Kellen Hatanaka’s characterful paintings explore North American-Asian identity

Working principally in acrylics on canvas, Kellen creates paintings that draw on the illustrative compositional and chromatic techniques learned during his studies. His figures are expressive, his forms retaining a charming naivety. “Lately,” he tells us, “I’ve been trying really hard not to create overly laboured studies. I find my best work comes from spontaneity rather than working with an overly resolved study. Periodically, I will take photos of the painting in progress to look at it from a different perspective. I often take these process images back into the computer when I want to experiment with adding or subtracting elements in the piece. This process allows me to work out compositional issues efficiently, but has led to some breakthroughs as well. I’ve found the juxtaposition of the painted elements and super flat vector shapes in the mockups can be quite interesting, so I’ve begun experimenting with trying to replicate that sensibility when I get back into the studio.”

In terms of sourcing imagery and inspiration for his work, Kellen considers himself to be a visual hoarder: “Inspiration comes from anything and everything. I’m a collector and I keep a library of books, records, films and objects in the studio and office for reference. I also keep an ever-growing reference folder on my computer for images I come across that I want to use in future work.” Kellen continues: “One show in particular that left a lasting impression on me was Henri Matisse: The Cut Outs at MoMA. Up until that point I had only seen his paper works in print or digital and experiencing those in person was a very moving, visceral experience. It’s the first show that I had a very emotional response to. His ability to remove extraneous details and distil the subject matter down to its simplest form to create extremely clear and communicative imagery is something that I think about constantly and strive for in my own work.”

For Kellen, his current practice is focused on cultivating a visual aesthetic that serves the exploration of those ideas surrounding personal and collective identity: “There are a lot of themes and issues I’d like to discuss through my work and I’m exploring the best ways to communicate those ideas. I also plan on incorporating 3D pieces into my practice and seeing the opportunities that can create.”

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