Oikawa Mayuki builds a “lyrical and strange world” purposefully designed to confuse the audience

The Japanese illustrator adds eery details and repetitive lines to every illustration, in turn evoking a sense of disorientation.

22 February 2021

Two people, in matching red jumpers, sit across from one another and appear to be indulging a good smoke together. A couple of bells and a hazy fog surrounds them, while the two obliviously continue their conversation – one that sees words replaced by ash. Elsewhere, there’s another matching couple, and this time they’re wearing green while embracing on the cliff’s coast. They also seem to be stabbing one another.

As we continue observe the portfolio of Oikawa Mayuki, we see more and more pairs of people, wearing identical coloured clothes and sporting matching hair dos. But you also get the solo character too, in which the illustrator’s signature wiggly lines adorn their clothes and environment. Point-blank, everything in Mayuki’s work is slightly off. For one, she seems to create somewhat familiar scenes – like a bedroom with a seemingly realistic character – before throwing in a few random objects, or a hand coming out of the person’s neck all for good measure. The faces, too, are repetitively sublime. Pointy chins, elongated noses and sharp cheek bones seem to populate her character design, which at first seems relatively normal, until you continue your observations and realise how spooky it is that everyone is so similar.

The illustrator, who lives in Japan, has always loved drawing peoples’ faces. Ever since she was young, she found herself utterly drawn towards the facial features of a character. “I naturally drew them,” she tells It’s Nice That, “probably because there were many adults involved in painting and art.” Mayuki then went on to study graphic design and illustration, before graduating and pursuing her craft as a freelance illustrator. Everything she embarks on has this figurative, surrealist edge, which is an offshoot of her inspirations which include painters Paul Gauguin, Frida Kahlo, Francis Bacon and Edward Hopper. “I think the vivid colours and the expression of complex lines, which are the characteristics of my work, are greatly influenced by the American graffiti art I saw when I was in college.”


Copyright © Oikawa Mayuki, 2021

Preferring to work in analogue, Mayuki starts off an artwork by mapping out her facial expressions and body lines in pencil. Then she’ll paint with acrylic on Japanese writing paper, the type that’s made from straw. “So I choose paper with this kind of texture because paper is more delicate and allows you to draw the lines I want, rather than canvas,” she explains of her methodology. She also tends to work on three or four pieces at once in her studio, a constantly evolving process and one that keeps her busy.

Mayuki’s signature style has enabled her to build on a portfolio of consistently stylised works, that which screams with flair and character. For example, Connection sees the depiction of a “mysterious relationship” between three people. “They look like siblings or lovers or something,” she adds. You begin to question the relationship between her subjects, notably because someone is facing away from the group – who knows why, but maybe they’ve had an argument? The other looks directly into the viewer’s gaze, while the third looks sternly at them with strange concentration. It’s a bizarre occurrence whereby you’re not quite sure exactly what’s going on. “Are the two women the same person or not? What’s the meaning? I’m glad if the viewer has imaginative doubts about this drawing.”

Another picture, Controlled, equally shares this level of confusion. There’s a woman sat alone in what looks like her bedroom; pillows and big windows surround her, with a crack in the window that signals to some kind of uncertainty. Then you notice the hand creeping out from behind her neck. “The hand sneaking up behind the lady looks like its controlling or caring for her,” says Mayuki. “It’s based on my realistic scenes overlapped with imaginary scenery. I like the motifs of the eerie tentacles from outside and plants on the bed, which creates a lyrical and strange world.”

If you’re feeling unsure about Mayuki’s work, it’s because she wants you to feel that way. Every small and weird detail has been added on purpose, creating an impactful but endearing world of abnormal occurrences. One prominent theme that viewers might pick up on, however, is the notion of the relationship – the interactions between people and how one can dangerously entangle themselves in the life of another. It’s something that everyone has experienced (dangerously or not), and she hopes that anyone observing her work can apply their own stories to the artworks.

“The theme I try to express in my work has not changed for many years, and it is a story that depicts the distorted loves and emotions that arise from people’s relationships, personal emotions that cannot be expressed in words, and sadness and happiness that cannot be understood,” she says on a lasting note. “These stories I paint come from my own experiences and imaginary events, but the story may vary depending on the emotions of the viewer. It would be great if the viewer can apply the story of their own experience and feelings, and feel something and sympathise with it.”

GalleryCopyright © Oikawa Mayuki, 2021





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Copyright © Oikawa Mayuki, 2021

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About the Author

Ayla Angelos

Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.


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