for something else to do when I made my first attempt at collage. I drew a picture, loaded it onto my computer, and messed around with it so it looked like it had been corrupted by a bug. But I couldn’t figure out how to develop this into something interesting. So I experimented a lot—playing with colors, creating characters like Kaeru-sensei. I’m good with my hands, so if I try a new style, I’ll usually produce something decent. But “decent” can’t beat “powerful” and “expressive.” That’s why I thought, “Instead of focusing on improving my weaknesses, I should expand on the things I thought made me interesting.” By continuing to explore who I was through my work, I ended up with my current style.

K Interesting. When I first saw your work in this style, I was honestly jealous. You’d managed to develop something unique that you can live off of for the rest of your life! Not many artists can develop a style like that: so simple and yet so idiosyncratic that you immediately know who it is. And even if they do, they usually have a hard time maintaining it. Most people are forced to change their styles after two years just to keep up with the times. The fact that you haven’t is amazing.

N But neither have you. Nobody else is making shredder collages. When did you start using a shredder in your work?

K I discovered this style about ten years ago. It was my first time producing an art book, and I realized I didn’t have enough pieces to fill all the pages. I was getting worried, but then I remembered there was a shredder in the office I was renting. I thought, “I could shred some of my works and sprinkle the pieces onto glue applied to cardboard to create a sand art picture-like effect.” But of course, the shredder only shredded vertically! Well, time was running out, and the people from the printers were already there, so I just started pasting the shreds side by side. And it actually looked pretty good. There was another collage artist, Keiji Ito *2, who had come by to say hi, and he started getting excited. He went, “What a discovery!” And then the people from the printers went, “It sure is,” and they went to press. That was my first shredder collage.

N Wow, so it was all at the last minute?

K Yup. [Laughs.] I’d arranged to have dinner with Katsuhiro Otomo*3 that night, so I took my piece with me to show it to him, and he loved it. He told me, “I want to see where you take this next.” But I didn’t know where to go next, so I abandoned it for about two years. Then I did the visuals for the Otomo Gengaten exhibition, where I managed to create a level of detail using analog tools that even digital tools couldn’t match. That’s when I realized I’d taken my style as far as I could. So, I decided to go the other way—towards simplicity. Draw a single black dot on a canvas, and it can still be a great work of art as long as the concept is clear. The simplest form of a collage uses just one source—but because, as a rule, I only use other people’s works in my collages, I would need at least two sources to turn it into something original. Otherwise, it’s just shredding and putting back together someone else’s work. But then I figured out that by pasting the shreds disjointedly, I could create something new and interesting. When I hit that realization, I returned to the shredder.

2. Keiji Ito | Ito primarily provides art direction and graphics for ads and books. Many of his works are collages.
3. Katsuhiro Otomo | Otomois the renowned manga artist behind classics such as Akira and Domu. He has directed Steamboy and other films.

Inspired by Warhol and Peanuts

Yu nagaba x Kosuke Kawamura

K I got to collaborate with the works of Andy Warhol*4 for this UT collection, which I was really excited about. He’s the reason I got into art in the first place. When I was in middle school, I was reading an art book in the library when I came across his works by chance. I was in awe of the vibrant colors, and the way they didn’t stay in the lines reminded me of flyers for punk rock bands. So I began researching Warhol and really got into his works, but I became even more interested in his methods. I feel like in my work, I’m reinterpreting Warhol’s methods in my own way.

N Around the time Warhol made the transition from illustrator to artist, he produced works using the dollar bill as a motif. Why? Because everyone knew what it was. In other words, if you want to convey an idea that you find interesting, you need a motif that is familiar to everyone. That concept had a huge influence on me, so I started out by featuring famous movie scenes and musicians in my work. Anyway, you’re clearly a huge a fan of Warhol. It must have been nerve-racking to produce collages out of his work.

K I was scared at first, but once I started, I loved it so much I couldn’t stop! I ended up producing about three times the number of pieces I was commissioned to do. I really love the banana pieces. You know how effortless the original feels, right? Just relaxed and not scared about being its own thing—just like your style.

Yu nagaba x Kosuke Kawamura

4. Andy Warhol | One of the most famous figures in pop art, Warhol is known for his many silkscreen prints incorporating flowers, celebrities, and other easily recognizable motifs.

Yu nagaba x Kosuke Kawamura

K I wanted to create something just as breezy. So, I did just one where I created a collage out of two different works, but the rest are made in my usual shredder-collage style. I would have loved to wear these designs on my shirts in middle school. Now, you worked with Peanuts*5 for your T-shirts, right? I’m a huge fan—I’ve been collecting Peanuts items since I was a kid.

Yu nagaba x Kosuke Kawamura

5. Peanuts | Charles Schulz began drawing this seminal comic strip featuring Charlie Brown and his dog Snoopy in the 1950s.

N I’ve also been a fan since I was a kid, but I didn’t approach the comics as an artist until I developed my current style. I started drawing Snoopy a lot, hoping I’d pick up a few hints Charles Schulz’s line work is so powerful. I did Peanuts for UT the last time, too. The theme was “indoors,” but this time, the theme is “the outdoors,” so I chose motifs like Joe Cool*6, with his trademark sunglasses. It would be nice if people could wear the T-shirts while taking a walk or something, but I realize that’s difficult right now, so maybe you can wear them at home and feel like you’re outside. The texts on the T-shirts are actual Peanuts quotes.

K I love those quotes. I have all the books of Peanuts quotes translated by Shuntaro Tanikawa7. They cheer me up when I’m down.[Laughs.]

Yu nagaba x Kosuke Kawamura

6. Joe Cool | One of Snoopy’s many personas, this college student is never seen without his sunglasses and is always trying to pick up “chicks.”
7. Shuntaro Tanikawa|Mostly known as a poet, Tanikawa has translated many children’s books such as Peanuts and Leo Lionni’s Swimmy.


Yu Nagaba|Nagaba was born in Tokyo in 1976. He has held solo exhibitions and produced work for fashion brands, ads, magazines, and books. He has published a collection of his work, I Draw, as well as books on his favorite movies.

Kosuke Kawamura|Kawamura’s art activities range from holding solo exhibitions around the world to collaborating with companies. Published collections include Kosuke Kawamura Archives and Mix-Up-Kosuke Kawamura: Collage Works.

©2021 Peanuts Worldwide LLC ©2021 Yu Nagaba
©/®/™ The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. Andy Warhol artwork Design by Kosuke Kawamura