This interview was actually carried out almost a year ago in Paris during the midst of the launch of Livestrong and Nike’s STAGES exhibition. I did hesitate to publish the interview this late, but its a rare insight into the works and life of the great Yoshitomo Nara and still very relevant in my opinion.
A prodigy of the strong 90’s Japanese Pop Art movement, Nara’s work is strongly influenced by his post World War 2 upbringing and is an icon for modern art in Japan.
For this show you were given the theme of ‘livestrong’, how did you work with that theme, how were you inspired? and tell us a little bit about your work.
There was a woman of whom I was very close to who really liked my work who unfortunately died from cancer three years ago. I felt that she ‘got’ my work more than I thought somebody would. She knew that she was dying of cancer but she was always very positive about her life and the only thing she regretted was that she was not there to see the evolution of my work. People who unfortunately die from cancer are not only giving hope to the people who also have the illness but also give hope to the living. She gave a lot of energy and hope to me.
When I was first given the opportunity about the STAGES show I immediately though about her and wanted to make a painting about her to tell her story. When you first see the painting you might feel sad but somewhere in the painting there is hope.
Obviously Lance Armstrong is a big part of this show. Has Lance Armstrong got a high profile in Japan? Is he well known in Japan?
The bike themselves have been making big moves in Japan, not only for ecological reasons, Lance has only made this more popular and people are becoming more and more aware.
Yes I have shown in one group show at Emmanuel Perrotin.
Great! So you have worked with this gallery before!?
Yes, my work is very popoular in France as well.
Do you have any ambitions to have a solo show here soon?
No, I would like to be represented more in Asia, outside of Japan and into China, Korea and Thailand.
Your work is established now, and you have a focus on Asia , how do you find the difference between art buying, art media and art as a culture in Japan and Asia as apposed to the US and Europe?
I have no idea! To get any notice in the Japanese art scene, I have to first be noticed in Europe.
I met lots of people in Asia and they tell me I am a kind of hero from Asia, not only Japan. They love my work. I am very confident of myself and my position there, but i have been very focusd on only the American or European scene as there is no market in Asia but there is a strong market in America.
I think it is better to be respected by what and who I like rather than by the market. In Asia you have to make your work more accessable and be able to reach the Asian market, they like my work but do not always have access to it. In Asia, they appreciate the art, they love to see art but they do not always want to buy art. It is more of a cultural thing as apposed to a market. I feel I am one of the Asian artists who can make that happen and make that change of accessibility.
Your work is, for me, inspired by pop art and comic books, what inspired you originally as an artist? Were there artist’s that you looked up to from the beginning?
It is maybe really surprising what i like, all the masters, the very old Italian fine arts masters, I really belive in the craftsmanship of fine arts and I am also very inspired by music.
What kind of music?
I am 49 years old and I really like American rock music from the 70’s, from the Woodstock days, that era, that movement, and also pop music from the early 80’s.
You have had a little look around the other pieces of work within in the STAGES show, are there any that stand out to you? Any favorites?
You can feel the energy from the other artists all come together in one room which I think is what makes this show so special. It is about the cause not nessisarily about the artists alone. There is a sense of sharing and unselfishness in the room which I love.