May 1, 2012
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.
YUMANIZUMU a.k.a Yuma Yoshimura is a contemporary artist from Tokyo. Formerly known for his colorful shoe paintings, he has developed a very personal style in the past couple years combining tribal figurative drawings with a monochromatic and chaotic Tokyo influence. Along with a residency in South Africa, he has shown in Germany, Japan and the US.
I met Yuma several times on my trip. Very friendly/welcoming guy, always made the effort to talk to me despite the language barrier. I saw his work at Hatos Bar, and liked it enough to look further. Was very happy I did, he’s done some great work in South Africa and really opened up about how his experiences have influenced his work.
Your drawing style seems to really embrace chaos through your line work. Is that intentional?
I intentionally bring the chaos into my work. The basis for it is growing up in Tokyo, there’s a lot of people and it can be very chaotic so I express that in my work. I don’t do it consciously, it comes naturally, but I intentionally retain those elements because of how it relates to being born and raised in Tokyo.
There seems to be a heavy influence of tribal figurative drawing in your current work, is that something you developed in Tokyo or while traveling?
I started using a monochromatic scheme in my work as a reflection of Tokyo as well. To me Tokyo is black and white, not a lot of color. Also the decadence of the urban city influenced my work. The recent tribal elements of my work is a result of traveling. Last year when I traveled to South Africa I was able to bring in more tribal and primitive elements and infuse that with the monochromatic urban sensibilities. So the recent artworks I’ve been doing are a mixture of what I’ve assembled through travel as well as growing up in Tokyo.
You did some really interesting murals and installation shows during your residency in South Africa, what was that experience like sharing your work in that environment?
Before I arrived in South Africa I knew a little bit about the history of apartheid, and at first when I got there people would call me “Chinese Monkey” because all Asian people were the same to them. There were a few people who knew where Japan was, but the first experience made me a bit nervous and sensitive about racism and the color of skin. Eventually I learned that there are whites, blacks and colored, which is a very complex mixture of races somewhere between, so when I started learning of the complex racism in South Africa, I thought there was some sort of synchronicity with my work that mixes white and black and grey tones. So that really solidified my decision to only use greyscale in my works. In Soweto I did a mural project with some local graffiti artists and through working with them I noticed my identity as Japanese a lot because of the visual differences.
What was their reaction to those differences?
The locals were surprised by my restricted color schemes because they would usually use more vivid colors, a reflection of the sun and natural surroundings, so a lot of people responded to the greyscale. They also wanted to know the subjects of my work, and the question gave me pause because I didn’t know how to articulate it. The chaos has always been my main thing, and the faces to me are an expression of different personalities, so I tried to explain that in my own words. In general though, it was my restricted use of color that was fresh for them and that people seemed to respond to.
I’ve noticed some of your shoe paintings use color. Do you approach those differently?
Before I shifted to strictly monochromatic, I also did more colorful artworks as well. When I began painting on shoes it was both monochromatic and colors, so those are older works. It was my time in South Africa that solidified my concept of just working with a monochromatic scheme and prohibits me from using other colors again. In some collaborations there may be colors, but for my own art that is not my intention.
Do you have a preference between working on large scale outdoor projects versus smaller drawings on paper, aluminum or shoes?
My favorite medium is working with metal, and probably wood and stones. I’m also working on paper and I want to explore that more, but my favorite is metal.
Your installation in Capetown was called ‘YIN AND YANG is IN TO YOU’. Can you tell me about the idea behind that?
The spelling of ‘Yin and Yang’ in Japanese can be read the same as ‘In To You’ in romaji. It was a wordplay. I also wanted to suggest the idea of eliminating boundaries between black and white and bringing unity.
And what about YUMANIZUMU? You speak of it in relation to love and passion, right?
I think the ideas of love and passion are not just for when I’m creating artworks, but just the basis for everyday life. It’s the source for my creativity, so I wanted to suggest it as a universal foundation.
What’s next for you?
I’d like to explore more with mural projects. I might be able to something in Melbourne in August. This year I’m going to be doing something at Kojimachi Gallery and also probably another show at Hatos. Next year I’m going to St. Louis and also Barcelona to do a show at Montana Gallery.