Interview with Yumiko Kayukawa
Seattle based artist, Yumiko Kayukawa was always artistically inclined. Growing up in a small town in Hokkaido, Japan she soon showed her unique style by creating a manga feature at age 16. She is a graduate of the Bisen Art School in Sapporo, Japan.
Her works are largely inspired by her love of nature and animals and blend both American pop culture and traditional Japanese motifs. Her work has been exhibited at galleries and shows all over the world most recently at the London Art Fair.
Nice to meet you, Yumiko! We know that you have shown a great love of animals and nature in your work and it is because of your hometown of Hokkaido. Can you tell us more about Hokkaido and growing up there?
Hokkaido is the North top island of Japan, and it’s snow country. The main city of Hokkaido is Sapporo, AKA the name of beer brand
and it’s my home town now. The place I grew up is Naie, a small town of 6000 population. My playground was the nature surrounding my house. Green grass in summer and snow in winter, There were small insects and animals all around. In a small town, there is no entertainment for young kids, so my indoor hobby was drawing and watching TV. I especially loved nature shows, like wild kingdom to learn about animals and their lives. This is still my hobby, as I paint them in my work.
Was there anyone in particular that inspired you to become an artist when you were young?
Being an artist is almost like an accident, I didn’t have a specific inspiration. But I love Japanese Manga since I was a child and I’m a big fan of Tsubame Kamogawa. He is “God” for me and his manga is just like my bible. Also Robert William’s Guns and Roses album cover painting left a big impression on me.
Can you tell us about your experience as an artist back in Japan and how it differs from your experience as an artist in the US?
I don’t have any artist’s career in Japan. Many galleries are just like a rental space, and they charge a lot and won’t support sales. It’s almost impossible for young artists to show their work.
Here in the US, art has a market with collectors and patrons. Art sales are gallery’s income so galleries support for sales art. That way young artists can grow and have some support. I think here in the US, anyone can buy art on a casual level. For a collection, gift, or decor.
You have a unique and distinguished style in your work. Tell us how does American pop culture and Japanese traditions inspire you and how would you describe your style?
I was inspired by western culture a lot. We have a lot 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. Japanese tradition is my back bone and blood. I started to be more exited about my own culture since I realized how popular it has become in America.This helped created my own style to represent my culture.
Much as music is called the universal language I think the messages of your artwork is universal and easily understood my all people. Would you agree with this?
Hahaha, I hope so. I am always happy to see people enjoying my work and catching the messages. I wish I could describe more of the Japanese culture parts. Its like a hidden joke. Because I love to make people laugh
What mediums do you prefer to work with?
I use acrylic paints and a ink pen.
I think it is fascinating that you come up with the title of the piece first than paint according to the title. It is usually the other way around. Do you think that makes you focus more on the idea for your paintings?
Sometimes when I see something that strikes me visually, I will start to create a piece. But, usually the title comes first. I used to draw Manga and the dialog part was very important. I still love to find a good phrase or a name, just like copy writing. This method brings a funny flavor, so it’s important.
You had your 10th Anniversary show last year whose theme was “Wish”. Can you tell us a little about the show and your featured painting, “Coming Home”?
The show theme was connected to my feelings about the earthquake in Japan last year. That disaster had a huge impact on me.
It was hard watching my country from overseas. I had a dream too become a giant robot and rescue people. It was just so sad to see lives taken away in a second.
“Coming Home” is dedicated to the spirits of the dead who are coming home for Obon (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bon_Festival). 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.
Your painting, WATASHIBUNE (Ferryboat), is haunting. What is the meaning behind it and is it based on a existing story?
It’s actually my fantasy. In Obon season, people will float lanterns on a river to guide spirits back to the other world. I added the fox. Foxes are a mysterious creature in Japan. They like to disguise themselves as people. I just liked the idea of mixing these elements.
SHINSEKAI – New World reminds me of an image from “Graveyard of the Fireflies” with the barren, destroyed world in the background. With the recent earthquakes and the Tsunami in Japan has the image taken on a different meaning from when you first painted it?
This is accidentally weird but I created that painting before the earthquake. The show it was in opened a day after the earthquake. The theme of the painting is for the world upset by the economy crash of 2008. My message was for the world to survive the hard times, just like Japan did after WW2. I was upset to see the painting at the gallery after the earthquake. But now it has another meaning.
I am curious to know if you have a favorite artwork yourself or one that has a special meaning to you.
I think it’s the piece “Ookami” or Wolf. The girl is a symbol of my heart for animals. I personally have the feeling not to touch the wild world. I don’t want to bother animals, or use wild animals as a pet or for entertainment. I think because I know how wonderful life is for them in wild and I just want to leave them alone.
If you were to look at your early work and compare it to your present day work, how do you think you have grown as an artist.
I can tell that newer pieces have more details and stories in them. I guess my painting skill is better
You exhibited at the London Art Fair this past January. Can you tell us about it and what feedback you received?
Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to be there, but “my girl” found a new home in London, and I’m very happy about it.
Do you have any coming events you would like to share with our audience?
I’m working for a solo show later this year. please check my website for more information later.
Where can we go to find out more about you and your work?
Please follow me on:
Interview by Senior Reporter and Journalist Susan Hu
With a masters degree in media and governance and a masters degree in journalism from Indiana University, Susan Hu lends her expertise and professionalism to each interview and article she posts here. The winner of the 2006 Miss Shanghai competition, she is fluent in Mandarin Chinese, Shanghainese, English and level N2 Japanese.