Interview with Fumi Nakamura for her upcoming exhibition, ‘Look Toward the Future, but Not So Far As To Miss Today’

Thinkspace Projects is pleased to present this new solo exhibition from artist Fumi Nakamura. ‘Look Towards the Future, But Not So Far As To Miss Today’ is a new body of work depicting flora and fauna.

Each element is carefully selected to represent elements of life, memory, body and soul. Nakamura pulls from the subconscious, using metaphor and imagery to create striking pieces.

In anticipation of  ‘Look Towards the Future, But Not So Far As To Miss Today’, our interview with Fumi Nakamura discusses the evolution of her style, how she balances creating for herself versus clients, and an exploration of her Japanese heritage.

For those not familiar with your work, can you tell us a little bit about your artistic background? How did you come to work with Thinkspace?

I have been working as a freelance artist for the past 15+ years. I graduated from San Jose State University with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree with a concentration in 2D art. I have exhibited my personal work in several galleries around the world (USA, Germany, Australia, England and Denmark), have done freelance illustration and design work for commercial clients (PUMA, Milkweed Editions, Barnes and Nobles, DIOR, Urban Outfitters, GAP), and contributed my work to multiple print and web publications (Juxtapoz Magazine, Gestalten, Ginko Press, NYLON Magazine). I have also assisted artists such as Takashi Murakami, Philip Taaffe, Sarah Morris, and Kehinde Wiley, as well as a head painter position at French luxury brand, Maison Goyard, for a few years.

Thinkspace and I began working in 2008, it’s been so long that I can’t remember how we met (sorry!), but I do remember we had a quick phone call back in 2007. We’ve been working together since then, and I was offered to do a solo exhibition in 2012. I am very excited to have my second solo with Thinkspace!

What is the inspiration behind this latest body of work? What themes were you exploring?

I’ve been learning and trying to incorporate my own culture into my work more. I moved to the United States when I was eleven. I stopped learning Japanese language, culture and history since then, instead, I tried to focus on learning English and American culture to fit in. Growing up in the United States made me question my existence, ethnicity and culturally more, and I was often being asked “which country is home to you?,” which troubled me a lot.

Now I am in my mid-thirties, looking back on all the work I made and working through many hours of psychoanalysis, that question no longer troubles me anymore, but it rather made me curious about my own existence, concentrating on being alive and what to look forward to in the future. I was always fascinated by death and afterlife for a long time, and wasn’t focusing on what is in front of me or to really live “now.” The title of this show “Look Toward the Future, but Not So Far as to Miss Today” reflects that.

I am exploring my roots, especially Japanese traditions, history and religion (buddhism) more, and integrating that into my drawing. Japanese culture has many symbolisms and traditions. I was especially interested in learning about Ikebana (meaning “making flowers alive” or “arranging flowers” in Japanese), which was historically made as an offering by Buddhist altar during the Heian Period. Flowers carry different meanings and symbolism individually, and Japanese culture strongly believes in Hana Kotoba (meaning “the language of flowers”), therefore, flowers are carefully selected with very strict rules.

People often choose flowers by looks. Of course gestures of flowers being gifted is beautiful but isn’t it more meaningful if each flower was carefully selected with a meaning?

But going back to Ikebana tradition, Buddhist also desire to preserve lives that lie at the root of the subject, and believe rebirth and death is a part of life. Unlike humans or animals, flowers and plants can continue to grow or regrow, even if they are detached from roots and soil. Ikebana is a form of art in which nature and humanity are brought together. Learning about this concept helped me to create my own version of Ikebana. Carefully selecting flora and fauna to express, explore, and create my own world, and share what I’ve learnt from my own psychoanalysis and experiences throughout my career and life.

Your style has evolved over the years from having a lot of negative space, to having very complex patterns with very minimal negative space. Can you tell us a little bit about that evolution?

Looking back on my older works, I wanted to contain and hold everything into a compact object. It was a very personal body of work where I collaged together some memories, created a safe space, and wanted the audiences to “unpack” it by looking at it.

In the new series, I want my mind and drawing to be a lot more free, and not to make work that is too constructed and well planned. I want my work to grow like a tree, and I realized that the older work with negative space would only hold me down and suffocate myself. In order to change and mature, I needed to change the way I think and construct my own work differently.

I sometimes think the new series is an exploded version of my older work that continues to move into different directions like how our mind wonders. It is still personal – I removed the figurative aspect, but added more symbolized objects with messages. Also I thought removing a negative space would let more audiences explore and dive into curiosity more comfortably. Like how each object is loose, floats around, and coexists together in the full sheet of paper, I want the audiences to do the same.

Who are a few of your creative influences? How have they inspired you and your work?

I have many respects to experimental noise and ambient composers like William Basinski, Leyland Kirby, Stian Westerhus, and Juv. Their work makes my body and heart shake so hard that it feels like floating on the water, taking my mind to a place that’s deeper than the ocean.

I often feel numb – it takes me a while to process my own feelings and be able to fully understand it, but these composers have helped process both mentally and emotionally so much, and they inspire me to continue to draw without losing my soul.

I respect and am always inspired by anyone who creates their own “universes,” and is obsessive towards a specific subject matter and pursues perfection!

What is a day in the studio like? Do you have any rituals that help you tap into a creative flow?

Since I normally work as an artist assistant or on freelance during weekdays and day time, I usually make my work late in the evening to early morning (around 22:00~4:30). I don’t think I have a specific ritual for a creative flow, but that specific time of the day is when I feel the most productive, and not to forget to mention, it is the quietest time of the day. Also being physically and mentally fatigued helps me be in a deeper trance state where my consciousness loses some awareness of my own surroundings and times, and sometimes my own body, and that is when I dive deeper into creative space. Listening to experimental ambient and noise music adds even deeper concentrations, and helps me to retrieve my subconscious, and sometimes unconscious.

What was the most challenging piece in this exhibition? How did it help you to grow as an artist?

I think making “The Universe is Perceiving Itself Through Our Eyes” was the most challenging piece I made for the show. It is the first sea related drawing I’ve drawn and they are much more complicated to draw then regular flora and fauna.

The sea is full of mysteries and I am still learning so much about it daily. I always had fascination with deep sea fishes and the condition where they all survive in. There are so many unknown facts and information about them, and yet to be discovered more. I find it very intriguing, compare and reflect these ideas to how our subconscious and unconscious minds work. When we wander deeper into our subconscious and unconscious, there are so many things we can discover and to observe, and bringing it to our conscious mind, we all learn more about ourselves.

Life in the sea is like that. Working on this piece gave me time to grow, look back and also forward to what I‘ve been longing for, and to continue to search for what means a lot to me. I think I want to make more pieces like this to reflect onto my deeper mind.

What is your favorite part of the creative process? What is your least favorite part of the creative process?

My least favorite part of the creative process is definitely coming up with the titles. I think the title could either give away too much information about the work, and/or could be misunderstood or misrepresented. It is like watching a foreign film and translation can be a bit off.

The favorite part of the other hand is filling spaces with tiny lines (always!).

How do you stay inspired as an artist when switching between working on illustrations for clients, and then working on pieces for yourself?

There are 2 separate boxes in my head when it comes to working on my work vs client works. Working for different artists and jobs throughout my career made me separate those 2 things apart.

Whenever I am working on illustration assignments, I come up with as many ideas as possible in one sitting, and provide them sketches and work from their requests. I tend to separate my feelings with client work; I keep my drawing style the same, but concentrate on client’s needs the most.

When I am working on my own work, I avoid making any idea sketches prior to productions. I start drawing directly onto paper with whatever comes to my head, and keep building it up from there. It is very time consuming in many ways, and sometimes I think to myself why I work this way. However more challenging it is, it makes me want to work harder, and satisfaction of completion of the drawings is astonishing and rewarding. I think I work this way with my own work because it is very hard to satisfy myself and I feel like there are so many things I want to accomplish, and I am not even close to where I want to be in my life as an artist or one self.

If you were given the power to master any skill or become an expert in any subject you wanted within a 24 hour period what would you focus on?

Becoming a better writer.

If you could have dinner with five people (fictional or real, dead or alive) who would they be? What would be on the menu? And what is your ice breaker question?

I’d love to get together with Noam Chomsky, Randall Carlson, Graham Hancock, Alejandro Jodorowsky, and Leyland James Kirby. I’d love to take ayahuasca with all of them surrounded by shamans and ask about what made them become who they are today.

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