A Portrait of an Artist in Tokyo
The artist comes into the barbecue restaurant to discuss the pricing of the artwork on the wall. The drawings, on small bits of tracing paper, depict small details of Japanese life, in a casual way. Areas are chosen arbitrarily to fill in with graphite. They are studies of white space and pattern. Graphic sketches going for 100-200 dollars.
The artist, passionately discusses the details of each drawing. She suggests that the largest drawing, the only color one on the wall is priced too low. It reads at a glance as an abstract series of interlocking patterns. The type of thing you might see on a silk kimono. It’s a collection of leaves, feathers and some elongated body parts. It is beautiful and unique and most likely is priced too low.
I love the sense of craft and artistry that is very tangible in Tokyo. From a zoomed out, Google Earth view of Tokyo, it is a jungle of post-war concrete. But when you zoom into the street level, cafe level of the city, and can bask in its labyrinth of alleyways, the city sings with the personalities of thousands of artists in the classic sense of the word. Wall spaces are gallery spaces. These independent street brands feature locally scrawled graphics, local stickers, local screen prints. In a way, the city has the naive vibe of an art school. In a beautiful way. Artists speak earnestly of their craft. Many are lost in the love lorn insanity of existing only to create. What freedom! Their vocabulary and their very living is caught up in the nuances of cross-hatching, and the merits of negative space.
Japan has a striking visual history, and I find many aspects of this city and country to be insanely advanced. Subjects are approached from a pure aesthetic presentation standpoint. In a way, the visual creativity feels effortless, just a part of the DNA of what it is to be Japanese. I find it consistently inspiring.
The artist now has opened her backpack and unloaded a stack of hand printed art books featuring her work. She is an enterprising and ambitious artist, caught up in the Tokyo hustle. I’ve encountered artists like this before here. She talks now of trying to secure a textile deal that would get her patterns on H&M products. There is no fear of selling out here. The goal is simply to get her style seen by as many people as possible. H&M represents a metaphorical art gallery that attracts millions of visitors. Any artist would dream of an active audience of that size.
Retail spaces in Japan are art spaces. Physical space is at a premium. There are 200 million people living on this small island. Every detail is meticulously looked after by someone. Attention is paid to every space of a shop. There are no messes in the corners, no boxes piled up to be dealt with later. What Japan presents to the customer at retail is gallery perfect. Museum quality. So why not shoot for painting your design onto the fabrics of a H&M shirt or skirt if you are a Tokyo artist. They have large museums across the city.
Get into those street level cafes and barbecue joints, filled with soul, teeming with Japanese equivalents of hipsters. And while you’re at it, attract the interest of a mega-label, desperately in search of the kind of soul that you can effortlessly provide.
Double dip young artist. Sell your wares and commit to the hustle. Spread that style and stay your course. The world doesn’t bow to artists, you have to demand their attention. Your passion and hustle for your craft, coupled with your personality filled designs will be a strong tag team in this city.
And you are right, 200 dollars is too cheap a price for that beautiful colored pattern. Place a new sticker atop it for at least twice that. You’re going places young artist. To H&M, or wherever you can dream of next.