Bravo TV’s Star Portrait Interview

Inside Daisuke’s Studio

Interview with Daisuke Takeya – “…I investigate who that sitter is…”


SP: When did you decide you wanted to become a professional artist?

DT: Well, I am sincere and serious about creating the best possible art work … do you call it being a professional artist?

At age 17 when I moved to New York City from Japan and enrolled into a business school, my English was not good and it was hard for me to follow many reading and writing assignments, so I took painting 101 type of classes that required no homework (giggles). I instantly liked the classes because they were quite relaxed and my teachers always complemented my work. I continued taking more art classes until I could find no more advanced classes. Naturally I transferred to an art school (School of Visual Arts in NYC) and continued working on paintings- that’s how I started out. Back then I somehow knew that art is something special and I was deeply connected and passionate about it. It has been more than ten years now, and I know that I will continue creating artwork throughout my life. I have mixed feelings about the term “professional artist,” because many of the professionals do not create exciting work … I often prefer children’s artwork which is much more sincere and heart-moving!

SP: Do you only paint portraits?
DT: No. I am an interdisciplinary artist educated and trained as a figurative painter. I create sculptures, installations, video and interactive art as well, and I have recently started writing poems. That is a completely new art form to me. My practice puts an emphasis on the process of art making, and through that I investigate the meaning of my existence. It is self-counselling, healing, and meditative. Creating portraits is always challenging because it deals with just one more person, the sitter. It breaks my meditation and makes the process more complex like a collaboration, even though it all happens in my head. Quite psychological, I guess.

SP: How did you start painting portraits?
DT: At the School of Visual Arts I majored in illustration. I mostly took life painting classes and an independent study program with Steven Assael, an important contemporary American master of figurative painting. Sometime during the school years I won a prize at The Society of Illustrators’ annual national student competition with a portrait of ” a mermaid” … a girl looking out from her window and transforming herself into a mermaid (I was at the time an apprentice sushi chef, in retrospect she might have been a shrimp girl instead … lol).” The master’s influence and winning a prize gave me confidence and it probably led me to start creating portraits. After graduating, I went to New York Academy of Art, a MFA programme specializing in classical training. While in the school I mostly did nudes in disturbing or disoriented poses, which reflected my struggle in human relationships at the time. When I departed from the series of nudes, I gradually started creating portraits and experimenting with video art. I created a project entitled, “Everybody Loves You”, inspired by my name Daisuke being mispronounced as “Daisuki (Dai sue key) – Japanese term for I like/ love you” in North America. I created portraits in which all the sitters are lit from below and staring directly at a viewer … this intimacy created another type of psychological twist. Each portrait is juxtaposed with the New York skyline, which had led me to the recent series of landscape painting entitled, Kara (“Kara”, the Chinese ideogram for “sky”, also meaning “emptiness”).

SP: How do you approach painting a portrait?
DT: As said previously, my art practice emphasizes on its process. In painting a portrait, besides searching for 3D structure of the head and the characteristics of the sitter, I investigate who that sitter is by all available resources. For my painting of Craig Kielburger for Star Portraits, I did intensive internet searches about him and tried to understand who he is (not just his name I had already known). It defined the way I approached this particular portrait (Star Portraits viewers will witness on the programme), which could have been completely different if, for instance, Louise Pitre was the sitter. In depth psychological understanding of a sitter is essential in my approach to a portrait.

SP: What are you painting lately?
DT: I have had three solo exhibitions this year so far, all from Kara series – landscape paintings with big abstract sky and a narrow strip of cityscape realistically painted at the bottom – I consider them portraits of the city. At Christopher Cutts Gallery in Toronto this June, I exhibited paintings of both Canadian and international cities, such as Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, St John’s ,,, Venice, Tokyo, and New York, and I called the show, “Perfect World.” I have been fortunate to be represented by Christopher who is well-known for showing Canadian abstract masters, such as Ron Martin, Richard Gorman, and some of The Painters Eleven artists. I have been inspired and influenced by their fantastic works … which had led me to create “hybrids” of abstraction and realism searching for “perfect” harmony.

SP: Do you have any upcoming exhibitions?
DT: I have few exhibitions lined up:

1) “Beautiful Kyoto” at Shibunkaku Gallery in Kyoto, Japan from October 1 to 11.

2) Exhibiting works at Toronto International Art Fair with Christopher Cutts Gallery from October 28 to November 1.

3) BAGART project in collaboration with Shanghai artist duo Birdhead: upArt contemporary art fair with my print, “Venice” and launch of the publication, ‘BAGART Toronto shopping guide’ at the Gladstone Hotel from October 28 to November 1.

4) I’m also scheduled to hold another solo exhibition soon in St. John’s, Newfoundland … but no detail is set yet.

SP: What did you think it was going to be like before you went on star portraits?
DT: I had no idea what was going to happen; it was a great surprise that the first shooting was at the Pearson International Airport. We needed to engage with the sitter on the spot … it was just like arriving in a brand-new place and getting started right away!

SP: Were there any challenges to finishing your portrait of Craig Kielburder portrait in two weeks?
DT: The timeline was not a problem, but the available resources were perhaps not ideal. We had no control over the setting; the light sources at the airport kept changing from multiple windows (Each artist has different preferences and I understand the difficulties that the Star Portraits production team has), we did not have enough time to get engaged with Craig … well, he tried really hard to get connected with us, which was really generous and sweet of him, but it made him move quite a bit and it was hard for us to make sketches (giggles) … all that made it quite challenging but fun! When he did not talk, he did not move at all … He is a great model for figurative work!!

SP: What sort of mediums do you use in your artwork?
DT: For the last few years, I have taught art in elementary schools. Part of my job was to create a curriculum/modules for each grade. Instead of researching what art educators think children should learn, I interviewed each student and created the program from children’s perspectives. My curriculum yielded my practice, so I started using clay, glass mosaics, and anything that my students were using in the classroom became my medium as well.

SP: How would you describe your work to someone that’s never seen it?
DT: The appearance of my artwork may look different every time I create a new project. It is kind of hard to describe in spoken words. I use the process of art production to understand where I am and what I am, and the work is the result of my way of trying to figure it out the time. It changes as my taste and interests move on. If I stop growing … then perhaps my work will remain the same. There is something definitely consistent in all my works … I let a “professional writer” describe it for me (giggles!).

SP: Do you have any future plans with your art?
DT: Yes, I will continue creating new works investigating the meaning of my life, and I hope some day I will become a master.

I have some projects on their way.

I am from Japanese “Samurai (warrior in Japanese)” ancestry. My ancestor, Gosuke Takeya fought in the civil war in the 19th century when Japan opened up the nation from 260 years of “Sakoku (the foreign relation policy of Japan under which no foreigner could enter nor could any Japanese leave the country on penalty of death. ).” He was only 14 years old when the war happened … it was illegal to send child Samurai to the war but they had a shortage of warriors then. He was so excited to fight for the first time in the actual war in light of Samurai, with all his classmates just like going for a field trip … many of his classmates had been killed … and he fortunately survived. However he was so ashamed to stay alive as a Samurai after the defeat (In Samurai tradition, when defeated or disrespected, one is supposed to commit suicide by cutting his own stomach to prove his loyalty to the lord.). He changed his name and remained silent for few decades as if nothing had happened … later he finally started telling the story when he was 50 years old. His story has been written into some books and made into a silent black and white film titled “Shonentai” (Boys squad). His swords and some writings are kept in the local historical museum … the museum told me that I could borrow and bring them to Canada. I would like to create an art project exploring teenage spirit within Canadian youth culture, in relation to Manga/ Anime from Japan, to make homage to him … not sure exactly what yet, but I am researching to contextualize it and make significant relevance to our society.

I have a curatorial project to bring works by emerging female artists from Japan to Canada. Their work have quite unique and distinctive feminine sensibilities, which we do not find in Canadian culture. I hope this introduction will create international/ gender crossing dialogues from multiple perspectives …

I am impressed by Craig’s activities … I would like to be a part of his projects if possible!!

SP: Where do you see your art taking you?
I would like to continue my journey investigating the meaning of my existence and growing as a person through my art practice. I would like to interact with the general public through my art and I hope to create dialogues which will hint some meanings to our society; transformation for better or more fun!


Daisuke was featured to create a portrait of a celebrity in Bravo TV’s “Star Portraits” in 2010, with a sitter Mr. Craig Kielburger who is a three time Nobel Peace Prize nominee and the second youngest recipient of the Order of Canada. Daisuke and Mr. Kielburger found common ground within children’s creativity and it surely gave Daisuke an additional perspective to his artistic endeavour.