Zen Saito (a.k.a. Yoshiyuki Saito) grew up in a small town in Japan with a family that supported his interest in art and his creativity. Early on he dreamed of becoming a designer. By high school, he was studying drawing and sculpture. By the age of 18, he had moved on to study design in Tokyo. Zen’s designs were often too innovative and his professors hinted that it would be better for him to become a fine artist.
When he entered a painting competition in Tokyo, he experienced a dramatic embarrassment. His work was criticized as very much like some of his favorite artists. Since then, he has searched to find his own “original” style. To do that, he realized he needed unique experiences and stimulation. Zen decided to take a big adventure overseas, so at the age of 24 he went on an expedition to New York City.
New York was not at the top of his list, but it was (and still is) one of the biggest cities in the world, with the highest concentration of different cultures thriving together creatively. Studying at The Art Students League of New York, he worked on many series of artwork, including “Tomorrow May Not Come,” “Signet on Freckles,” “Primitive,” “Reprimitive,” and “The Lamp Series.” He worked as an artist’s assistant for sculptor Helen Blundt for many years. He exhibited his work within group shows, and also presented solo exhibits in Brooklyn and Manhattan.
In 2007 he started helping with his friend’s construction projects in Massachusetts, eventually becoming a lead carpenter building “high-performance” homes. Shortly before leaving New York he met the most influential person for his art and his life, Yana Filkovsky. They moved to the Boston area together and married, joined by their famous cat, Orange. They always inspired each other and spent many years working together for their art.
Yana passed away in 2015. Zen worked on Yana’s memorial art show at Gallery Sitka with Tamar Russell Brown, which took place of the first anniversary of her passing. He also helped open Yana’s Art Museum in Bonaire, which Yana’s parents built in loving memory of their daughter and her art. Zen continues to work on presentations of Yana’s artwork and still pursues his own “original” style to this day.
Currently Zen is working on his new series, “Alter Conviction,” nights and weekends around his day job in construction.
My artwork is often based on nature, lately more plant-related than animal-related. I once wanted my artwork to carry messages to the world. I even targeted a specific audience — I wanted them to understand my thoughts — but recently I am just enjoying my creativity and different skills. I want to grow and I’m excited about the new challenges. I used to push myself to make dramatic progress and intensively strove to make sure my artwork was distinctive and unique.
— “Breaking your own rules can only bring new creativity.”
— “If I stay in lukewarm water it feels going rotten. I need completely new ideas for the next piece.”
— “Nothing is ever good enough. I need to get much better than this…”
— “I can’t fail. That would be the end of the world.”
— “I’m still tough on my creativity, but if I just let go there is no fun in it.”
— “I’m getting more and more on the side of nature and wild animals. I have started to feel like one of them.”
— “I have stopped caring about what’s going on in the world, and I’m not interested in spending time and effort taking part in the world anymore.”
My workshop is my world. Being on the side of nature and animals is my world. Humans will eventually destroy all wild nature. I have no optimism or hope for nature. There is no message that will stop us from prioritizing our convenience, our modern-life needs, our desires, our power, our greed.
A “very important person” once said to me, “Yes, we might not ever save them but you can’t live like an asshole!” I still put a lot of effort into leaving a smaller carbon footprint, but I don’t want to put a lot of energy and effort into actions against some opponent. I prefer to spend quality time with allies as long as there is time left for them and for myself. I appreciate their beauty, uniqueness, unbelievable functionalities. I will never even get close to their level of creativity but I’m enjoying studying them and I like to play like a child with them in my artwork.