April 26, 2012
Gage Does Tokyo
In March, artist and resident blogger Gage Hamilton went to Tokyo for his first international solo show with Hellion Gallery x AMP. Always keen to tap into the creative scene, Gage caught up with a few major talents from the world’s largest metropolis to find out what drives them to create.
MON a.k.a. Koutaro Ooyama is a contemporary artist from Tokyo. He is known for his brightly colored, fully immersive paintings, which combine ancestral tribal imagery with ancient Buddhist color and contemporary technology derived from his years as a DJ. He is also known for his role in the artist hangout Spes Lab, as well as his collaborative mural work with Doppel. He is one of several artists featured in Matt Wagner’s upcoming book The Tall Trees of Tokyo.
MON is a great dude, and as you can see has some really impressive work. I really enjoyed talking to him at Spes Lab about his inspirations and travels over udon noodles and drinks until the sun came up.
It seems like over the years your painting style has taken on a bit of a Native American influence. How did that evolution come about?
I was definitely influenced by graffiti artists and I was looking at how they take their own heritage to create their own aesthetics in their works. I didn’t think it was good to just copy the style of hip hop and graffiti culture, I wanted to bring my own elements in, so I started looking to my roots. I started looking to native Japanese Inu culture, but also to Native Americans because I thought they had a lot in common visually and started to incorporate them into my work.
The fusion of light and color really make it a psychedelic experience. Colors and lines seem to emerge and fade away as the light changes. What made you start experimenting with controlled LED lighting? Did your DJ work play a role?
Yea my work is definitely influenced by club culture, but the colors I use are derived from the colors used in ancient Japanese temples. So I’m combining an ancient color scheme with contemporary technology through LED lighting.
Throughout Japanese history there is this perception of taking aspects of foreign cultures, aesthetics or ideas, and adopting them to make them uniquely Japanese. Is that something you think plays into your work?
Yes that’s true of Japanese history, and I think that’s exactly what I’ve been doing as well.
It seems like more and more of your recent work has become fully immersive installations. Was that a natural progression from doing DOPPEL murals? And once you start using entire rooms as blank canvases, is it hard to scale back and limit yourself to smaller pieces?
It’s not difficult to go back to smaller scale because it has a different purpose. When I do full room installations I want it to create a whole experience. That idea came from doing a lot of live paintings with sound or music. With paintings you can just close it off by looking away, but with music, even if you try to cover your ears you might still be able to feel the bass. It’s not as easy to escape it. I wanted to have that sort of experience with my work, so that’s why I started doing such immersive installations.
Tell me about Spes Lab. Seems like great space with a tight-knit group or artists. What’s the idea behind it?
I originally got the opportunity from a producer and I was hired as an art director. Before it was just a white cube and I would be art director, but I had an idea to preserve my works because most of them are one-offs and destined to be painted over. I wanted to have a place for my murals to be kept, so I decided to use the space as a permanent installation. Also I wanted to have a space where lots of artists could come and collaborate and hopefully revitalize the more underground Tokyo art scene.
Any upcoming shows?
My recent project is called ‘Try & Error’, where I brought 13 Japanese artists to Spes Lab to do live paintings and filmed all of their work. I’m in the middle of editing the footage, but I plan to show that footage overseas to show the Japanese live painting scene and how it has evolved to something very unique and interesting.