Pavel Sipkin is a Russian-born Tokyo-based architect and conceptual artist working at Kengo Kuma and Associates. His love of Tokyo underscores all his hours, whether it’s his architecture job or his passion for art and drawing. Although architecture has always been and always will be his biggest love, for Sipkin it’s intrinsically connected with drawing. He event taught academic drawing at the Moscow Institute of Architecture.

“Because of Russian education, many of us develop great drawing skills,” he tells Tokyo Weekender when we meet him at his art pop-up as part of the Roses and Castles event in Shibuya Parco.

Sipkin has had several exhibitions, namely in Moscow in 2015, Milan in 2016 and five exhibitions in Tokyo. In each exhibition, the city is his muse. Yet instead of just sketching urban scenes as they are, Sipkin takes a more fanciful approach to his art.

“I transform the usual cityscape to create fantastic visual cacophonies,” he tells us. “It’s the full spectrum of modern city life with a crazy mix of senses: sound, smell, texture…”

The Distinct Characters of Tokyo Neighborhoods

Sipkin’s Tokyo scenes are rooted in reality. They build on common sights and neighborhoods while adding a dash of magical realism. Sipkin believes this process is a bit like cooking. He has the staple ingredients from the place, then he mixes them and creates something different. Something enhanced and a bit more compressed.

As with the real streets of Tokyo, a number of things are always happening in the illustrations. Shibuya Station is bursting with people in Halloween costumes in one drawing. Another revolves around a giant image of the dog, Hachiko. There’s Kappabashi and its giant chef head, a genuine element that hasn’t been enlarged as an artistic expression. In a nighttime scene near Yoyogi Station, a JR train whooshes past above the street. While this might seem imaginary to some, for many Tokyoites, it is daily life. Sipkin has taken the city’s controlled-chaos and turned it up to 11.

He enjoys drawing Tokyo part by part because neighborhoods tend to have their own distinct quirks. He tells us he’s set his eyes on Harajuku and Yanaka next, as soon as he carves out time in his busy schedule.

Konbini is a Sanctuary

Both realistic and magically unrealistic, Sipkin’s Tokyo drawings contain the hyperbolized minutiae of daily life.

“This 7-Eleven is near my house. Nothing special,” Sipkin says about one of his drawings. Granted, there’s a giant onigiri flying in, but the supersized representation feels right considering the role that convenience stores play in a Tokyoite’s life.

“I feel that konbini is kind of a holy place,” Sipkin says with a smile. “It’s like a place of worship whenever you are in the city and it’s giving you protection.”

That explains the appearance of a Buddha statue and a Daruma head in Sipkin’s drawings of Family Mart and 7-Eleven respectively. He also has an illustration centered around Lawson, capturing the big three convenience store brands we all oscillate around. And just like a well-stocked convenience store, these illustrations are full of items to find. The more you look at them, the more visual treats you can discover.

Pavel Sipkin | Photo by Zoria Petkoska

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See more of Sipkin’s illustrations on his Instagram.