The art of Shinro Ohtake


Shinro Ohtake is always on the attack. Whether it’s against misguided art education, against the cold treatment and economic constraints Japan puts on anyone who could dare to live differently, against the contemporary art establishment that can’t be bothered to even disguise its own incomprehension—his fight as an artist continues. Ohtake is prodigious, original, and a trouble-maker—in the sense that the work of the artist is always to create difference.

William Burroughs

Two disparate things had me looking for Shinro Ohtake‘s work this week: I’ve been doing a short interview about album cover design (more about that at a later date) in which I mentioned his collage for the cover of Seven Souls by Material (1989), then an editorial in the latest Wire describes his current retrospective exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo.


The Material cover is one I picked as a favourite design. It’s difficult trying to pin-point why I think this works so well without it being at all illustrational. (I’m guessing, but it’s likely that Bill Laswell picked it out of one of Ohtake’s collage books, rather than it being specially commissioned.) It may be the collage aspect that works here. The album features readings by William Burroughs set to music and for me is the best of all the Burroughs recordings (Dead City Radio being a close second). Burroughs’ work, of course, involved literary collage via his own cut-up process, and the musical content can also be seen as a collage in the way it mixes different styles and musicians—Simon Shaheen, Shankar, Rammellzee, Foday Musa Suso, Fahiem Dandan and samples of the famous Brian Jones recordings of the Jajouka pipers. It’s a shame that when the CD was reissued in 1997 (in a superior mastering, it should be noted), the original artwork was largely junked in favour of a lot of muddy Photoshop work from the usually excellent Russell Mills. I’ve a huge respect for Mills but this treatment was a serious mistake.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The album covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
William Burroughs book covers

5 thoughts on “The art of Shinro Ohtake”

  1. Ah yes. I was a bit ambivalent about that; good to have them using it but annoying that they edited the track. The complete version is 5:45 but i think they cut it down to about 3 minutes.

  2. Hopefully people who hear the edited version might want to seek out the fuller version.

    Appropriate the anti-spam word for posting this is kitten. Burroughs song with REM is **** me kitten.


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