JAPANESE CONTEMPORARY ART
Yamaguchi Soichi is a bright creative star who has surpassed his own expectations and found recognition and success early in his career as a contemporary Japanese artist. Indeed, he only graduated from the Tokyo National University of Art and Music in 2007, but he has already caught the attention of the guru of Japanese contemporary art himself, Mr. Takashi Murakami, and was chosen from hundreds of hopeful young artists to receive the coveted Gesai #9 Gold Award in 2006. His cheerful yet introspective works beg the viewer to escape from a mass universal perspective, and offer a glimpse at a world that he hopes will ‘cause a question, and make you think about what is unknown.’
A journey began with the Batman logo
Yamaguchi is a quiet and soft spoken 26 year old, and is not a natural urbanite, preferring the Japanese countryside and activities like fishing to hustle and noise. He admits that he believes he sees the world differently than others, and discovered this in unlikely circumstances about 10 years ago. Believe it or not, Soichi says his artistic journey started while pondering the ‘Batman’ logo, those outstretched black webbed wings, which he mistook for a gaping open mouth. His ‘mistake’ of seeing something else prompted him to further expore why he sees differently, and the fruits of his discoveries are currently on display at the Madhouse Gallery in Hong Kong, in a solo exhibition titled ‘The Way You Look.’
First international solo exhibition
Soichi’s Madhouse show is his first international solo exhibition, and also marks his first visit to Hong Kong. However, the emerging artist is well traveled, having visited Beijing, New York, and Brazil in the past 2 years. When asked about the cultural and spiritual background of Soichi’s art, he explained that his work is overtly Japanese, not consciously borrowing from other traditions, and has little deliberate religious or spiritual intention. Although many viewers believe his works are spiritually motivated, he is actually philosophically motivated. He explains:
‘People see things differently, according to their heart. People can see many things on a street, and each person will see things differently. What one sees, or pays attention to depends on the outlook of the individual. Although many people think the art is religiously motivated, this is not my intention.”
The use of the eyeball motif in Soichi’s work reinforces this idea of perspective. He comments:
We see things differently, all from our eyes. The idea is that we see things differently and the eyes are a reminder that everything is from a different perspective.
Existence and an interconnected universe
However, the artistic concept from this promising young artist goes even deeper. He explains that another inspiration for his art is the idea of existence, interconnectedness, and universal expansion. He is inspired by the ‘other’ and is searching for an alternate form of reality to convey to viewers, because, he says:
Nowadays we have information from many networks, news and the TV, and everyone is getting the same information. This is a very dangerous thing. Art provides another vision of how to see things. It is very dangerous when everyone is looking at the same thing or the same road, because when a way is no longer good, it will collapse. This art is like an exit, and offers an escape from the mass perspective. It offers a different kind of real.
The ‘next step’ in Japanese art
The psychadelic, celebratory, and invigorating works of Soichi do indeed channel an otherworldly feel. For those collectors looking for an appealing investment, this young Japanese artist offers a visual look that is completely unique to Japan, which appears to be the ‘next step’ in the evolution of Japan’s surreal cartoon-like motifs. With Soichi being a newcomer on the international contemporary art scene, his works are still priced reasonably. There are some who are saying that for the investment-minded, Soichi’s work might be a promising buy.
Q & A with Yamaguchi Soichi
Which artists do you admire?
Japanese artists Tahami Kenishi and Nakamura Hiroshi.
How did you first begin marketing your work? Who did you work with?
I began working with the Hiromi Yoshi Gallery in Tokyo. I networked at art conventions, and at Gesai I met my gallery.
How long does it take to produce an artwork?
Depends on the size. The painting may only take a certain amount of time, but before painting, I have to create the concept and make preliminary drawings, which can take a very long time. The actual process of physically painting a work may only take a month, but then ideas may pop into my head after awhile and I add onto it. It is all a work in progress for awhile.
Tell me about how you work? A typical piece?
I use a piece of paper to create the basic composition, making the shapes without color. Then I consider which parts should be dark and light, and finally decide the colors.
What kind of space do you work in?
I work in a mostly empty personal studio with white walls. The walls are covered with bits of paper with ideas written on them. Every time I get an idea I scribble it down and stick it to the wall.
When did you sell your first piece? Is it hard parting with your work?
I was 23 when I sold my first piece. I was so excited when someone offered to buy my work! I don’t mind parting with it, actually. I feel like the buyers of art will honor it and take good care of it. I think it goes to a good home.
What has surprised you the most about working in the arts?
I didn’t expect such a fast reception of my work—I am suddenly having international solo shows and conducting interviews only a year out of school. When I started my career I just wanted to create interesting art, and didn’t have any expectations of becoming famous. I was lucky to meet people who understood my concepts, but I don’t already consider myself successful. I want to do more.
What has been your biggest challenge in art?
The main challenge is how it will be perceived, and the initial impact of a work, in the first moment a viewer looks at it. Also, I send so many messages in one piece, a major challenge is how it should all come together.
What problems do you see for young artists today?
The current standard of the art market sometimes dictates what artists create, and artists should not change themselves to fit neatly into the market standard. Individuality is a strength.
In what ways are young artists today fortunate?
There are more ways to enter the industry now. Most of my friends have moved on to international destinations, like New York and San Fransisco, to start their careers. It may actually be too easy to enter the art world, since there appears to be too many artists who find success before they have found their voice. It is not ultimately good for artists to be shown in galleries when they have not yet discovered their main concept.
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