The time-honoured advice for a new writer is to write about what you know. Artist David Blandy has extended this to making work which reflects his own passions for Japanese culture.

Odysseys, which runs throughout the Brighton Digital Festival, features anime-style films, video games and sculptures made of Lego to ask deeper questions about the stories around us and personal identity.

“My work has always dealt with popular culture,” says Blandy, who is based in Brighton and London. “These are the things I consume on a day-to-day level – computer games, cartoons, television and film.

“It started to make sense with this project when I started thinking about my relationship with Japan and other cultures. I was trying to make something that speaks and looks like it’s a bit of popular culture but has this other content going on.”

One example of that mix of pop culture and deeper meaning is Child Of The Atom. The film combines Japanese anime with a filmed documentary of Blandy and his daughter visiting Hiroshima, where the first atomic bomb was dropped by the US.

“It was a way of addressing the past,” says Blandy. “We consume popular culture as a form of catharsis – to deal with the dramas of everyday life we watch war or horror movies.”

Blandy’s own grandfather was a Japanese prisoner of war, adding an extra dimension to Blandy’s own obsession with the East.

“These two things were alongside each other through-out my life,” he says. “I had a Japanese penpal as a friend when I was six who came to our school. We were great friends and when he left I gave him a tabletop cricket set and he gave me an electronic baseball game.

“I always had difficulty talking about that friendship with my grandfather. I only later realised he had been a POW, which affected his whole life. He wouldn’t drive a Japanese car or eat rice as it was all he had to eat when he was a prisoner. My love for Japanese culture was always against this family history background.”

His experiences of Hiroshima were very positive.

“Like most people who are into video games and anime, Japan has become a mecca,” admits Blandy. “When I went on holiday in 2004, I felt I had to go to Hiroshima and see what it was like.

“I was expecting a barren wasteland but it’s this teeming, beautiful and youthful city. It became one of my favourite places I went to – a real surprise.

“We live in a different world and a different time, but we are still living with the repercussions of the Second World War. It’s difficult for us to understand. In many ways we have become like time-travellers – we get all our ideas of life from our teens and 20s, and we are stuck with them. It’s difficult to see the world in a different way. “I have everything filtered through the early 1990s, with the grunge and hip-hop look, while you still see older guys with slicked back 1940s hair who have had that same style for 70 years.”

Part of Blandy’s use of pop culture is to make sure his work is easily accessible.

“You don’t have to understand the history of art to get a handle on it,” he says. “I want it to be relatable. People understand TV because they watch it every day and people understand sculptures made of Lego because it is something they have played with.

“I use the things around us to deal with the philosophical quandries of everyday life. I guess I make the assumption that if I love this stuff, then other people will love it too.”

His most recent work is an anime epic, Anjin 1600, which he made in collaboration with the illustrator Inko. The piece uses new animation and found footage from a “two-and-a-half-hour epic and very boring film” to tell the story of William Adams, the first Briton to set foot on Japanese soil in 1600.

“I wanted to try to make my own TV series,” says Blandy. “I loved Ulysses 31 as a child, which was the story of Homer’s Odyssey set in space. It sort of half made sense – its style was half French and half Japanese. It blew my mind as a child and that love of anime continued through to Akira, Princess Mononoke [which Blandy will be introducing at the Duke Of York’s Picturehouse, in Preston Circus, Brighton, on Monday, September 17] and Spirited Away.

“With anime, everything is so childlike, with their large eyes and extraordinary hair and features on the characters. It has a very strong visual style, with bold lines and colours. It’s an expansion of that superhero world and geek culture, it all fits together, seeing the world in a very simplistic way.”

He is currently working on a second part of the epic in 3D, alongside a rhythmic action computer game in the style of Guitar Hero, using the different songs from his films.

His previous works also feed into the playable video arcade game Duels And Duality, which pits characters from each movie, including Blandy, against each other in a Tekken or Street Fighter-style video game.

“I like the idea of your identity being a brand,” says Blandy. “The only way we can understand ourselves is through the stories we tell ourselves, and who we are becomes like a branding exercise – it’s tragic and also interesting.”

Also in development is a project with his father, also an artist who specialises in pastels of landscapes from life.

“I’m giving him backgrounds from games I played when I was younger,” says Blandy. “He is exaggerating those into landscapes in his usual style. It really covers the relationship between the generations and our art.”

  • David Blandy - Odysseys is at Phoenix Brighton, Waterloo Place, Brighton, from Saturday, September 1, to Sunday, September 23. Open 11am to 6pm, free. Call 01273 603700
  • Brighton Digital Festival takes place at venues across Brighton until September 30. For more information visit