This 78-year-old Japanese man has gone viral thanks to a perfectly executed emulous painting. He uses Excel.
The name Masamichi Tazaki has been mentioned in most of the stories related to his incredible creation. But the concept is actually really easy to explain.
Simply put, Tazaki used a “negative transformation” technique, which involved changing colors of the picture’s outlines and changing patterns of line art, called process design. In a blog post explaining the technique, Kaenaro Fujishige, who shares a career with Tazaki, is quoted as saying it’s “easy to see why a lot of fans have been captivated by the paintings.”
This is because the images are truly fascinating and technically outstanding.
There are about 40 examples of Tazaki’s work on YouTube. Each has the quality of something you’d expect to see in a full-scale exhibition in the major museums of Europe. To see the work closely, consider the time frame. He produced all of his paintings in about a year. Perhaps more surprising to people outside the art world, the paintings show precision and comfort. Almost every one seems to have been drawn by a pencil, with a ruler, and straight lines uncolored.
“More than even German expressionists, Hokusai’s was known for his splints — his everyday size, old-style brushes for the brush strokes, his rather deliberative practice,” said John Sutton, a professor of aesthetics at Arizona State University.
But nobody has explained how Tazaki went from a police-detective retiree to a world-class artist in a single year.
There are a few clues. He once sold one of his paintings for $1.2 million. That was 2011. It is easy to imagine how he could afford to continue practicing, and continue winning works of art at auction. His piece titled “Once a Hero and Now a Hero,” actually fetched $724,588 at auction in late May.
But there are other hints. When I watched the auction footage, I saw a man resembling Tazaki wearing a remarkable bib; it is indeed Tazaki’s bib. He looks like the man in the bear clip. Other than his name and nationality, the only other clues are that the man’s face is expressionless and he is dressed in traditional work clothes; he could easily have been a Japanese policeman. One wonders why this man didn’t sell his original pictures to a collector who could afford them.
Even if he hadn’t made any art in a year, the art world had some suspicions that something truly remarkable was happening. Yet the market for Tazaki’s paintings is so small that all of his previous works and his whole collection of paintings were reportedly sold on the day of the auction.
I think it might be more accurate to say that nobody has claimed Tazaki as their own, and that he has created many more masterpieces over a lifetime than most artists do in a lifetime. But there’s a good chance that the public has never seen any of them, because they have never been professionally displayed. Or that they’re beautiful pieces of art — but what makes them significant is not so much what they’re made of as how good they are.
It’s interesting to compare his art to that of Andy Warhol. Warhol also produced original paintings — although, as anyone who has seen The Heart of a Woman will know, his commercial paintings are just as good as those of Tazaki and Hokusai. But he mostly combined commercial art with marketing strategies, so the focus shifted. Anyone who liked Warhol’s paintings could always point to one of his other works, or perhaps the advertising magazine spreads.
Tazaki may or may not succeed in creating a truly great work of art — although I doubt it will amount to anything like the mysteries of the transcendent Japanese artist. But I bet he’ll be able to build a career in illustration or advertising for the rest of his life. It’s great to see Japan’s artists have a voice in the West, and if you wanted to find examples of art that had the potential to impress you, check out his paintings. Then get excited by the fact that they were likely created by a 78-year-old.