Akiko da Silva is an amazing creative currently living in the town of Karuizawa in central Japan. She is a multi-faceted artist experienced in brand development, advertising, and print campaigns for clients ranging from small startups to multinational corporations. We talk about her passion for creative communication, her admiration for Wong Kar-wai, and her 2015 calendar that is making waves online. Read below for the full Q&A…
What were the early instances in which you found yourself engaged by great design?
I think my earliest memories of being hooked in by design are all food related! Without understanding it was “design”, as a kid I remember being fascinated by packaging and logos. The classic polka-dotted wrapped Calpis bottle, the Coca-Cola logo, the Milky candy and Morton salt girls, the shape and wrapping of Hershey’s iconic kisses… it’s incredible how design can be so interwoven in memory and personal history!
How did you latest project, an illustrated 2015 calendar featuring the daruma, come about!?
A little south of where I live now is Takasaki city, which is the capital of the Daruma doll. The Shorinzan Daruma Temple there is where the doll originated. We got some dolls at the huge Daruma market they hold there every year and I found that having this physical embodiment of my goal was really helpful as a constant reminder to keep working at it. I became really fond of the tradition and thought it would be a fun challenge to put my own spin on it.
Yet, Japan is known for a lot of New Year customs and traditions. One of my favorites is eating soba buckwheat noodles to wish for a life that’s as long as the long, skinny noodles they’re eating. Are you going to explore other customary trends surrounding different holidays?
Hmm, I do love Children’s day and seeing all the colorful koinobori carp streamers swimming in the wind across rivers and in people gardens. Never thought about it before, but it would be pretty cool to design unique koinobori.
So you are given an assignment for a small startup, and an assignment for a huge corporate company. Both involve brand management. Do you treat each assignment differently or do you dive into them with the same creative process?
I think I do approach every project, whether for an individual or large company, basically the same way and using the same process. Every client wants to connect with an audience and I see it as my job to help form that communication. I feel that a message is embodied in every fiber of a brand, from the smallest icons to the typeface used in the humblest of communications. The design process refines this message until the client and I, as a team, have arrived at a solution that hopefully elevates their company and engages their audience in a meaningful way.
A few years ago you worked as a Senior Graphic Designer for Forever 21 which is primarily a United States based company who wanted to reach an international audience. How were you able to successfully take an existing brand and marketing towards an entirely different group of people?
Forever 21 has a pretty defined identity, and that’s all about youthfulness and having fun with fashion. Luckily in the markets I worked on, all big cosmopolitan cities, there were already large populations of consumers open to the idea of shopping as a means of self-expression and as entertainment. I wanted to make sure we stood out among the competition by presenting an image of a unique retailer that was really fresh and fun while highlighting the great variety of fashion the store has to offer.
What are some of your favorite Asian films?
I love just about everything from my favorite Asian directors Koreeda Hirokazu and Wong Kar Wai. Koreeda’s films are beautifully understated and have a very quiet aesthetic that can nevertheless profoundly shake your soul. Nobody Knows is simply stunning. Wong Kar Wai just creates magic, doesn’t he? In the Mood for Love is just impossibly beautiful.
What would you say are the aesthetic common threads that communicate your style brand to clients and customers?
Modern minimalist design is really appealing to me, but I naturally tend toward the colorful, exuberant, and playful. I have tried to fight this tendency of mine in the past, but I’ve just come to accept it now. Incorporating more of my illustration into my work is part of that. I think clients come to me now wanting to incorporate these qualities in their projects, so it’s a good thing!
What is it like working with your husband? Good times?
[Laughs] Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to work with my husband, who’s a photographer, just a few times. I would really love to be able to collaborate with him a lot more. While I can take any kind of commentary from a client, I find it really hard to take critique from my own husband! It’s a little problem I’ll be working on.
Ok, so, it’s January 1st, 2015 and you have a Daruma doll sitting in your lap. You fill in one of the eyes. What is your first goal you are setting out for yourself?
Ooh nice question! I’ve been working on developing my surface design skills— basically patterns and graphics for textiles. Developing a surface design portfolio is definitely a goal for the new year. If I could successfully sell a pattern collection, that would be just awesome, and I would fill in Daruma’s other eye and give thanks for his help!
Digital ad spending, up 17 percent year-over-year in 2013, continues to grow at a fast rate. Are you still a firm believer in print? Or do you look to the future?
The digital universe and particularly smartphones are undeniably changing our culture in really exciting ways. I enjoy designing for web and am actually working on icon designs for mobile apps. Good design is definitely essential to good digital experiences. That being said, I’m also looking forward to a future where print and the unique tactile and sensory experience it offers is still very much desired!
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With episode #375 we feature a definition of hustling, motivation, and talent. After majoring in International Economics and working in finance for a few years, Trebles and Blues started making music. If you follow his musical journey you can literally see the evolution of his progress. ‘From My Father’ is a journey that takes you through the life of Trebles and Blues father. He intermixed jazz with samples of Korean folk music that his father used to listen too. If you take a look at his current project, Seasonality, dropping on Tuesday, it exclusively uses Brazilian music as its source. We chat about his life before music, his involvement in community music programs, his new sound and more! Read below for the full Q&A…
A few years back Sessions LA no longer had the financial means without crowdfunding to continue. Why do you think community music programs always seem to be hard to maintain?
Before I delve into your question, I just want to state that Sessions LA is still going on, but the details of its duration are still being explored. I’m currently a music production instructor for an 8-week long, once-a-week collaboration between Sessions and Inner-City Arts (another great non-profit organization here in LA), but from my understanding, Sessions as a standalone program will continue once again in early 2015.
That’s great to hear! Do you feel creativity isn’t rewarded enough in formal education?
In regards to your insightful question, I think art as a whole is just not fostered as much within our traditional educational system. Math and science continue to remain top priorities at the high school level, with music, graphic design, and fine art all falling staunchly into the “extracurricular activities / hobbies” bucket. If this is the structure that our youth have to fit into, the role of community music programs is to expand that foundation and reaffirm our students’ beliefs that their passions are indeed important. Programs such as Sessions LA exist to emphasize the fact that growing your artistic craft teaches you just as much (if not more) about the principles of dedication, persistence, and patience, as being a student of any other subject matter. I think formalized education still has a ways to go, but I feel that our current generation of entrepreneurs, musicians, and other independent/creative minds are being rewarded for their efforts. I hope that this can eventually be an agent of much-needed change within our educational system.
And you are another brave soul who worked and ventured out into a career but decided it wasn’t for you. Did it take a certain amount of courage for you to transition to music full time or were you pretty gung ho?
At the time, it really seemed like a no-brainer. I do want to preface that I currently am working in finance once again, but when I decided to make that initial leap about three years ago, I just knew that it needed to be done. I was in a place where I was unsatisfied with the pace of work and how purposeless it all seemed, but my passion for beatmaking was so prevalent. After realizing this, it wasn’t a move that was done with courage, but more so out of necessity.
The interesting thing is that the risk of making that sort of move is essentially one thing: the concern of money. The rewards, however, are countless. I originally left finance to do just one thing: make music. During the process though, I met so many incredible people and made some good stuff all at the same time. I joined Sessions LA, connected with the youth, worked on From My Father, performed in Japan, worked with Absolut Zero (an independent Japanese label), executive produced an album with Gowe, toured colleges with him, and so much more.
In the end, it’s ultimately all about balance. I think that for some, the lack of money really motivates them to make better art, but for me, I didn’t like the fact that I had to focus on selling my stuff. I’m not sure how my views may change over the next few years, but as of now, I’m working on balancing my work as a finance professional with my work as a musician.
So, you worked in finance for three years, and its been slightly over three years since you’ve released your debut project to the masses. Comparing each three year life event, what do you think is the biggest contrast between the two in how it has affected your life?
Being a musician has really taught me what it feels like to be empowered by your art and of the artistry that surrounds you. I am fortunate to have found an artform that I’m passionate about, and I am so thankful for that. However, I feel that as an artist, it also becomes easy to doubt yourself because art is such a subjective thing, and knowing what its worth is at any time (both monetarily and emotionally) is very challenging.
When it comes to areas like law, medicine, finance, things of that sort, the value of your profession is pegged to a hard value, whether it’s in the form of a salary, bonus, benefits, whatever. Things are much more defined and structured in that realm, and many of the roads have already been traversed. Music has allowed me to go on this wonderful path of self-discovery, where I long to stay determined and continuously build my identity as an artist, regardless of the challenges that lie ahead. The opening up of this gateway has been the largest effect that it has had on me to this day.
Is ‘Days of Contrast’ a peek into a bigger project for you? Perhaps a gateway into the direction of how you want future projects to sound?
It’s interesting you ask me this, because No Alias (the other half of Days of Contrast) and I just got back from a “beat retreat” in Joshua Tree this past weekend, which means that new music is on its way! Days of Contrast is simply our way of linking up as an official duo to have fun and release music together as a collective. I’ve made music with No Alias for a little over four years now, and everything that we’ve made together has been part of an ever evolving, organic process. I honestly think that we put out an amazing project in March titled When Life Was Simpler, which also has some beautiful artwork that was created by my girlfriend.
In regards to your questions, since Days of Contrast is not a solo effort on any part, I personally don’t know the precise direction it’s going to go in because we kind of just go with the flow. It’s awesome because we’re amazed at just how different our stuff is when we compare it with our individual work. I would like to say that we have a certain style, but man, the stuff we created this past weekend is sounding great, and has a really different tone than what we have made in the past. Hopefully we will get to share it with everyone soon!
If people follow your Soundcloud they are given daily offerings of some sweet instrumentals. Will your next full length album be using Kickstarter as well or will you go another route?
My next project, Seasonality, will be released via my Bandcamp on December 16th (next week Tuesday), and it will be a digital-only release. As a result, I won’t be using Kickstarter for this project. I’ll touch a bit more on Seasonality later!
As a fan of Nujabes who contributed heavily to the OST of Samurai Champloo, we wanted to ask you if you could construct a soundtrack to any anime of your choice, which would you choose and why?
I actually don’t watch much anime; the only one I was ever really into was Dragonball Z (and just the manga, the TV shows were just way too slow for me to follow regularly). However, you bring up Nujabes, and I have seen some episodes of Samurai Champloo. I remember watching this scene where they played “Counting Stars”, and it just fit so well. Nujabes was really somethin’ else man. It’s funny, I hardly listen to his music now, but when I first heard his stuff back in 2008, I immediately fell into this deep phase where I connected with his music so much. To be honest, I really long for that feeling again, where I was so enamored with someone’s art that it became the soundtrack for my life. There’s a lot of good music out now as well, but I don’t think I’ve ever connected that much with an artist’s music like I did with Nujabes’ artistry a little over six years ago. So with my limited knowledge of anime, I’d answer your question with Samurai Champloo and try my hand at it. The only other thing I’d say is Dragonball Z, but I’d probably have to find a ton of psychedelic rock samples to make songs for the million times they need to power up before they finally fight the dude.
How do you approach a remix, taking an existing tune and putting your own spin on it while keeping the integrity of the original?
I usually would already be in the process of making a beat, then I’d listen to it and think, “Hey, this would sound dope if so-and-so was rhyming or singing on it.” I did that for the Biggie remix I put out a few months ago because the beat I was working on had this really dark tone to it already, so I thought that putting one of his acapellas over it would sound great.
The only time I remixed something purposefully was a lagrima track by DJ Phatrick, which was fun to do.
To be honest, I don’t really do too many remixes; I enjoy listening to them, but I’m not an active participant in creating them at this point.
As a fan of 9th Wonder, Dilla, 60s and 70s soul music, etc. How important is crate digging to you? Also your thoughts on the renewed interest in the vinyl medium?
Digging in the crates for samples is very important to the longevity of hip hop culture, and is something that I enjoy doing as well. However, I’m not one of those purists that believe that you need to find your samples in the form of a vinyl record, because at this point, the resources are so vast that it would be a shame not to tap into what technology has been able to provide to us. I enjoy digging for records, but a majority of what I sample has been obtained online.
I think the renewed interest in the vinyl medium is awesome! I either read or heard someone speak on how music was consumed before the Walkman came out; since vinyl was the primary method of music consumption, people would actually set time out of their day to listen to the record, from start to finish, in one sitting. It was really an experience for them. When the Walkman came out, music became portable, so it kind of became just background/ambient noise for other primary activities, and everything changed. Now that vinyl is having a resurgence, I think it allows people to just sit down and simply listen to the record as one great experience.
Looking back on your career, do you think ‘Blue Note’ will ultimately be your ‘Illmatic’? Are you not so much concerned with outdoing the last record as you are crafting a new experience?
Each project is essentially a snapshot in time of what I am feeling, what I am inspired by, and where my life stands. The Blue Note was a culmination of all my primary influences at the time, from Nujabes to 9th Wonder, and it was my way of personifying that through my own art. I don’t think that The Blue Note will be the benchmark of my work, as I continuously strive to do different things with my music because inspiration arrives in so many different genres and formats. Even with Nas, he has made phenomenal music outside of Illmatic, and it isn’t Illmatic alone that has moved his career forward for so many years. I know Nas gets a lot of flack for his music “not being as good as his first album”, but I think it’s a little blown out of proportion. I mean, what about “If I Ruled the World”? “Nas Is Like”? “Ether”?!?! These are career-defining songs he has made well after Illmatic. Anyway, without getting too off-track [laughs], I feel that my own craft has definitely evolved since 2011, and I am proud of where It is going.
In regards to your second question, at this point in my career, I really want to craft unique experiences with each project. The Blue Note (2011) was my homage to that soul/jazz vibe that initially captivated me to make beats. From My Father (2013) was a very personal project that allowed me to use a completely different medium (Korean folk music) to create an experience about my parents.
My next project, Seasonality, which comes out in a week, is completely different. It is constructed solely using Brazilian samples, with an emphasis on that funky and groovy vibe that makes you want to dance. It’s really my first venture into uptempo music, and it sounds nothing like my first two projects. It’s interesting also because I know folks have flipped Brazilian samples before, but I think the way I approached them is quite different. I dropped a single titled “Your Move” it last Tuesday, so you can get a taste of what to expect!
Lastly, any advice for any aspiring beatmakers?
If you truly love making beats, then be really grateful that you have found a passion. It’s something that goes a long way, and something that will act as a great outlet to channel your emotions and experiences you have throughout your life. With that said, there will be challenges to face too! You might have creative blocks, doubts, and uncertainties as to where this will ultimately go (which I do as well), but the only thing I can say to that is to keep pushing. I’m also trying to figure it out too, but as long as I keep creating, I think clarity will develop as a result of that effort. Keep at it!
Thanks to Marcello from Japan Cinema for the insightful questions. Remember, Seasonality drops on Tuesday, December 16th, at http://treblesandblues.bandcamp.com. I hope y’all enjoy it!
This week’s first episode of the Creative Spotlight shines on Wishcandy, or Sashiko Yuen, a fresh Portland resident whose work is essentially a sassy candy-coated horror show. It’s full of compassion, eroticism, violence, and the search for true freedom. Inspired by retro culture, street fashion, kitsch, beauty, and the grotesque. Currently building up a world of paintings and illustration, as well as looking for gallery shows, we thought now would be the perfect time to hunt Sashiko down and beg her for an interview. We talk about films, art, her upbringing, and more! Read below for the full Q&A…
As a kid how did you gain exposure to kitschy pin-up girls and why do you think your mother was OK with the nude aspect?
[Laughs] My mom was definitely okay. She just worried what my dad would say if she found my nude and pin-up girl drawings. She understood the importance of artistic curiosity and studying the human form, because she was an artist too! Studied fashion design for a while at the Fashion Institute of Technology for a while, but left when she got married. As a kid, i’d sit on the sofa with her while she was watching runway shows and old movies. We’d spend hours at a bookstore or library. I’m pretty sure she showed me Vargas and Elvgren, as well as plenty of fashion illustrators she loved. Now my mom tells everyone and anyone she can about my work. She’s proud and a few of her co-workers have become my clients.
It seemed it was your own self-confidence and your teachers who motivated you to persue art and not your parents. Do you hold any resentment towards your father in that regard?
Both my parents became supportive by the time I reached college age. They supported me, though they wanted something more stable for me. Believed when I graduated I’d go on to work for the government, doing art as a hobby. They’re both incredibly proud of me now. I don’t resent my father at all. At some point most of us realize our parents are people. They did the best they could raising us and come with their own set of issues/ insecurities. I discovered they mean well, but it’s my life and I’m going to do my own thing. They respect that now. Me and my dad are closer than we’ve ever been, and have lots of laughs about our disagreements. With him and I, I think it comes down to how he was raised and a general generational difference.
Tell us a bit about your participation at “Post its X” at Giant Robot. With such a small canvas how did you approach your design(s)?
In college one of my old drawing professors, Donna Hepner, gave us a challenge. She made Drawing 2 students do 50 drawings. The intent was to experiment and not over think. We had two weeks. When we went on to Drawing 3, we had to do 100 drawings in two weeks. I treated the Post its the same way, basically improv.
As an artist that loves to tackle duality — beautiful and the grotesque/colorful and dark — what avenues can you explore as an artist. Does the subject matter deal with your current mood or simply your curiosities?
Usually I’m responding to a mood or event. Sometimes I just think the idea would be funny (I don’t always take art super seriously). Events I respond to are deeply personal things that happen to me or things going on politically. I don’t usually tell people exactly what each piece is about unless it’s a close friend or I’m in a rare sharing mood.
As for the duality, nothing in the world is as black and white as it seems. Growing up I’d see hearts and unicorns plastered on girls’ things OR something action/ violence packed for boys. Or something to encourage a boy’s intelligence. I can’t stand the gendered marketed socialized view of our world. Wondered why I couldn’t find something to relate to. So I’m making it. Doesn’t have to be separate. We’re multi-faceted.
A lot of your subjects involve women with multi-colored hair. Do you shy away from illustrating men and the topics explored therein? What is the creative process behind that?
There are plenty of women depicted in art. But there aren’t too many that depict how women really are. Tons of men paint or write about women in such a flat way. Women are incredibly strong, and fierce. However those words need to be redefined. Someone who is strong may still need help, they cry, they make mistakes, they’re not perfect. The girl who quits university for her mental health is strong. The woman who works multiple jobs and is completely lost but holding it together, is strong. The woman who cooks, cleans, runs errands, and helps her family is strong.
We don’t need more depictions of men. They are everywhere, in books, on screen, in music. They’re well rounded people/ characters. Often enough, women aren’t granted the same respect. (Forgot to mention, women who are into fashion are seen/ depicted as vain. It’s unfair. In a world that judges you on appearance. She is being self loving. She is taking control on how the world sees her and how she sees herself. She can reflect her own definition of beauty. Beauty and brains! Suck on that, world!)
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
There are a lot! The Vengeance trilogy by Park Chan-Wook, Love Exposure, Battle Royale, Dumplings, and Hausu. Anime? Sailor Moon, Haibane Renmei, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, and any Hayao Miyazaki film.
How is Portland nurturing you as an artist compared to California? What prompted the move and what kind of things do you have going on?
I grew a lot as a person in California; more fearless, learned more about self care, and learned to communicate better. Went through a lot of drama in my living situation, flew back and forth between coasts, and underwent a health crisis. Discovered a chronic illness. This summer I visited Portland and it just felt refreshing. Visited an online friend and it felt like we’d known each other all our lives. What I’d now call my platonic sweetheart. Met up with a few artists I’d known from online too. It’s exactly what I need right now. A close friend and an art community. Some time to get my shit together after the trauma I endured in California. Though I should tell you after like three years of constant sunshine, as a non native, I needed to experience seasons again!
Now that you are in Portland are you going to be exhibiting a lot less in California and focus more on local shows? What plans are ahead for you?
No way! I’ll be everywhere, like a candy-coated plague you grow to love. I plan on experimenting in different media. Painting in oil/ acrylic. Working on photography with a friend or two. Making clothes and accessories and start work[ing] on a top secret film, hopefully that pans out.
Lastly, any advice for a budding creative just starting out?
Work hard as hell, way harder than you think you have to. That’ll put you way ahead. Make friends with people whose work you love. Don’t be fake or mean — that shit will come back to haunt you and eat you alive. The art community is super small!
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This episode we explore the works of photographer Seung-Hwan Oh who uses homegrown bacteria, to warp and manipulate his photographs, surrendering his art to a higher ecological order. The process involves the cultivation of emulsion consuming microbes on a visual environment created through portraits and a physical environment composed of developed film immersed in water. As the microbes consume light-sensitive chemical over the course of months or years, the silver halides destabilize, obfuscating the legibility of foreground, background, and scale. This creates an aesthetic of entangled creation and destruction that inevitably is ephemeral, and results in complete disintegration of the film so that it can only be delicately digitized before it is consumed. He explains that his intention is to “explore the impermanence of matter as well as the material limitations of photography.” Curious to know more myself, I invited him to showcase his work and creative process in the Creative Spotlight. Read the full Q&A below…
I think it’s more interesting when artists come from totally different backgrounds and they bring that into it. Tell us about the moment in your life when you shifted from micro biology to taking art more seriously?
I’m not biologist nor scientist. I’m just an artist who’s interested in science. I’ve started to combine science with art since ‘Camouflage’ in 2010. I think my reading practice would help me to work conceptually. I have wished that my work would make an appeal, if the message behind the technique and the image itself could be revealed.
Let’s take out the element of micro biology and just focus on your skills as a photographer. Do you think that alone would garner the amount of attention your work gets, or do you need to have the added elements to stand from the crowd? Do you deem it necessary?
‘Impermanence’ is about an idea that all the matter including all the life forms collapse in our spatial-temporal dimension we belong to. This idea was inspired by the second law of thermodynamics (entropy theory). I have found a beauty in it.
In turn, by making your artwork ‘sick’, how do you think that emotionally effects the viewers of your work? Is there a sense of hope that one could gain from the mistreatments of your images?
I thought that damaging the portraits of mankind was more striking and effective to attract one’s attention as well as to convey the idea of impermanence of matter in an aesthetic of entangled creation and destruction that inevitably is ephemeral.
You stated that microbes consume light-sensitive chemicals over the course of months or years. Does this mean that your work isn’t produced quickly? Even exposing your entire image to radiation to kill the bacteria can take weeks/months.
To be precise, the microbes consume the gelatin that covers the light-sensitive chemicals. My project ‘Impermanence’ requires extremely time-consuming process and takes extremely low probability to have a right image. Once you set up, I don’t control anything on elements of the image. It’s just random. To put thing in perspective, only about one out of 500 frames of medium format color reversal film comes out properly and I only have 15 of them so far since I started the project in 2010.
What other avenues would you like to explore within your field? For example, for those unaware, using different bacterias can produce different colors. For example, E. coli produces a sort of glow-in-the-dark effect. Where do you see your mind going next?
I really don’t know where my mind goes next.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
It’s been 20 years since your ‘Ruins of Pleasure’ series. Looking at the project now versus then, how do you view it? Has your thought process changed at all on how you approached it originally?
My thought process evolved very slowly in all direction, I guess, on positive side I’m much more experienced emotionally and more opened intellectually than 20 years ago. I think the latter is mainly by readings.
You haven’t physically shown any work in the United States since the 90s. Do you find comfort showing work in Seoul or are you open to how different parts of the world take in your work?
I’m quite open to the world with my work.
What plans do you have for 2015?
I have nude project with same technique and process in 2015.
Lastly, any advice for any budding creative?
Want to know more? Visit his official site below:
Timothy Lee is watercolor artist born in Seoul, but raised in New York City. Educated at Wesleyan University with a degree in neuroscience, drawing and developmental biology, he uses his background in cytohistology to create large-scale watercolor paintings and sculptures. His works utilize a scientific language to render abstract forms and portraits which investigate the Korean and American perspectives on psychological disorders, and how these different views clash and align. He uses his anxiety disorders as a vector for a narrative, highlighting social issues and confronting them in the process. We sat down with him to explore his work, technique, and creative process. The process, which is often mentally and physically draining for the artist, results in works which are often seen as ethereal and delicate. Read below for the full Q&A…
As a Korean-American living and working in the United States, when did you originally leave Seoul? And did the move have an adverse effect on your struggling personality as a youth?
I left Korea with my family and immigrated to the States when I was five. The funny thing about leaving at that age is that even though I have some very early memories of my childhood living in Seoul, they don’t seem like my own – they feel strangely foreign sometimes, like I’m remembering a scene from a movie. The move itself did not have an adverse effect on my “struggling personality,” whatever that means. Rather, my panic and anxiety attacks developed as a result of various socioeconomic factors: the pressures of having to “Americanize” as quickly as possible, the subtle discriminations our family faced daily, and the poverty we experienced as immigrants in a new country.
They say the best watercolor block paper is usually Aquarelle Arches. Is that true? If so, what qualities about give you the advantage as an artist to get your desired results?
Nearly all of my works on paper are made with Aquarelle arches, whether it is block paper or rolls. I think it’s the best – it certainly works the best for my pieces. When I first started making art, I experimented with a lot of different surfaces and had to purchase and use a lot of different types of papers. I found that aquarelle arches are sturdy enough to withstand the repeated abuse of my techniques – I often drown my paper in layers of water, so I needed a paper that wouldn’t deteriorate after a few washes.
To my mind, compositions should spring from what you want to express about the subject matter, not from a formula. Your Tower of Babble is a great piece that represents my opinion. How do you go about the process of overlaying textured patterns to an image?
In most of my pieces, and especially in the ones where there is no representational imagery, I try to remove myself from thinking about composition and principles of aesthetics when I work. I want my works to stem from visceral and organic processes that transcend conceptual contemplation. One way I achieve this is by entering a meditative state while painting – almost a trance, where I block out most of my external stimuli for hours. Another way, which breaks most rules of art class, is to not step back and see the work as a whole –focusing my entire attention on small parts of the piece at a time, I prevent myself from making premature associations and allow my raw intentions to prevail.
Do you believe the intricacies is what separates you from other artists? It’s no secret your work is very labor-intensive…
What are some of your favorite Asian films or anime?
I enjoy watching Korean films, because their style of story telling is refreshingly different at times from American films. I’ve always been a huge fan of horror films and thrillers, so naturally some of my favorite films are Old Boy and Mother. And of course, everybody loves Miyazaki’s animations – my favorite is Nausicaa. It was amazingly disgusting.
What was it like exhibiting your work in your birthplace? Were you nervous? What did you parents think?
To be honest, I don’t consider my participation at Pink Art Fair Seoul as a genuine “exhibition” in Korea – it was a poorly presented layout in a poorly organized event (no offense to anyone, but it’s true). That being said, I am very eager (and very nervous) about presenting a body of work in Korea. My works, particularly my gookeyes series, can be socially charged, and I am curious to see how the Korean community would react to them. However, I am humbled that I have already received lots of positive praise from various art communities in Korea, and it only motivates me to work harder so I can present something I am proud of in my home country.
If your work plays off of psychoanalytical theories and developmental biology, there must be hundreds of avenues to explore. What is a hot topic issue you’d like to explore next with your work?
My work doesn’t play off psychoanalytical theories and developmental biology; rather, my background in biology and neuroscience, including the years I spent researching in a neural stem cell laboratory, gave me the visual language for me to explore my own history of anxiety and the concept of duality. However, I have become interested in returning back to works that are strongly inspired by the few memories I have of my childhood in Seoul. So, that might be something I work on next. Who knows? I work on projects on a whim, usually.
I like your palettes of red, green, yellow and blues, but what significance is there for not straying into other color spectrums. Would this break your therapeutic approach or signature style?
Again, the color really has nothing to do with my art. The colors serve as a vector for a narrative, which is the exploration of my psychological disorders. The four colors are dipped into pools of purple “cells” and allowed to mingle and set naturally – I have no influence in how they end up, and the intensity of each cell depends on abiotic factors such as the humidity of the room, temperature, etc. The resulting colors, however, capture moments of entropy; the disorder that happens even within something as confining as a diamond-shaped pool of watercolor – no cell is ever the same, as a result. More than the actual color, this infinite variety of interactions between red, yellow, green and blue are really beautiful to me. I think it would be distracting to try to use different color spectrums.
How do you see your work maturing as you approach your 30s?
I have no idea [laughs]. And that’s okay, since that’s exciting. Although I do hope my works become larger and more interactive.
Lastly, any advice for any budding creative?
I’ll pass on a quote said by John Baldessari, which is an artist I strongly admire. He said that every young artist should know three things: “Talent is cheap. You must be possessed, which you cannot will. And you must be at the right place at the right time.”
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Born in Malmo, Sweden, Z.Woods was raised in a small town where musical diversity was hard to come by. The singer/songwriter’s sultry sound stems from his compassion for R&B music. He caught my ear the other week with his new EP and I knew I just had to add his talent to the Creative Spotlight. It’s an infectious mix of R&B, Soul and a splash of Hip-Hop style and the best part is — it was written, produced and mixed by Z.Woods himself and it ranges from vocally driven songs like “Sunday’s Best” to soulful head-rockers like “You” and “Undo.” Songs About You is his first original studio-recorded project. We sat down and discussed his musical impact on the world, his career choices, films and more! Read below for the full Q&A…
Most Asian musicians have a hard time just breaking into the industry let alone trying to become a sex symbol. What particular challenges have you had being a crooning R&B vocalist?
On a superficial level, I may not look like your typical R&B artist. One of the bigger challenges I’ve had has been getting people to look past the ethnicity aspect and give my music, my art, the same consideration without any pre-concieved notions or un-justified scrutiny. I believe that music transcends boundaries of all kinds, including ethnical/racial.
Your new video, of course can be compared to D’Angelo’s infamous video. What was the creative mindset behind the lyrics and how did this idea come to fruition?
The song ‘Undo’ was one of the first songs I wrote for my debut EP ‘Songs About You’. The song revolves around a situation that happened where my actions lead to the downfall of a relationship. It was written with an apologetic spirit, regretting and wishing that I could just undo my actions that lead to the heartbreak in the first place. The idea for the video I came up with from random experiences I’ve had with people expecting me to be/look one way as an R&B artist, but instead I’m quite contrary to what they might expect. This video doubles as an homage to D’Angelo but also as a commentary on some people’s expectations.
As someone who is in a position to carve out a fresh niche for himself, how will you ensure you music doesn’t get lost in the highly disposable mainstream r&b that is on radio? What will set you apart?
I’m big on the concept of being genuine and true to who you are. I am a lover of music and I highly respect and appreciate all the current artists that are out there, and even if I were to attempt to re-create the trending sounds, it will always carry a stamp that is unique to me only because my past experiences and influences have naturally shaped me to be creatively different. That’s whats so magical about music, all of our individual backgrounds shapes our creativity. When I create music, I put a lot of emphasis on communicating emotion. I believe that music has the ability to touch people in places that no other art forms can. I also prefer to work either in smaller team settings or by myself, this helps maintain the heart behind whatever it is that is being created.
I’m an 80s baby, so I grew up with Jodeci, Usher, and the like. Your music really brings me back to that time period. Are you trying to find a way to bridge the gap between what was and what is?
Not intentionally. Those artists (and music from that era) are some of my biggest influences so naturally my music may contain elements that remind people of that older style of R&B. I’m not ashamed of that though, that was probably some of the best music to have ever been made. I always take that comparison as a compliment.
What are some of your favorite Asian films?
‘Ip Man’, ‘Old Boy’ and pretty much Jackie Chan’s entire body of work. Love that guy.
Is there a place for R&B in a singles-driven music industry and a society that has been hypnotized by EDM music, trap and ratchet music?
Absolutely. I believe so. Just because their might be a particular genre or style of music that is trending doesn’t deter people away from music that they like or can connect with. Now, getting the industry on board is a different question…
How does ‘Songs About You EP’ fit into the overall puzzle? After this, do you intend on putting out a full record? Any timeline for that?
This is just the beginning. ‘Songs About You’ was an opportunity for me to share my true musical identity with my current fans as well as new audiences. This was an opportunity to share my heart and soul, anchor my presence and pave way for the future. I am currently working on both English and Swedish projects that are scheduled for the not too distant future.
You lent your vocals to MC Jin’s new album. It seems to be a comeback of sorts. What was it like hitting the studio and stage with what some might consider a pioneer for Asian artists?
That was a great experience. I only knew of Jin for his BET Freestyle Friday success prior to this, but after this project it feels like I’ve known him for decades. He is one of the most humble and loving people I know and seeing the success of his latest 14:59 album brings me a lot of joy.
What advice do you have for anyone trying to get into the music game?
Hang in there and be strong. The road is dark and filled with holes, but maintain your focus and identity and you’ll make it out just fine.
You’ve also posted up a few covers. What is the thought process that goes into covering a song and how do you keep the integrity of the original source material while putting your own unique spin on it?
Similar to how you slowed down the melody on ‘Get Lucky’…I thought that was genius. – Hehe thanks! I always want to explore the songs that I intend to re-arrange and find areas where my interpretation would and could make sense. I’d hate to ‘just cover’ a song as that process seems pretty arbitrary. I feel like doing regular covers would not challenge me artistically enough and re-working songs from the ground-up would be the only logical way for me to go about it. That’s why I don’t refer to my renditions as ‘covers’ but instead as remixes. I seek to give my audience a new experience with songs they might already be familiar with.
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Photography provided by Anne Park:
Raised In New York City’s Chinatown, AnRong Xu is an early 20’s documentary photographer, and filmmaker. His projects have garnered much attention including a successful Kickstarter and an ongoing photography project, which documents Chinese-American life, which was a way for him to process his dual identity. While attending the School of Visual Arts, he really found himself and his projects kept getting better and better. I wanted to learn more about this artist so for episode 370, we talk about said projects, Chinatown in the 90’s, documentary photography, and more. Read below for the full Q&A…
For those unfamiliar, do documentary photographers use different or uniquely particular gear then say, a normal photographer would use?
Every photographer is different, it really depends on the photographer what kind of gear they prefer. From my experience, documentary photographers prefer lightweight and more easily transportable cameras that are ergonomically built and get amazing image quality.
I myself shoot with a Leica M4, a Mamiya 7, and a Canon 5d Mark II.
I was mostly struck by the Miss Model Angel event. The event itself has an underlying statement where they believe Asian immigrants’ talents get buried without a proper platform and support from the community. As a result they are obliged to take 9-5 jobs and give up on pursuing their dreams. Is the problem really this bad? Any insight?
I think as many immigrant children and immigrants themselves realize, in America the possibilities are endless, you just have to be afforded the right opportunity, and at the right time, which often doesn’t happen within the first generation, and many sacrifices need to be made in order to achieve dreams.
Moving along to another theme you have captured, ‘Grandpa’, obviously taken beautifully and well-composed, its evident that the elderly conduct themselves in a different way then then Generation Y. What about this era makes for an interesting theme for photography?
Right now, my generation is at a point where it’s actually cool to be Asian now. All the past previous generations have dealt with heightened levels of racism, tokenism, and prejudice for being Asian. We currently have more Asians in the media, and more of a physical presence. With the advent of Youtube, it’s really streamlined a Asian American subculture that pushes a play for a bigger presence of Asians in the media.
In terms of photography, it provides subjects to be that previously I wouldn’t have heard of so easily. Also, it allows for other Asian Americans to connects to each other. To be able to be like oh yea, I saw that video too by the Fung Bros, and I liked it and totally made sense, is a really cool thing to be able to do. Youtube also introduced me to poets like Ishle Yi Park, Beau Sia, Giles Li, Bao Phi, Denizen Kane, and many others who made me more conscious of my identity, and helped push my conscious into a better place to make my work.
Did Manhattan’s Chinatown in the late 80s and early 90’s have anything to do with this as well?
I’ve only spent the 90s in Chinatown, but in my upbringing, influenced me in understanding the immigrant struggle. I often would go to school, get picked up by my grandpa, and then go to the park till it was dark, go home, and wait for my mother to come home from the sweatshops. And sometimes I spent after school in the sweatshops next to my mother, as she sewed for our future, and I worked on my homework for mine. The 90s was a changing time for Chinatown with constant flux of new Chinese immigrants into the neighborhood, it really changed the social dynamics and created political tensions between the old KMT backed Chinatown and this new group of Mainland population.
What are some of your favorite Hong Kong gangster flicks?
My favorite Hong Kong gangster flick would have to be, Young and Dangerous, and also Young and Dangerous 2. Other notable ones would be, Fallen Angels, Infernal Affairs, and Election.
Asian Americans have emerged as the nation’s fastest growing racial group, and yet we still have a hard time understanding the Chinese-American. What specifically can your photographs do that cement your legacy to your kids and grandkids? How can you relate your culture to them through film?
I think through films and photography, and through just telling our stories, we can really preserve our stories and our legacies. How do white kids learn about their cultures and histories? Through books, movies, pop culture. We have to do as we always have, tell our stories, and now that we have more available platforms to tell them on, we can share them, and have future generations still be able to see them, and learn about the story of our people.
David Choe kind of touched on it a bit where he said like Jackie Chan or Jet Li never get the girl in the movies. Going back to your fashion show shoot — it speaks to the way fashion doesn’t concern themselves with social issues these days. Have you used your work to at all combat the pervasive stereotypes that continue to shape how many people perceive Asian Americans, and how Asian Americans often view themselves?
I think my work is statement of existence. A proof that we exist. Now in terms of combating stereotypes, I photograph that which draws my attention in Chinese Americans, which is often individuals who go against the stereotype of what mainstream media has painted of Asians. I hope my work allows Asian Americans to look at themselves, and further reflect on who they are in this racial spectrum of America, and also give them a stronger sense of identity.
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Shark Toof ranks among street art’s most recognizable artists. Known for his murals, stencils and wheat pastes on streets across the US from NY to Miami to LA, Shark Toof is one of the rising stars in contemporary street art. Shark Toof possesses the technical skills of an Old Master and the spirit of an art-minded vandal, granting him the ability to move seamlessly between styles. Most recently he is trying to preserve his 100ft. mural in the Downtown Los Angeles Arts District. Due to natural deterioration, spray paint, bucket paint and other materials are needed in order to maintain this mural for future generations to enjoy. We sat down and talked to him about this project, his work, and films! Read below for the full Q&A…
Four years ago you had your first solo show. As you’ve grown since then, how do you approach publicly displaying your work? If the subjects haven’t change, have your techniques?
I have two bodies of public work, large scale murals and my other work which still remains true to my definition of street art and graffiti. For the murals it is all about environment: the culture, the people, and the history. For my street art and graffiti it is all about placement. My techniques fluctuate. I like to span the cache of techniques, Art Center traditional to street, so my work is never static.
It is my first mural in Downtown Los Angeles and my largest on the west coast. Being born and raised in Los Angeles, I’ve always been apart of Los Angeles’ transformation, and I want to remain in its art conversation. It is important to be represented in the city where you have a rich history and are connected to the changes. Los Angeles is my home town and I love it.
This piece also has strong ties within the art community of Los Angeles. Is there a decline in activity or interest in the Los Angeles Arts District that you want to focus on specifically?
I think there is an increased interest in its popularity, but I think it needs a balance. In the genre of mural making, there appears to be an uneven interest in L.A. native artists being represented, and it is vital for us to be a part of L.A.’s art history.
You are mostly known for a particular signature street aesthetic but you can also maintain a refined fine art aesthetic as well. What challenges present themselves when you blend the two together?
People are drawn towards repetition to the point where an image becomes so familiar it is likable. When you deviate, it becomes challenging and sometimes confusing for collectors and fans. The biggest challenge is to convince people to accept the changes, progression, and deviation from a specific image or style.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or Anime?
Bruce Lee and Godzilla.
Similar to Angry Woebots where the majority of his subjects are panda’s, do you think you will ever tire of your subject matter or is there so much more about Sharks that can be discovered/explored?
There is so much more to be explored and discovered. Each of my sharks has its own character, and each viewer sees their reflection when they look at them. The sharks make us address our own fears and stereotypes.
If you were to be involved in a Shark Attack how would you escape?
Shark attacks are rarer than winning the lotto. If that happened, it would would be like winning the lottery.
In your own words what is the purpose of graffiti art and its purpose. Does it resemble your own conquest for what your art stands for given the fearsome reputation you sometimes carry?
Graffiti in its truest form is screaming out to the community that you exist. The spirit of graffiti is something you grow up with. It is part of your personality. It is a culture, and a language that only those who know, really know. These are the people who truly see rebellion, love, whimsy, aggression, competitiveness, insatiability, joking, etc. just by looking at the line quality of a graffiti piece. That spirit is definitely in my work.
L.A. banned shark fin soup in 2011. Did you quit eating this dish before then?
Yes. Being of Chinese heritage I was brought up on shark fin soup, but after learning of its appalling killing practices at a young age, I quit. I work closely with a non profit organization Pangeaseed to help conserve shark and ocean environments.
In addition to multiple group shows, you also honor commission pieces. How does this process lend itself to the evolution of an artist and how you deal with clients and come to the final agreement?
No matter what, when the commission is presented, that is where you are at in your artistic career, so it is innate to put your best foot forward. I have two bodies of work, my fine art and my sharks, the client always knows which one they want.
Lastly, what advice do you have for the budding creative?
Work your ass off.
From Japanese artist Kaz Oomori comes the official New York Comic Con Big Hero 6 poster. This is what originally caught my attention as this talented designer made waves this year exhibiting his work around the world. I sit down with Kaz and offer up a variety of questions. Read below for the full Q&A…
When did you decide you wanted to be an artist? You must have soaked up a lot of TV, comics, and movies.
I began drawing Disney’s Pinocchio when I was in kindergarten. It was decided I [was] going to be an artist when I was in junior high school. I was able to see the wonderful anime and manga of many Japanese of that era.
- Dr.Slump by Akira Toriyama. Comics
- Star Blazers by Reiji Matsumoto_Animation/TV
- Lupin The Third by Monkey Punch_Animation/TV
- Mazinger Z by Go Nagai_Animation/TV
- Mobile Suit Gundum by Yoshiyuki Tomino_Animation/TV
- Cyborg 009 by Syotarou Ishinomori_Animation/TV
and many more…
You initially studied illustration and design production which are at two different ens of the spectrum. Was it hard balancing two different disciplines and at times having to merge the two talents into one body of work?
I am a graphic artist. What do I want to convey? I can see the key visual given and I will do the production of graphics and text. They might be close to the cuisine. To make the material of each, cook it…
I see you illustrate works such as Mad Max, Guardians of the Galaxy, Pacific Rim and more. Are these films that you think will challenge you artistically or films that inspire you?
I am inspired by movies such as feeling the throbbing and pounding when I saw the movie. It is not an action, but may be subject to inspiration.
NYCC was a pretty big deal and you got to create the official New York Comic Con Big Hero 6 poster. For this particular poster did you have a chance to see the film first or just have the trailer to go by for inspiration?
First, I want to say thank you and much appreciated. I was blessed with a very good opportunity. I couldn’t make it without support from many people. I want to say thanks to Don／Poster posse in particular. It is both the inspiration and the trailer. I approached this time highlighting the sizzle that worldview is transmitted.
Discussing the creative process behind it, it has such a strongly Japanese-influenced design given the San Fransokyo setting. How do you infuse your culture and setting into U.S. based designs? Is it important as an Asian artist to represent yourself?
I think certainly, things and gave birth to good effect background is Japanese. I think in particular, it is said to be reflected in the cherry tree and building form; the motif.
What are some of your favorite Asian films or Anime?
My most favorite Asian Anime: My Neighbor Totoro!
Could we chat a bit about Hero Complex’s Gallery: Imagined Worlds? How did you get invited and how hard was it to choose a property to illustrate given the vast choices out there to pick from?
Before I had the opportunity to participate in the exhibition there, and had the opportunity to participate. To visualize the work of our wonderful director it is not easy. However, I think that it has found a movie that fits my style.
What lies ahead for you as an artist? Any plans you can tell us about?
Many projects are waiting. I can not talk details unfortunately.
Lastly, what advice could you offer up for any novice creative?
Creativity and imagination of many and it will continue to draw.
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