Yumiko Kayukawa’s debut as an artist was with a Manga feature when she was just 16. Ever since, her talent, drive, and ambition has evolved her into a very saught after artist. I’ve been a fan of hers for years and it is a true honor to have her in the Creative Spotlight. As she grew up, Yumiko drew inspirations from American pop culture such as Rock & Roll, film and fashion. These influences are fused with modern and traditional Japanese motifs to create her unique style. We sit down and talk about culture difference between Japan and where she lives now (Seattle), her creative process, and more! Read below for the full interview…
The Asian influence in your work is obvious but was curious to know what specifically about western culture that unfluences your art.
Yumiko: To be honest, I don’t think there is a “Asian influence” in my work because I’m 100% Japanese who was born and raised in Japan. Its in my blood. But, I was influenced by western culture a lot. I grew up in a very small town in the countryside which was isolated from any big city culture. We have a lots of American/Western culture surrounding our lives. Especially through TV or movies. This is what I grew up with. And it was my biggest “entertainment” and inspiration. Since I was a child, I always loved animals. I loved to watch “Wild Kingdom”, “Lassie” or cartoons with animals such as Tom & Jerry or Disney films. I think they are a big influence for the comic taste in my work. Also movies and music were one of biggest source of the information about western culture, especially album covers. They are always a big inspiration.
What is the biggest culture shock between Seattle and Japan?
Yumiko: I have a lots of examples, but one of them I really think is different is that people here are pretty casual to talk to strangers. Usually people won’t talk to a stranger in a casual way in Japan. Especially at a store or restaurant, workers there won’t to talk to customers in a friendly or casual tone, but they would be polite. I like this culture here though, but I need practice to be casual.
What can we expect to see at the COMING HOME Gallery from September to October?
Yumiko: This is my 10th anniversary show since I started my career at the Roq La Rue gallery. I think people who have followed me from the beginning would be able to tell the difference in my work from 2001 to 2011 and I hope that people would enjoy that. The theme of the show is “Wish”. It’s connected to my feelings about the earthquake in Japan earlier this year. I assume that the disaster had a huge impact on many artists, and I’m the one of them especially because I’m from there. The show title piece “Coming Home” is dedicated to the spirits of the dead who are coming home for the Buddhist custom of “Obon“. My hope is that all the spirits who died at any age or in any situation, would have a happy journey to visit their families for Obon season. For the whole the show I put some positive feeling for the future of our country and the world.
“Country of Cherry Blossom” is making waves right now in anticipation towards its release. Could you tell us how this piece came to be?
Yumiko: Theme of that piece, is my vision of Japan from foreign country. As I live in the U.S. now, I can see the shape of Japan clearly from the outside. It’s small, old and fragile but it’s breathing and alive like a cherry blossom.
Is this process routine? What is the design process/procedure usually like for other pieces?
Yumiko: Yes, it’s a routine. Usually the title comes first. So I keep it in my title list. That list keeps growing and now I’m worried that I might not be able to paint them all in my lifetime. Anyways, I pick a title for a piece and start drawing on a paper. Design and most details comes from that process. After the drawing is finished, I’ll trace it on a canvas or a wood board, then start painting with acrylic. I also use ink pen for tiny details such as animal hair.
Being a fan of Wolves and movies, we recommend Princess Mononoke. Have you seen that?
Yumiko: Yes, a hundred times! Princess Mononoke is my favorite Miyazaki film. As I grew up in a small town, my playground was the nature around my house. I would play in the grass or near a river, there were small insects and animals all around. My family always had some dogs and they were my best friends. I was pretty much on “their” side as Princess Mononoke – San (That’s my joke, to call myself “a painter raised by wolves”). For the same reason, I loved the TV anime series “Heidi, Girl from Alps”, which also featured some Miyazaki scene designs and layouts. I empathized with Heidi as a country girl who can’t live in a big city, because of my childhood environment. The character Ashitaka from Princess Mononoke is the symbol of my feelings and a metaphor of our lives between human society and nature. That film got the point of view and it really strikes my heart.
We definitely see the traces of Anime and Manga influence in your work. Which other films do you enjoy to watch?
Yumiko: I grew up with 70-80’s stuff and I still love them. My favorite manga is “Macaroni Horenso” by Tsubame Kamogawa. I also love some of the mangas of Yoshihiro Takahashi and Kazuo Umezu.
As for anime, the TV series “Heidi, Girl from Alps” is always my favorite. The quality of that Anime is really different to compare with another ones from that time. I also love ‘Mazinger Z’ and ‘Devil Man’. Also Tezuka Osamu’s “Jungle Taitei” and “Wansa Kun”.
I have too many favorite films in my lists. “Rocky” and “Godfather” are always my top two. I Also love “Fandango”, “Heat”, “Shining”, “Fargo”, “Boogie Nights”, and my recent favorites are “Gran Torino”, “No Country for Old Men” and “The Wrestler”. Obviously, I love ‘Man films’! Sadly none of my girl friends agree to my Rocky review :(. But, I love these hard edge films with a good story. I also enjoy comedies and documentaries, too. For Japanese films, I’m into Yakuza films from the 70’s, and a bunch of action films of Hiroyuki Sanada, who is the last action hero from Japan. I watched “13 Assassins” recently, and I really enjoyed it. Many times it’s fun to see Takashi Miike’s unique direction style, but especially because this film is a Jidaigeki, and it was really exiting to see his way of Samurai sword story. Especially Hiroki Matsukata and Tsuyoshi Ihara’s classical and badass sword fighting scenes made me cry. I hope Miike would make another Jidaigeki film soon!
For a person who is unfamiliar with Shinto and Japanese folklore, what message would you like to convey to the audience who view your work?
Yumiko: I grew up with my grand parents and they told me many folk stories. Most Japanese people live in the culture of both Shinto and Buddhism, and our culture is very different from the US. Both Japanese folklore and culture are always living in my mind. I started to show more of them in my work since I moved to the US. I live in these two very different cultures now, and I have a passion to introduce both of them into my work.
You were given an opportunity to lend your talents after the horrible Earthquake hit your home country. Could you tell us a bit about how it felt to be able to contribute and raise funds using your talent?
Yumiko: I always think my kind of job is something like “desert” after a full course dinner. It’s a “extra” in of life and people can live without it. But, this “extra” was able to help. This is a special feeling for me to help my home country with my work, because I couldn’t be an independent artist there. If I still lived in Japan, I wouldn’t be able to help that much. I feel it’s a strange destiny. “My children” doing a good job for me. How lucky I am.
Lastly any advice for any creative reading this?
Work hard and pursue your passion. Work with someone who is sincere and respects you and your work.
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