Naoki Iwakawa was born in Osaka, Japan, in 1967. He graduated from Osaka University of the Arts, where he also taught briefly as an assistant professor of Graphic Design, soon after moving to New York City in 1991.
Upon his arrival to New York City, his art began showing at OK Harris in Noho Manhattan, founded by Ivan Karp former Art co-director (Leo Castelli Gallery from 1959 to 1969); who aided in popularizing the initial generation of Pop artists, including Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, and Robert Rauschenberg.
In 1996, Iwakawa cofounded the CAVE, an experimental art space that fostered an eclectic group of musicians, artists, and performers. At the CAVE, Iwakawa further developed his interest in live performance painting as well as the artistic use of fire, a practice that would later garner him the title of Village Voiceʼs Best Pyrotechnic Action Painter (2008). He learned to produce paintings instinctively, with an emphasis on acceptance of the natural world and the present moment. The idea of the moment, as sought by Zen Buddhists, has been the prominent theme of Iwakawaʼs work and life.
Iwakawa is also drawn to the relationship between music and visual art. He collaborated for many years with Tim Wright, of the no-wave band DNA. One of Iwakawaʼs latest projects is "Sense of Noise", a performance series featuring artists and musicians improvising together over a single yet constantly transforming idea.