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Abstract artwork - primarily yellow with scattered series of red dots.

Sayoko Takahata – a painter’s journey from BA to PhD

Although I’ve liked painting and drawing since childhood, I never studied art academically in Japan. When I started going to an art school as a hobby, I gradually became interested in learning contemporary painting abroad. AUB was introduced by an agency in Tokyo and I applied for a year course through the Study Abroad programme.


In the first year of BA (Hons) Fine Art, there was so much freedom for creating artwork. It took time to get used to the environment, but it was a precious experience to spend the time being creative. I meant to study in MA after the year course. However, I was persuaded to complete the BA first, as it provides the practical education that I hoped to engage with. When I asked a member of staff if I'd be able to become a painter after graduation, she answered strongly, "Yes!"

One of the most impressive projects on the BA course is the first-year group show. It was tough to set this up from nothing in three months, as nobody knew how to do it. We were only given a space, but after finding out my theme, colour and memories, painting portraits, and working closely with other members of the group, we put the show together with the tutors’ assistance.

Another memorable project from the BA is the final project. Creating the artwork to exhibit in the graduate show was my favourite part. I started pursuing pointillistic images to depict emotional memories in combination with colours to represent the four seasons. I put everything I studied through BA into the final project. It was such a memorable experience to discuss themes, materials and displays with tutors and fellow students.

My ambition to build up my further painting skills and career made me decide to study MA Painting. I originally hoped to study art at MA level, but also hoped to develop practical and conceptual aspects of my painting. AUB’s MA Painting course was established with excellent timing, just after I graduated from the BA. The course focuses on practical aspects, which was what I needed.

MA Painting required more independence than BA (Hons) Fine Art. Students had two days a week to see tutors and talk in the studio, had wider options on where to conduct research inside and outside university, and attended lectures and workshops led by other courses and institutions. Relationships between students and tutors seemed more equal at MA level; students weren't taught passively anymore, but could talk to them based on progress to reflect on artwork.

I focused on how my pointillism could evolve from emotional representations to perceptional representations. Then I was able to improve my attitudes to not only discover new brushstrokes, different colour usages and original observational skills, but also cultivate my understandings of pictorial expression through practices, self-reflections, tutorials, critiques, research and exhibitions throughout the course.

I also learnt to consider the connections between my artwork and society more deeply, realising that my imagination and creativity are related to society and culture through painting. When I tackled the project to discover the connections, I discovered that my interests and creative tendency are rooted in Japanese culture. Especially when I wondered if my paintings would appear to convey the nothingness or emptiness, the Japanese concept of Ma came to mind. This became the theme for my current practice-based PhD research.

This research investigates in what way contemporary painting practice, informed by Post-Impressionism of Pointillism, can convey the presence of absence: the Japanese cultural concept of Ma (間), which means gaps, intervals and void between something objective and subjective in time and space. In Japanese paintings, Ma is a form of negative space in response to the positive. It’s represented by painting nothing to communicate something. In my research, I investigate painting something to communicate nothing or nothingness.

My advice to new students is, once you have a dream, even if you only have a passion right now, your dream will be realised. Your passion is the most important of all. Believe in yourself and never give up.

Read on to find out more about AUB's BA (Hons) Fine Art course. Or for more information on Research degrees, visit this page.

Something to think about

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