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Kellen Hatanaka is an artist and designer from Toronto, Canada. He has worked with a variety of clients including The Wall Street Journal, The Walrus, The Drake Hotel, Sid Lee, Bruce Mau Design, Frank and Oak and Absolut Vodka. He was awarded the Governor General's Award in 2016 along with Jon-Erik Lappano for their book, "Tokyo Digs a Garden."

After graduation, Hatanaka spent some time working in advertising, but eventually felt the need to strike out on his own and since then, he has been working as a freelance artist creating illustrations, installations and murals. Recently he’s become much more focused on painting and have been building up his studio practice over the last year or so.

We caught up with him to find out more.

“A lot of my time as a youth was spent skateboarding which inadvertently cultivated and interest in art and design through skate graphics. This interest eventually lead me to attending the Ontario College of Art and Design where I majored in illustration.”

Tell us about your works, what materials do you use?

“I like to work with a wide variety of materials and often mix media in my works. I most commonly paint on paper or canvas with acrylic, incorporating oil and oil stick for specific details.”

Where do you draw your inspiration from for your work / what inspires you most?

“To date, the majority of my work has centered around two distinct themes, the first being an interest in sport, specifically the humanity of sport. I'm interested in the grit, the perseverance, the struggle, the disappointment, and the mental toughness it takes to over come inner battles. When we watch professional sports it’s easy to get caught up in the spectacle of it all, competing super humans with “god given” talent. My paintings counter this narrative presenting the subjects at their most vulnerable moments making them more human, more relatable.

The second theme, which has been the focus of my work lately, is exploring Asian identity within the context of North American culture as well as looking inward and exploring my own liminal identity as person of a mixed background, Japanese and Canadian. My work explores these two avenues separately as well as how they relate to one another.”

How would you describe your work and how would you define your style?

“In my work as an illustrator I abstract and reduce my subject matter into simplified, flat, graphic shapes and bold colors. Rather than relying on the computer to create straight lines and perfect curves, I use more rudimentary digital drawing tools with my mouse, embracing the imperfect and even awkward results creating a sense of immediacy to the rendering. I try to bring some of the same sensibility into my studio practice, but where my illustrative work is flat, reminiscent of cut paper, my paintings embrace the medium and the looseness achieved through a painterly approach to working.”


“Most of paintings are figurative in nature. When depicting the human figure I’m most interested in communicating the subject’s emotion through gesture and body language.”


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