A while back I was interviewed by Hoa Quach, a journalist for a local Asia based newspaper. These are my answers, unedited and off-the-cuff. Enjoy!
History of Cultural Day (Bunka-no-hi):
My blog entry for Bunka-no-hi.
What made you decide to get into this?
I have been slowly collecting designer vinyl toys for the past several years and have always wished there were more feminine, positive images and varied art styles being applied on the ‘toys’. I grew up loving Hello Kitty back before you could easily find items with her image. Now it’s everywhere, I’m a bit more grown up and I want to surround myself with items that have a deeper value than just a cute character and something you don’t see everyday. Don’t get me wrong, I still appreciate “cute”. :)
I love the idea behind designer vinyl toys: artists creating limited runs of designs on small toys. It is always inspiring to see the pieces that are completely unique, the custom designs where the object has been painted directly on. I’ve always been a fan of tactile art and especially love work that is straight from the artist’s hands. The Kokeshi is a perfect combination of the two.
My personal collection, the middle sized 2 in the center are the Kokeshi dolls I brought back from Japan. Since the custom Kokeshi show my collection has grown just a little. :)
The inspiration for working on the Kokeshi was from my personal collection (a whole TWO dolls) and wondering why it hadn’t been done before. It’s the ultimate ‘designer toy’ only most of us are unfamiliar with the Japanese artists that are associated with them. There’s even a yearly festival where the prize to the best Kokeshi is awarded. The Kokeshi group show came about when I approached a local gallery, Subtext, with my idea. It was really just an off-shoot from a project I thought I might do with a fellow artist. I thought the show would be more interesting if there were additional artists included. I started selecting local artists I admired and then including Los Angeles artists I didn’t know well, but had met briefly in the past. I had no idea the response to working on Kokeshi dolls would be so positive. If the artist I contacted had never heard of the doll then they suddenly were very excited about this “new” art form and for those that were already aware, they have collections of their own and a couple had already painted customs for themselves. Small world.
How long have you been doing this sort of art? Art in general?
My background is in Art Education, I graduated with a B.A. in Visual Art Studies and a minor in Education from the University of North Texas in Denton. I taught art to K thru 8th grade at a private school in Las Vegas, NV, before turning to graphic design when I moved to San Diego 7 years ago. Currently I am a full-time graphic designer and illustrator, with a strong emphasis on surface pattern design. I have always been involved with art since I was little. My mother was an artist and we were always making collages, our own coloring-books, sewing and drawing. She was exceptionally talented and I owe her so much for giving me this creative outlet turned career. Besides working digitally for my design work I also enjoy painting, photography, mosaic work and just about anything to do with paper. I started a networking group in SD for fellow creatives called ‘San Diego Social & Creative Network’ and currently I am a member of the art collective GRRRRRL Power.
How did you get 75 people from all around the world to the exhibit?
Have you done exhibits at such a large scale before? How do you feel about it? :)
Originally I thought I might have around 30 artists in the Kokeshi show. I had high ambitions of getting more, but wasn’t too concerned if I was left with blank dolls, I knew I could paint them and give away as gifts for the next few years... lol. But, the response was so positive I quickly saw that I could start getting many more artists if I wanted... which was really nice because there are so many different people I wanted to include and I didn’t worry about where anyone lived, the postal system and internet made communication relatively easy.
Eventually we realized we needed more space so we reserved the connecting gallery then promptly managed to fill it’s space too. We didn’t want to crowd the dolls so I had to put a limit on the number of artists I could accept. When Subtext Gallery proposed making the show an annual event I could relax about not being able to include everyone I wanted this year. At final count we have 78 artists and 85 custom Kokeshi dolls for the show. I already have a list of over 60 new artists I want to invite next year.
This is the largest show I have curated, but really I have only worked on couple before this one and so I do not have too many to compare it to. I love working with this many talented artists, everyone is very friendly, responsive and disciplined, there haven’t been too many stresses just yet (keeping my fingers crossed).
Why is it important for people to see this? What makes it important for Japanese culture?
The reason I want to share the Kokeshi project with as many people as possible is multi-fold: Celebrate living artists and push their boundaries, Recognize another culture that has greatly influenced today’s art and toy design world and to bring non-traditional viewers of art together, all ages, backgrounds and interests. I especially love that so many artists from different cultures are working on this one very specific Japanese tradition. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for most everything Japanese. I visited Japan with my mother when I was a year old. We were visiting my father who was stationed there, he fully immersed himself in the culture and besides learning Japanese, he brought back many small treasures that decorated our home while growing up. Eventually I was able to visit Japan again 2 years ago and bring back my own lovely souvenirs, including the two inspiring Kokeshi dolls.
Do you think in this day in age, we, as a society, are losing an appreciation for the different types of cultures?
Regarding Kokeshi, it’s an art form that is underappreciated outside of Japan. I wish artists were respected in the States as much as they always have been in Japanese culture.
Fortunately, within the United States we have immediate access to many different cultures since almost everyone originally came from elsewhere in the world. But, I think as we lose connections with our own family history many wonderul things are being lost and forgotten. Talking to grandparents and relatives outside of the States helps keep a custom alive even if the participants are no longer living in the country of its original. Cross-over of multi-cultures helps inspire us and sometimes take a deeper look into our own family’s history. I know as a 3rd generation “mixed mutt” I wish I knew more about my own families traditions, but I’m so removed we’re not even sure if we’re part German, French... there’s some Swede in there and who knows what else. Appreciating other cultures that are I am aware of helps keep these traditions alive for many other people besides myself.
Are many Japanese Americans familiar of this type of art?
I really can’t say. Seems half the artists I contacted were aware of the Kokeshi and the other half happily introduced, but I really don’t know how many participating artists are Japanese Americans. Honestly, I never considered anyone’s background when inviting artists, if I was impressed with their work I contacted them. It’s a bit of a coincidence that a lot of the artists have Asian backgrounds. It’s never intentional but I often find I’m attracted to work that ends up having some Asian influence. I often joke that I must have been Japanese in a previous life.
My dad and me, Japan 1974.
My mom and me, Japan 1974.
Not too many blondes visiting Japan back in 1974, my mother caught lots of attention, often times being photographed by strangers. There's a photo I cannot find right now with her and me surrounded by Japanese photographers, I think my dad took this photo during that moment.