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July 24, 2004

{     Interview : Yumiko Kayukawa     }    

I've got a crush on the work of Yumiko Kayukawa.

Her paintings have an immediate appeal- candy-coated colors, the playfully erotic poses of her subjects, the striking kanji text and the inclusion of random members of the animal kingdom amidst it all are a formula the eye cannot resist. These images have incredible staying power as well; the bright colors and simple lines burn into your retina, and Yumiko's characters become fixed in the mind, unshakable. Her mixture of pop fashion, punky attitude, and manga sensibility form a dreamy kind of brilliance that is hard not to fall in love with. I'm not alone in my crush. To date, Yumiko has produced over 100 paintings and has sold every single one of them. Even now, buyers are lined up around the block, hoping to bring home a taste of sweet Yumiko.

Adam- You have managed to sell every piece you have ever shown, usually on or before opening night. How does it feel to know that there is so much love for, and appreciation of, your work?
Yumiko- I'm always surprised and completely appreciate it. It seems that the people who love my work enjoy the manga-style and subject matter as much as I do. That's the amazing part to me. Through my work I feel like I've found people that I probably have something in common with.

Do you ever miss a painting once it's gone?
Yes, I do miss them. There's not a single painting I've ever wanted to sell even though it's what I do for a living. Each one is a piece of me. Sometimes I get to meet the people who have bought my work and that's always great.

Your paintings are often discussed in terms of the juxtaposition of traditional Japanese elements, (such as the placement of kanji and the Ukiyoe-esque floating elements) and more modern American elements, (the pop presentation style, your choice of fashionable subject matter, and the evident sex-appeal). Do you often feel torn between these two worlds, or has it become comfortable to exist in both of them?
No, I don't feel torn because it is my true culture. I was born, grew up, and currently live in Japan. At the same time I have often been inspired by American culture through things like TV and movies.
Especially when I was teenager, imported American culture was very interesting to me. It's not in me to make a painting totally "Japanese" or totally "American". I just intuitively pick elements I find interesting without attributing them to either culture. One time I was deliberately trying to paint an "American outfit" in a certain piece and nothing came to mind. It might seem jeans would be a good choice, but they have not been exclusively "American" for a very long time; they are just as much Japanese.

There is a certain naughtiness to some of your work- playful elements of bondage and cosplay as well as other fetishes, and a raw youthful sensuality. Do you find that people, critics in particular, misunderstand this aspect of what you do?
I have had fans and friends point out certain pieces that they found "naughty" and every time I've been surprised. I realize now how hard it is for people to understand, but I really don't consciously paint in the "naughtiness". It's some kind of by-product that I'm not even aware of until people point it out.
I don't really worry about being misunderstood by critics or fans because I believe that people should feel free to read into my work however they want. For me it's great just to have people see my work and to have a reaction; any kind of reaction.

What are your thoughts on these themes?
There's no intentional theme of any of those you listed for my work. That aspect of my work is simply me enjoying myself. It's a kind of playful expression, just like fashion. Girls posing in sexy ways is just kind of charming and amusing to me.

There is also much talk concerning your use of animals in your paintings. I've enjoyed watching over the past couple of years as the animals have taken a more active role in your work- now they sometimes mimic the actions of the character they are posed with, or express some very human characteristic on their own. They seem to be becoming more kinetic and less a part of the background. Would you agree?
I haven't actually recognized that as happening. For me I'm just enjoying myself when painting the animals. I find humor in it many times. It probably wouldn't be funny if a real animal was doing some of the things from my paintings, but I can be playful with the animals when I paint them.

Rock music is a definite influence on much of your work. Which groups have been most influential to you, and what are you listening to right now?
In the 80's, I loved hard rock, glam rock, and heavy metal. My favorite was Hanoi Rocks. I still love that music, but my recent favorites are little-known, local-type, American punk bands; like Tractor Sex Fatality, New Fangs, The Triggers, and New Bomb Turks.

Have you considered mass-production of any of your pieces in print-form, or in other accessible formats like stationery or a line of designer t-shirts?
Absolutely, I'd like to make all of those things in the future. I'm currently working with Kantor gallery to make my first set of prints.

You've stated "I'd rather my paintings hang next to rock star pin-ups than on museum walls. Ultimately I want to connect with people all over the world on that level." I think that's admirable, and that you're talented enough to do so. Given the success you've had thus far, do you feel that you're making progress on that goal?
I really do hope so. It's still a big dream of mine.

What's next for you?
I have a solo gallery show in October at M Modern gallery in Palm Springs. In November I have a show at Ox-Op gallery in Minneapolis. There are already waiting lists. :)

A special thanks to Gabriela Pedroza- translator and facilitator extraordinaire. Her support of Yumiko's work and career is profound, and this interview would not have been possible without her help.

    » Each of the 100+ pieces made by Yumiko are available on her website: SweetYumiko.com.


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