Type7 Vol.3, 2021 (PDF)

During the global pauses, many of us relied on our eyes to travel for us. Through video calls with friends across seas, social media posts from far away lands and magazine imagery of places we’d rather be. And then there are the artists who brought the outside world into our homes. Nao Tatsumi is one such artist, with a slight difference: her global streetscapes and familiar scenes from around the world are transmitted to her as well. A practice that, these days, perhaps many of us can relate to in our wanderlust and remembrance of before-times.

Though many of the scenes you see here appear like postcards and snapshots of memory, like the jungles painted by Henri Rousseau, Nao has never been to these places. Instead, they are virtual locations, drop pins she has made from scouring Google Street View. Since she started this body of work in 2017, Nao has been using Street View to seek inspiration and feed her curiosity about the world. Based in Yokohama City, Japan, the artist says that often, it would start from simply looking at destinations she had to travel to or whenever she would meet someone from near or far, fascinated about where they might come from. “I am curious about what it would look like to see the scenery overseas. I noticed that it would be quite a modern technique for me to be able to create a work based on a landscape as information collected by a machine, in this case, the Google vehicle, instead of drawing a picture based on a photograph.” Many of these places might be unremarkable, but that is also where much of the beauty in her work lies.

It should come as no surprise that Nao has a skilled architectural background, having studied at the Architecture Design of Art at the University of Tsukuba before moving on to illustration at Aoyama-juku. Of the switch, she says she would rather paint the beauty she saw in the world over being the one tasked with shaping a world someone else wanted. “ I travel virtually to places I have never been to and paint what I think is interesting. This is because, in the present age when various things are computerised and lose their depth, I like to remind myself of the warmth by cutting out information and returning its weight as a place within a painting,” she says of her practice. “First, I think about the atmosphere I want to paint at that time and select the area that suits it. Once the area is decided, all I have to do is search for the location on the map. Sometimes it takes hours, and sometimes it fits right where I dropped the pin.”

Nao is drawn to dilapidated buildings, street signs and memories of the past most of all. “I don’t put people in the landscape, but I want to draw the signs of people,” she says. “I want the painting to embrace the beauty of existence itself. Shadows are also important as an element that expresses existence, and I also draw the distortions found in Street View to keep in mind that it was originally just digital information.”

This artist’s work is a reminder of the information we consume in our virtual travels and how we attach a weight to what is really just ones and zeros, often overlooking what we can physically hold. “I create my work based on so-called “information” that has no mass itself, but I always want to feel a warm touch and story in the finished work. It is wonderful that various things are computerised to make the world more convenient, but I hope that the art will not be the former impression.” But if there is a single thing her practice has taught her, it’s that even though the window is digital, that doesn’t make it any less important and that it’s a reminder that we don’t have to travel far to be moved. “Beauty exists in a landscape that you casually pass by in your daily life. But it is also ephemeral and will disappear someday.”