Interview with Marie Tomeoki
BEING – Marie Tomeoki
Interview by Gary Flooks, Interactive Art Director (naturaloutlook.com)
Marie Tomeoki is a contemporary artist from Tokyo, Japan, residing in Toronto, Canada, she has exhibited with galleries in Los Angeles, New York, Toronto, Lecce – Italy, and Osaka – Japan.
Initially trained as a professional ballet dancer, Marie’s art is as multi-dimensional as her life’s journey, having grown up with depression and eating disorders. On reflection, her work mirrors her recovery, with her original works departing from dark monotones, in favour of more colourful, saturated pieces.
As a contemporary artist who incorporates colourful, multi-dimensional mediums (acrylic, collage, textiles, paper and more) into her work, she fully embraces the mediums she works with. Ever the artist, determined to break boundaries, she recently collaborated on a custom designed latex dress, which she wore to her recent Toronto gallery show ‘aptly named – ‘BEING’ in April this year.
Whilst Marie draws on many influences to create her art, she embraces her creative talent to advocate raising mental health awareness. Actively involved with related charities in the Toronto community, she provides support to others through personal talks; art donations to raise funds; and gallery shows to raise awareness. In 2011, Marie entered a competition run by Canada Post to find a stamp design to represent Mental Health Awareness; out of hundreds of entries she made it to five finalists with the piece ‘Unprepaired in Wellies’, which was later made into a cover stamp.
‘Art can help to break down boundaries in a good way, I like to think a message or energy imparts through my work to whomever is viewing it, and moves them somehow – in essence ‘BEING’.
Have you always been interested in art?
My family comes from a long-line of Japanese tea ceremony, flower arrangement masters and from the international business world. Being exposed to such artistic lifestyles definitely influenced the artist I am today.
Aside from my creative family background, at the age of four I began training in classical ballet; when I was twelve I knew ballet was something I wanted to pursue as a career and started training on a professional level seven days a week. With dance comes a need for discipline and determination; learning about the art of movement and the many dimensions of the profession. These aspects have made me who I am today, and influenced my style of art.
In art classes at school, I often drove the teachers crazy by creating something so unique they couldn’t define it or give feed back. Whilst other classmates worked with pastels and pretty colors, in contrast my work would be monotone; there were many situations like these.
What was your first ever drawing?
My first ever drawing was of a Blue Power Ranger. My parents thought it strange that it wasn’t of a dog or relative or something more ‘normal’. I suppose it looked more like a blueberry with twigs sticking out of its sides but to me, it was definitely a Blue Power Ranger : )
When did you first consider a career in visual arts?
When I had to stop ballet due to doctor’s orders, I needed another form of expression, this initially came through paper cut outs, which then developed into something more elaborate. This process began while I was in an in-patient psychiatric hospital program, first for anorexia and bulimia, later for chronic depression and anxiety disorders.
What influences you in your art?
The inner workings of our minds, psychology and emotions have obvious impact, but as I watch and process the world around me, real societal issues arise frequently in my work. Stories and life experiences play an important part, including my Japanese heritage, as well as the other cultures I have adapted to throughout my life (even the backstage goings-on from ballet, etc). I like to think a message or energy imparts through my work to whomever is viewing it and moves them somehow.
Your artwork ranges from character based work to more expressive, contemporary pieces, what does your style say about you and the message are you hoping to portray?
My characters are a representation of the individual emotions and psychological states we experience in everyday life. My designs originate from my past career as a professional ballet dancer; free-flowing form, movement and energy associated with dance. I believe the whimsical nature of my work culminates from many multi-layered life experiences, creating metaphors and sharing a glimpse of who I am, as well as relative issues within society.
You have recently had an exhibition ‘BEING’, tell us a little about that?
My recent inaugural solo art exhibit – ‘BEING’ was a retrospective of the journey I have taken in life, through my art. The pieces reflect my life and experiences in becoming a successful artist – ‘BEING’. My aim is to inspire others and give hope to those who go through similar struggles; to create a safe place to share and discuss mental health, as well as how mental health awareness is perceived in society and the real world. My art is proof of the possibilities, capabilities, strengths of living and surviving, ‘BEING’ human.
I understand that you organised your recent gallery show yourself, what influenced your decision?
For this milestone in my journey, I felt I needed complete creative freedom without the usual constraints of what an inaugural solo exhibit ‘should’ be. There are many aspects that come into play working with an established gallery: budgets; the curator’s visions; the gallery owner’s tastes; reputations; contracts; and so many other restrictions, that I felt would hinder me from realizing the vivid vision I had in my mind. So I took a leap, a risk, that was well worth the challenge, it goes to show you what is possible when you put your mind to it.
You collaborated and wore a latex dress to your gallery show, why?
Conscious of the stereotypes I encountered whilst growing up with mental health, as a visual artist I questioned the stigma attached to latex, which is a very visual, sexual medium; especially the perceived association with the hardcore scene:
“Latex is such a multi-dimensional material, depending on the cut of the garment, it can be either sexual and, or high fashion. With parallels to art, latex unites communities, embracing self-expression, this is what makes both scenes so exciting”.
The dress collaboration was an opportunity to break boundaries and promote friendships between two artists from different cultures, with Marie from Japan and Barbara & Massimo (Arditaff.com) from The Netherlands; creating a great friendship and a beautiful dress, which culminated in a fashion shoot (video link below). The dress complimented Marie’s artwork, which often features multi-layered paper cut-outs or textiles, fused with high gloss acrylic and the latex designer’s synonymous ‘applique’ style, which incorporates raised patterns and textures. Both are painstakingly cut by hand, and have been conceived through a journey of self-discovery and a desire to do ‘something more’.
From the start, both parties shared alot in common with their respective creativity: attention to detail; style and originality; this was a ‘meant to be moment’.
Do you have a studio?
I work from home, where a small, extra bedroom has been turned into my studio space.
Do you find your style of art has changed throughout your career?
As I evolve as an individual, my work does too. What began as a very flat one-dimensional paper cut out, has flourished into a super multi-faceted, textural style that consists of numerous layers and dimensions.
Where do you see your art headed in the future?
In my mind I have a vision of my direction: being able to sustain and support myself fully through my art; to have gallery representation internationally; to own a space I can call my own with a studio, preferably near the sea/ocean; to collaborate with many creative interesting individuals, organizations and different fields in the arts. Then again, life always has its share of ups and downs, so I am as prepared as I can be for any challenges which may come my way.
What is the art scene like in Toronto?
The art scene in Toronto is very safe. I feel at times it is too ‘textbook’, that the vibe or essence of creating, art making and the community are too quiet and predictable. Unfortunately, I’m not moved.
What advice would you give to those who dream of selling art for a living?
The most important advice would be to believe in your self and your work. To never give up, as perseverance is key. It is an extremely difficult road to take, but not impossible. Be creative in your business strategies as well as your art making. Be aware that there is much more to being a full time artist than just being in the studio creating work, such as having to deal with and be the business aspects of your product, brand, PR, marketing, secretary and everything else in between.
As an artist, is there anything that you could not live without in your studio?
My ‘Studio Tunes’ on my iPod playlist that I listen to, which drown out the rest of the noisy world whilst making art.
My Xacto knifes and good scissors; usually ones I bought in Japan (they have the cleanest edges).
Feel free to reach out and make contact.
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Article written by: Gary Flooks, Interactive Art Director, www.naturaloutlook.com