Originators: Meguru Yamaguchi
What do Wu-Tang and New York's Japanese diaspora have in common?
Bright lights and big cities — New York City is East Coast, but Tokyo is East Coast. The two cities are the heart of the country they’re located in, made up of people who never sleep . They are diverse, compiled of different people from different countries of the world, and have a heavy impact on global social cultures. Both Tokyo and New York also share the same artist, Meguru Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi is a product of the two city cultures becoming one. He’s a unique artist with a style full of mayhem and madness, which may be hard to describe on paper, but absolutely beautiful to view.
We had a chance to chop it up with the talented Japanese-born artist on his chaotic style and how living in both Tokyo and New York affected his artistic expression.
Mass Appeal: Who are you and what do you do?
Meguru Yamaguchi: I’m a Brooklyn based artist and came from Tokyo, Japan. I paint everyday.
MA: How did you start painting?
MY: I was a big fan of animation, like “Dragon Ball,” and I started to copy the characters in it. I think I was two or three years old. Then I went to take an art class right before I entered elementary school. My teacher was very much into post-impressionism, so she made me copy the impressionists’ post cards. I needed to imagine and paint what the real artwork is from the postcards.
MA: How did being born in Tokyo affect your style?
MY: Tokyo is an imitation of New York to me. However, Tokyo has its unique original style coming from NY culture. Tokyo is a place which is largely composed of a Japanese population, yet people are influenced by diverse cultures from different countries.
If I explain about the US food culture influenced by Japanese food, you may get an idea of one culture influenced by others. A California Roll is a kind of sushi roll, which was born in the U.S. The ingredients are based on original sushi, such as seaweed and rice, but included new ingredients like avocado. The California Roll is a symbol of transmission and adaptation from traditional to new culture. Contemporary culture in Tokyo, for me, is the mix of other cultures, and make them into original “cut and paste,” culture. I use this same “cut and paste,” technique for my artwork.
MA: When did you move from Japan to New York?
MY: Seven years ago. In 2007.
MA: So would you agree that New York and Tokyo had a big influence on your art?
MY: Yes, I do agree!
MA: I saw that Wu-Tang piece you did, too. That was cool. Definitely a mixture of several cultures.
MY: Unfortunately, that didn’t come out to the media. But I met U-God and GZA. They looked at my painting and they told me I’m a “fucking badboy.” [Laughs]
MA: How would you describe your style to someone else?
MY: I paint something chaos and use vivid colors. And primary colors!
MA: What’s going on lately with your studio?
MY: At the studio, I am making huge brushstrokes. I am also working on the landscape painting (this time, creating 3D painting and it is very hard as compared to my portrait painting). I’m working on landscape and also I am experimenting the brushstrokes on clear sheets.
MA: How much time is this landscape taking you?
MY: I’m working on several paintings at the same time, so I don’t know exactly how much time, but it probably takes six months to a year.
MA: Depending on the piece size, of course.
MY: Yes, it’s hard to say.
MA: How does living in New York affect your art?
MY: I was influenced by New York from the beginning. Though I was born in Shibuya, the epicenter of Tokyo street culture, I developed a longing for New York street culture. Their art had a strong message coming from the hungry spirits which I never found in Japan.
The generations of immigrants have struggled from poverty and built the strong New York community. The only way I could share the ambience of the town was to get connected to Japanese creators who have already established a relationship with the local downtown artists. This made me develop a relationship with Reed Space, which opened its doors in Tokyo, and the Bowery Boys, the photographer Keiichi Nitta and his surrounding creators/artists who got the name of the gang from Five Points in New York.
Creating a community is the same process anywhere at the end: you eat, drink and sometimes share difficulties together. I spent time and created art with locals in New York, including ALIFE and Chari & Co. I think all these connections and relationships affect my artwork and creativity.