Talking To The Artists Of The Exhibition WAVE: Currents in Japanese Graphic Arts

Following &ASIAN's live thread of the WAVE: Currents in Japanese Graphic Arts exhibition at Japan House London, we chatted with artists Tsuzuki Mayumi, Kakuda Mayu and Suga Mica, as well as artists and exhibition curators Hiro Sugiyama and Takahashi Kintaro.
All photos by Jeremie Souteyrat for Japan House London.
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Talking To The Artists Of The Exhibition WAVE: Currents in Japanese Graphic Arts

How has it felt seeing your works travel the world?

Hiro Sugimaya: My works have been exhibited in other countries a few times, but this was the first time in the UK, so it made me very happy: partly also because I was influenced by many British artists when I was growing up.

Takahashi Kintaro: I’m grateful that people have theopportunity to see them as ‘real’ works rather than just online ‘data’.

Tsuzuki Mayumi: There are quite a few overseas visitors who show interest in my work through Instagram and the website or who make a purchase in the online store, but there are very few opportunities for them to see my work in person, so this is a very precious experience for me and I’m very happy about it.

Kakuda Mayu: It is the first time for me to exhibit overseas. When I was asked to participate in WAVE LONDON I never thought that I would be able to exhibit overseas, so I was very happy to be able to do so. I have always had a longing for England, and I am very honored to be exhibiting here for the first time.

Suga Mica: I feel very honored, including to have had this opportunity. I also feel that it has given me a chance to become more aware of my own Japanese identity.

How do you hope European audiences respond to you work?

HS: As un-Japanese (even though I am Japanese). I have always been greatly influenced by Western artists, so in my own work, I have never felt a sense of Japan’s ‘unique culture’ or of being Japanese myself.

TK: I’d hope they can observe it free from preconceptions such as the fact that I am a ‘Japanese artist’.

TM: The subjects of my paintings are typical Japanese family portraits in bright colors, but hidden in their expressions and deep shadows are the themes of "ambivalence" and "the gap or misalignment between the everyday and the extraordinary”. I would be happy if I could share such subtle sensations through my works.

KM: Born from a fascination for the objects that were in my grandfather's room when I was a child, I now collect antiques and set them out in my room and paint them as motifs, ruminating and recreating the sensations I felt in the past.

During the preview, there was a person who came to tell me that he too loved the objects his grandfather had had decorating the house, and so he felt a great deal of empathy with my work. I was moved by the fact that even though I grew up in a different place, there are people who recall their own past when they see my paintings. I hope that my work will pique the nostalgic memory of others as well.

SM: First of all, I would be happy if people who look at my work feel that itis something mysterious and interesting.

And rather than having expectations about how people will respond, I ammore interested in finding out how people overseas will feel about it.

In three words, how would you describe yourself as an artist?

HS: Balanced, varied, energetic.

TK: Moments, memories, simplicity.

TM: Expressive, psychedelic, ambiguous.

KM: Sensation, memory, rumination.

SM: Absurd, scary and cute or funny (bipolarity), unique.

What do you think the future holds for Japanese art?

HS: That’s a tough question. There is quite a ‘domestic’ trend at the moment – lots of art that works only in Japan, that wouldn’t work outside Japan – but it’s possible that this will gradually start to spread abroad, especially through Asia.

TK: The boundary between art and graphic art is a fuzzy one; maybe it will come to be seen as a new category, rather than just an ‘in between’ area.

TM: Japan's economic downturn and declining birthrate are forcing the country to become more globally active than ever, but theJapanese language and characteristic shyness are barriers that make it difficult for Japanese people to go abroad. However, art allows communication that transcends language barriers, so in a sense, the current situation is a good opportunity for Japanese artists. I believe that not just handful of artists, but many artists of all genres will become more globally active in their respective fields.

KM: Currently young artists need to devote as much or more time to working as they do to creating art.

With more and more people becoming interested in art, I look forward to a future in which people's lives and art become closer, and talented artists can continue live through creating their artwork.

SM: Japan originally had its own unique art forms such as Nihonga and Ukiyoe. These had very strong design connotations, which I believe eventually developed into illustration and animation as commercial art. In the modern era, Japan has been influenced by Europe, and I feel that Japan will continue to search for the future of unique art that contains various elements but has no borders.

Takahashi Kintarō & Hiro Sugiyama, Curators of WAVE: Currents in Japanese Graphic Arts.

What are your favourite works from the exhibition aside from your own?

HS: I like Yumura Teruhiko’s art. I spent seven very fruitful years working in his studio.

TK: They are all artists I am interested in, so I don’t have a favourite: I keenly follow young artists and what they produce.

When curating the exhibition, what were your main priorities? Did the exhibition turn out the way you thought?

HS: My aim was to give people around the globe a glimpse of Japan’s graphic arts scene as it currently is. I wanted to see the works and judge them with my own eyes, rather than relying on the artists’ reputations – I didn’t pick any works that didn’t interest me personally. The results exceeded my expectations.

TK: I wanted to show the present rather than the past, and I believe people understood this, to a degree.

How did you select the artists that were finally featured?

HS: I chose artists who are still active. Whether they’re youngsters or old-timers was irrelevant, they could be quite unknown as long as they ‘shine’: or are likely to shine in the future.

TK: I sought out artists that I thought would continue to be influential, regardless of their experience, or which generation they belong to: or whether they are independent or affiliated to some group.

How have the responses to the exhibition differed between London, LA and Sao Paulo? Have any of the responses surprised you?

HS: To be honest, I don’t know what the reactions were like in LA and São Paulo. As for London, people seemed very interested in the concept of heta-uma (‘so bad it’s good’).

TK: The events in LA and São Paulo were held remotely, but the reactions reported from London were quite similar, which surprised me.

Has curating this exhibition changed how you see your own art or Japanese art in general at all?

HS: I can’t tell yet, but it is possible that my approach will change in the future as I continue to produce my art.

TK: My own views have not altered, but I can imagine that it will bring about a change in how artists operate in the future.

How do you think the marriage of modern techniques and pop culture in Japanese art is different or unique from any other in the world?

HS: By pop culture, I wonder if you mean anime culture? I do think Japanese subcultures or ‘pop’ cultures have evolved in a very interesting and unusual way, worldwide, from the 1970s heta-uma boom onwards.

TK: Yes, I do think it’s unique… albeit somewhat superficially so.

WAVE: Currents in Japanese Graphic Arts can be seen in Japan House London until the 22nd of October, 2023. Admission is free but booking is still recommended and can be done here. Japan House London can be found on Instagram here.
Tsuzuki Mayumi can be found on Instagram here. Kakuda Mayu can be found on Instagram here. Hiro Sugiyama can be found on Instagram here. Takahashi Kintarō can be found in Instagram here.
&ASIAN's Live Thread of the exhibition can be found here.
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