Question: First off, thanks for agreeing to be interviewed. Being a young artist I think you can be a great inspiration for students. I was personally blown away by your show at Grimaldis, the quality of the paint, the combination of flat and rendered imagery, but we can get into this later. Could you first introduce yourself (background, education, how you’ve come to this point as an artist)?

Hidenori: I was born and raised in Japan up until I moved to the US when I was eighteen for my college education. At first, I came to the college to study environmental science not fine art in Washington, DC area. Back then, my communication skill in English was very poor so I tended to enjoy activities involving less talk, so I spent many hours visiting the National Gallery of Art and Hirshhorn Museum in the Smithsonian Institution. And then, I started taking some art classes in college around that time. Yet still with the limited language, the only way to learn how to paint was from observing at old masters works like Rembrandt and Vermeer at the museum. I had almost no formal training in art except for the few years of painting class I was taking when I was ten, and also had no experience of viewing actual classical western paintings. So it was quite fascinating for me to be able to actually see those paintings in person and study from them. I remember this was the transitional time I changed my mind to study art instead. So in college, I was making figurative work with the academic/traditional approach.
I still continued working on figurative narrative work in my first graduate school year at MICA, but this was the time I began to learn more from the contemporary artists after many dialogues with Dominique Nahas, a critic-in-residence in the graduate program. My concern towards the environmental subject drifted into my work and I started to look for my paintings to suggest transformations, erosions and constructions of improbable environments, with my interest in visual and symbolic dialogue of between man’s intention and nature’s inevitabilities.
After the graduation, I moved to New York and had worked for Takashi Murakami as a studio assistant in his Brooklyn (later Long Island City) studio for about two years. During that time period, I had the hardest time in making my own work, but I slowly came back to my own studio practice and started to make new body of work. After the assistant job, I also worked as a graphic designer in the fashion industry while making paintings in my studio and had the Grimaldis show you saw in January.

Q: Being a cross-cultural artist, what type of cultural influences do you draw from and how has transitioning from culture to culture affected your work?
H: As I mentioned, I spent my youth in Japan so I think my mind and thoughts were developed through the Japanese cultural context. But, the influence of Western culture is apparent in many aspects in Japanese culture, or I’d say the country retains its own culture or mixes some western concepts with its very own. In my youth, I grew up with video games in 80’s, western music, movies and favored animations such as Miyazaki Films and Akira like other kids, and those films often have apocalyptic and environmental messages. I spent time in the suburb where I had many interactions with nature. So I think my concern towards the environment in nature grew from both the actual contact and fantasy. I wouldn’t say I was influenced by animation in general directly, but could say the graphic aspect of those video games and how you play and roll in the two dimensional surface created by pixilation, relates to the structures of my paintings. Anyway, I think my work aesthetically has some reference to the pop culture, and yet the traditional formal training in western art is the backbone of my work.

Q: What benefits and limitations do you face from this cultural position?

H: As for limitations, some people would make assumption of my work from the look of my work and where I’m from, but I don’t think what I’m doing is necessarily related to what people call Japanese pop art, even though I make reference to the culture and use some of the elements as methods. And for benefits, the ambiguity of cultural identity could be helpful for creating some hybrids.

Q: The extreme care you put into the physical qualities of the canvas is automatically evident when viewing your painting. What type of processes do you go through to prepare theses surfaces and why is it important to you that these paintings have an immaculate finish? Do you feel like sensibilities from artist like Takeshi Murakami have informed this approach? (I read about your apprenticeship with him from your interview with Cara Ober)

H: I spend a lot of time to get the right physical quality/surface in my paintings. I don’t necessarily have only flat or spotless finish on my work; some areas have visible brush strake and raised surface. I’m painting images on canvas, but I’m not interested only in the pictorial quality of image itself but also how it’s perceived in the physical space. I want viewers to look at the images through painting as object in the space. I think this comes from my belief that painting is where actuality and possibility meet with one’s. The ultimate flatness of surface actually creates more of undefined dimension when you engage with it in two-dimensional space, and I experienced that in Murakami’s painting when I was working for him. But, I actually started being conscious about it when I first saw James Turrell’s “Meeting”. In his installation, I sat under and looked up the squared open sky surrounded by the white ceiling and four walls. I experienced both flat and infinite space going back and forth through the framed open-ended sky with the altered spatial perception. Then, once a bird flew into the open famed space, the flying bird became an image in the undefined space/dimension. After that, I wanted to create the similar visual experience of figuration in the undefined dimension with the complete flatness within my painting. That’s why it’s important for me to have the immaculate surface in some areas.
So, for the process I can’t really have 100% finished simulations of painting at first. But the way I make paintings is very systematic, so I try to think about the painting processes backwards before I start and then follow each process to have the right physicality at the end. And of course, each process is requires different treatments, but the priming and sanding take a lot of time.

Q: Can you talk about your color palette?

A: I started to use the teal color for water (or reflected sky) in some of pool paintings. Then somehow, it became significant for me to depict the flat or infinite water space in other work, too. The black signifies the dark or reflected darkness, and the saturate colors in the dark indicate the colors of light.

Q: The thing about your paintings that impressed me the most were the variety of painting techniques and applications you were able to synthesize with a very contemporary way of perceiving 2-dimensional space.
While viewing your paintings I began to make connections to animation, design, pixilation – do you draw inspiration from these sources?

H: Yes, I carry some elements from them to my work. However, as I mentioned earlier, I don’t necessarily make connections with animation as much. My interest in pixilation comes from the graphic aspect of video games and also some pixilation of digital images. When I transfer the image of pixilation from the screen to canvas, the abstracted pixilation on screen transforms into the representational one on canvas through the depiction. But, I like how the depicted representational pixilation once again serves as geometric flat abstraction to define the space next to figuration in paintings.

Q: So this may be a rather unfair question, but your paintings feel very Japanese or at least contemporary Asian (perhaps it is the color scheme, the precision, pop-art sensibility.) What is it about contemporary Asian art that differs from the West? How are the polarities being synthesized?

H: I think how we got to this point as contemporary art now in Asian and western countries are historically different and it also involves the difference of many aspects like culture, philosophy, religion and so on, so it’s probably the reflection of those things.
But the globalization in art has created a complex network of artistic exchange in both Asian and Western contemporary art in many ways and the fluidity of it takes a big role in synthesizing the polarities. But also, even when we talk about it from the perspective of western art history or how it’s perceived in the context to the western audience or market, so it could be just how we see them in the history of art.

Q: Icebergs are a reoccurring image in your paintings. Can you elaborate on this?

H: The image of icebergs started appearing in my paintings after having spent some time in Iceland. When I traveled in the country, I was just fascinated by the unexpected form and the rawness of nature. The land was well preserved quite primitively, yet their ecological system was very advanced and sustainable with the use of energies such as geothermal energy and hydrogen duel. Then I started thinking about this structure of community which is in the shape of glacier floating in the water, containing the ecological system that could serve fro human needs, as a response to possible global climate catastrophe. That’s why the icebergs with green plants inside often appear in my paintings and I am painting them sort of like a character at this point.

Q: What are your sources of daily inspiration/motivation?

H: I just think of where my work would go and how I can get it improved, and that actually gives me an excitement for the next pieces. I also think it’s very inspiring for me to spend time with other artist friends, talking with them about our work or what we saw at exhibitions out in the would.

Interview by Ellice Park and Hidenori