One of the greatest features of Okada’s work is its sense of atmosphere. She meticulously depicts the mist of a radiant forest, evoking a realistic sensation in the viewer, as if they themselves have stepped foot into the woods. This is because the work is also a kind of proof that the forest does indeed exist within Okada. Okada, who has had the experience of coming into contact with many living things, and has felt deep sorrow in parting with each of them, bears a special attachment to life, regardless of species, and also a strong and constant fear of the eternal separation of death. The forest exists for the purpose of freeing her heart from that endless pain. The earth breaks down the bodies that have stopped functioning, and the trees send their souls up into space. And beyond the source of the light, there is another, yet unseen world. Continuing to paint the forest is part of Okada’s own interpretation concerning the many farewells she may confront from now on, in order to accept them in a more positive light.
Naoko Okada was born in Osaka in 1982 and raised in Ibaraki. In her early childhood, she spent much of her time around a variety of animals such as songbirds, squirrels, rabbits, and ducks, in a vast, sprawling rural landscape. She went on to study art in high school, majoring in Japanese painting. Deeply impressed by Japanese painter Ryushi Kawabata’s Flaming Grass, she began to paint detailed images with natural motifs, including plants. While in school, she also happened upon digital painting software, and had the feeling that with this technique, she could pursue her own personal style of expression. After graduating, rather than going on to a university of the arts, she continued to learn digital art techniques through self-study.
After that, Okada began working as an illustrator, and was very fortunate in both her work and environment. However, at the age of 24, she fell ill with collagen disease, and was hospitalized for a long time. That period of time became a unique opportunity to think deeply about what she wanted to accomplish in her life. After leaving the hospital, she quit work as an illustrator and went all-out in her creative pursuits as a painter, in order to further develop the artistic expression she had sought after thus far. She was 25.
Okada’s encounter with the wolf occurred when she was 24. It was around the time she was at her limits, even emotionally, while suffering from progressive collagen disease. As she struggled with continuing insomnia, she became lost in hallucinations for long periods before finally falling asleep. When she imagined a quiet forest bathed in light, her mind was calmed, and she felt at ease. In these daydreams, a single white wolf would frequently appear in the forest. The wolf seemed to express both hope and despair, and always gave the impression that it was pleading for something. Okada named the wolf Rem, after the REM stage of sleep, but at the time, she did not anticipate that it would share her life for a long time afterward.
Okada holds a strong conviction that the most necessary thing in life is having friends. She believes that nothing can surpass the existence of friends connected in spirit, themselves surpassing the boundaries of blood and species. And so, she imagined that this wolf Rem had friends as well. In Japan, a lone wolf is seen as solitary and strong, but in the real wild, a lone wolf, ousted from the pack, lives a weak and sad existence. For Rem, a single crow was the perfect friend. A crow can adapt to any environment, living brazenly and strongly. Okada named the crow Kafka, and sent him traveling along with Rem. And so, the storytelling of her works continued to deepen further.
2001 Graduated Ibaraki Prefectural Toride Shoyo High School (Art Department, Japanese Painting Major)
2005 First Prize at Certify Grand Prix 2005 (Digital Art Division)
2006 Best in Realistic Illustration, 6th JIA International Illustration Competition
2008 Prize for Encouragement, 8th JIA International Illustration Competition
2008 Award of Excellence, Asia Digital Art Awards 2008
2008 Works begin to be displayed at Art Collection House, Co., Ltd. galleries in Suehirocho, Tokyo and Shinsaibashi, Osaka.
2010 In charge of cover art for Hathaway Jones (Hakusuisha)
2011 Solo exhibition in Harajuku
2011 In charge of cover art for No Going Back – Pregnant at 14 (Shogakukan)
2012 In charge of cover art for Funeral Suite (Hara Shobo)
2013 Provided CD album art for post-classical/electronica unit Films
2013 First original exhibition in Ginza
2014 Naoko Okada’s 10th Anniversary Commemorative Exhibition at the Yokohama Red Brick Warehouse
2014 Provided CD album art for pianist Yuki Murata
2015 Provided CD album art for Japanese instrumental band Anoice
2016 Permanent display of artwork at Proud Tower Musashi-Kosugi condominiums (all works exhibited on the 45th floor near the elevators)
2016 Exhibition at Bunkamura Wall Gallery in Shibuya
2016 Permanent display of artwork at Park City Kashiwanoha Campus condominiums (all works exhibited on the 36th floor near the elevators)
2017 In charge of packaging art for 10 varieties of “ayur paron” dried fruit snacks
2017 Solo exhibition at Hilton Hotel, Shinjuku