Based in Japan: Gaku the Great

Based in Japan: Gaku the Great

The 22-year-old artist forging his own path


Meet Gaku, a 22-year-old artist on the severe end of the autism spectrum. With an IQ of 25, Gaku struggled for most of his life to connect with others and to find a means to communicate—his speaking skills alone have never advanced further than that of a five-year-old. But despite his limitations in some ways, Gaku has thrived and become a hugely successful artist, collaborating with world-renowned brands and holding more exhibitions than an exhibitionist ever would!

His father, Nori Sato, moved the family to Los Angeles and stayed there for nine years in the hopes of finding the needed care and assistance for his son, all while learning further about raising a child with disabilities. After returning to Kawasaki, Japan, Sato founded I’m INC to pursue a secure and reliable welfare program for his son. Sato himself has a story worthy of telling—leaving a cult and authoring a few books available for purchase online and in your local library. One of which details the struggles of leaving the cult, entitled “ドアの向こうのカルト 九歳から三五歳まで過ごしたエホバの証人の記録.”

After returning to Japan, Gaku’s passion for art grew from a newfound way of communicating. At Nobel High School in Tokyo, he met the director of arts, Coco. She readily took on the challenge to connect with and care for an unruly, temperamental teenager who had the tendency to run out of school—and all around the block before returning. As an avid fashion designer and artist for 30 years, she immediately bonded with her student and helped him express himself through colorful and expressive art.

Take a look at any Gaku piece and you’ll immediately take note of the vivid colors used. Bold and prominent subjects, often smiling, are the focus, much akin to the artist himself. Coco explains that at first Gaku showed no interest in painting because he didn’t want to get his hands dirty. She persisted because of the interesting work she witnessed with his paper and crayon drawings. Coco took him, along with his classmates, to the Taro Okamoto museum and Gaku was enthralled. Normally unable to sit still for five minutes, Gaku stood and stared for an unusually long time and was taken in by Okamoto’s “Sun.” The next day, much to the surprise of his teachers and father, Gaku proclaimed “Gaku paint!” He began with his rendition of the actual sun, a black background featuring various versions of the sun he’d perceived throughout his lifetime. 

The ambitious youngster never stopped painting from that moment on, completing over 200 pieces a year on average. Upon initial viewing of his work, many might notice the simplicity of his art, but through the eyes of those who attend his many exhibitions, they’d say that he finally found his way of communicating with the world: fun, colorful, and joyous – an outlook that many of us sadly lack in life. His father notes that the bold and powerful use of colors is driven by his autistic need to empty out all of the contents once a paint tube or can has been opened.

Gaku’s art has been noticed by many and has found success in ways that most only dream of. Articles and videos from Mainichi, Asahi, Fuji TV and Yahoo News feature his work and story. Famous brands have partnered with him and his art has been used in collaboration with their products, including but not limited to The Body Shop, LeSportsac, DIANA and an upcoming GODIVA collaboration.

As might be expected, this is taking an inspirational and motivational turn, and it should be. All of us have artistic skills somewhere inside ourselves, whether it’s painting, drawing, music, floral arrangements, writing, photography (including shitty food posts… blah) drunkenly singing in karaoke rooms, etc. Gaku found his inspiration by means of an encouraging teacher, a supportive family, and a surprising inspirational moment from a deceased artist. Art lives on after death, and if you can be a means to inspire someone by saying a kind word of encouragement, do it, even if it’s only received after your life has passed.

More on that GODIVA collaboration is as follows: Gaku’s premium package designs will be available at GODIVA stores nationwide from October 1st, 2023! Check Diana Shoes for a special shoe, sandal, and handbag collab too.

Gaku’s latest solo exhibition will be held at Futako Tamagawa Rise Studio & Hall in the upscale neighborhood of Futako Tamagawa in Setagawa City, Tokyo. The winter exhibition will feature 150 Gaku originals! But if you can’t wait until the Sea of Japan blows in the bitter cold winds of winter, be sure to check his social media account and/or website for further updates:

Instagram: @bygaku0501