Meet the young Japanese underground artist Keita Sagaki who construes a whole world using only a pen and thousands of small characters. With his unique doodles, the 28-year-old literally illustrates the Aristotelian notion of the irreducible nature of things, where the whole is constituted by many elements, though it is often greater than the sum of its parts. In his newest piece, Keita Sagaki reconstructs the new Mercedes-Benz E-Class and Times Square in New York City.

When you encounter one of Keita Sagaki’s exceptional pieces for the first time, you might feel the need to step a little closer. At first glance, they seem like little more than monochromatic representations of popular sceneries or paintings, like the Eiffel Tower or Da Vinci’s “The Last Supper”, respectively. But there is something unusual going on in Sagaki’s large format images: they seem to be inhabited by an unexpected density of detail, and there is microscopic life in the taillights of cars or facial details of the figures depicted.

Composition is a central concept throughout Sagaki’s portfolio. He starts drawing directly on white canvas without the help of preliminary sketches, following a spontaneous stream of creativity during which he composes the overall image, such as the new Mercedes-Benz E-class that Keita recreated for us (see slideshow). With minute lines and delicate shading, he creates his characteristic super populated landscapes and scenes, filling the world with the life of thousands of nuzzling little people and animals.
“Have you ever counted the number of doodles after you have finished a drawing?” I ask him during our interview.
“No. I have not counted them. It is nonsense.“ That would be quite a feat – some of his pieces, like “The Last Supper” are almost 2 by 4 meters in format, but the doodles themselves remain tiny.

Keita works as an art teacher during the day, creating his animate landscapes at night. His main influences are complex Buddhist mandala drawings, comics and graffiti. No wonder his textbooks and exam sheets back in his school days were covered with doodles. But there is another, deeper dimension to the art of Keita Sagaki. His aesthetics touch the mereological theory of the part and whole relationship, as a structural foundation of the physical world, reminding us that every object is made up of its single parts. One underlying idea of this scientific pursuit was to find out if all things can be explained by their microscopic properties. But whenever we form a new complex object from two atomic ones, we find ourselves exposed to a third, new one. A line of thought always prominent in Keita’s work.

Keita’s art has thus far been exhibited in select Japanese galleries. As he has finally decided to show his huge drawings in the US and Europe, starting in Germany, we wanted to ask Keita a few questions:

How much time do you need to finish one drawing?
That depends on the size of a work. Smaller formats (the Statue of Liberty or the Ukiyo-e print series, for instance) take me about two to three weeks. “The Last Supper” is the biggest of my works. I completed it in 10 months.

At what time of day do you work?
I work as a teacher during the day. I begin creating at night. In most cases, I am working from 8pm to 2am. I can concentrate better at night. The night is quiet.

Do you listen to music while drawing? Which album or playlist are listening to at the moment?
Music is essential for my creation. I love rock music. The rhythm and beat help make my drawing smooth. I have 260 artists (and 1300 albums) in my iTunes playlist. At the moment, I am into Rakugo. Rakugo is a form of traditional comic storytelling with one person playing all of the characters. I play it in my room when drawing.

What is your favorite music act right now?
Bob Dylan. I’m listening to him a lot at the moment.

Do you have one specific recurring element in your work, something we can find in all of your pieces?
No, there is not a particular element appearing in all my works. However, I do have a couple of characters appearing in many of my pictures. They represent the theme symbolically, life and death.

Do your drawings tell stories?
In most cases they don’t, but every once in a while, they do have a storyline. It’s up to you to find it.

Do you draw when you’re on the road (in a bus, subway or train) sometimes?
No, I hardly draw anything outdoors. I cannot work when I know there is another person around. Having space and being alone is very important to me. My creation begins with loneliness. I just wasn’t made for the presence of an audience.

You work as an art teacher full time. Do your students know that you are an artist?
Yes, my students are interested in art, and they’re familiar with my work. Some of them came to my solo exhibition.

What is your favorite way to waste time?
I like reading (mainly Haruki Murakami). Reading wastes my time.

What is the most useless thing that you love?
Ear picks. [Note from the author: especially popular and allegedly very pleasing practice of cleaning cerumen in Asian countries. Ear pickers are commonly found in the streets of Japanese and Chinese cities.]

Thank you very much for your time, Keita.
You’re welcome. I enjoyed this.