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  • Sean Holley

Monsters & Demons: An Interview with Suzume Uchida (Part 2)

Suzume Uchida’s startlingly original artwork is an antidote to emotionlessness. With every painting she creates, her stated goal is to connect with the viewer, giving them the inspiration to express hidden feelings. This motivation is the fuel for her artistic practice, and it provides a robust backing to her art, pairing execution with concept to form a highly compelling body of work.

Earlier this week, ARCHIVE.pdf released the first part of our interview with Suzume-san, and we had an in-depth discussion about who she is as an artist and person. After receiving the responses to the first part of this interview, our team felt that there was much more to discuss, so we created a second round of questions designed to build upon the themes introduced in the first portion.

In the second installment of the interview, we opted to take a more rapid-fire approach with relatively brief questions, delving further into specific aspects of topics from the first interview, which can be read here. For the sake of understanding, it is highly recommended to read the first part before the second. Read the full text of our conversation below:

Japanese artist Suzume Uchida painting Happy Birthday 2018

When researching your artwork, I noticed that self-portraits frequently appear in your paintings. What are some of the main reasons why you frequently choose yourself as a subject?

For me, I am the closest to myself. I believe that authentic work can only come from authentic experience. Self-portraits are common in my work because my own experiences tend to feel realistic. Also, when I first started painting, the easiest thing for me to observe was my own body. However, I have recently begun to paint more than just self-portraits, it feels like my world is expanding.

For you, has painting self-portraits led to personal growth? Do you find that you learn new things about yourself by displaying deep feelings in front of a large audience through your art?

Drawing self-portraits is a process of growth and discovery. For me, creating these works is a way of reconnecting with my old self. Drawing allows me to have a dialogue with who I was in the past, and it enables me to see what really made me sad back then. This leads to an understanding of genuine human feelings. In painting I am able to sublimate old memories that I could not let go of. The feedback I get from people who see my self-portraits is often very personal and rooted in inner thoughts that I would not normally discuss with others. I believe that by revealing my inner self I can open the hearts of others and encourage them to do the same.

How does feedback from others influence your work? How do you generally react to compliments, and how do you generally react to criticism?

Feedback often encourages me. For example, I have a piece called “The Heart” which is of a pigeon I had that died. At the time I felt guilty about painting the dead pigeon, but I wanted to paint it anyway. One day a viewer said to me: "This is a gift from the pigeon. It thanked you for keeping it until now and it gave you the opportunity to paint a wonderful painting". Those words saved me and I am still able to paint my pigeons.

I learn a lot from criticism. I am grateful to my colleagues and friends who give me concrete suggestions for improvement and share their personal ideas. However, I am not really influenced by anonymous criticism on the internet. This is because it is difficult to exchange in-depth opinions without knowing the identity of the other person.

Japanese artist Suzume Uchida pigeon dove painting the heart 2018

Can you tell the story of your collaboration with Yohji Yamamoto? How did it first emerge and what is the current dynamic between you and the brand? Do you feel like the relationship you currently have is similar to when the collaboration started, or has it evolved in certain respects?

In the spring of 2017, I suddenly received an email asking if I was interested in working with Yohji Yamamoto POUR HOMME. At the time, Yohji Yamamoto's studio had a proposal to print women's faces on clothes, and they were looking for illustrators and painters who could draw women with a realistic touch. Out of all the candidates, Mr. Yamamoto chose me. I was very lucky. I was quite surprised when they used clothes with my drawings on the runway for that season's collection, and my art was even featured on the final look.

I think our relationship is far deeper now than it was at the beginning. In our previous collaborations, most of the works were drawn in response to requests from Mr. Yamamoto. However, with my latest work, “Praying Hands”, we were able to realise a collaboration based on my own personality. I think the trust and mutual understanding we have developed over the years has led to these new works.

When you undertake the act of painting, do you follow a routine or include variations on your approach? Could you describe what a typical day of working on a project looks like for you?

I don't have a set routine. I spend my time according to how I feel. For me, the most important thing in painting is "What do I want to express? What is most important to me when I paint? What is most important to me at the moment? What do I want to leave behind or tell the world? What do I want to remember?" I ask myself these questions again and again. Or I cherish the thoughts that come impulsively to me, using them to guide me towards inspiration.

After this kind of thinking I will finally start to paint. There are days when I can paint all day if I decide what I want to paint, and there are days when I feel depressed and can't hold the brush.

How do you feel about the major role an artist’s image plays in the perception of their art, especially in modern times? Do you see marketing yourself as a distraction or a necessary process for an artist to be successful? Over the course of your career, how have you been able to find a balance between managing your image and making the best possible work?

If the image that appears on the surface is deliberately created by others, I find it false and boring. But artists who make interesting work are often interesting people when you meet them and talk to them. So if the image is naturally formed by the artist, it can be a clue to understanding their work.

Personally, I have never been conscious of image-making. I just focus on putting effort into my artwork. Even though I don’t obsess over my public perception, I have been lucky enough to collaborate with fashion brands and have more opportunities to appear in the media. It is a chance for a lot of people to get to know me.

With the advent of social networking, image building has become more of a focus. That's why, if you're interested in an artist who's still alive, you should try to visit one of their shows and speak to them. That way you can see the true image of the artist, not the image that has been created.

Japanese artist suzume uchida moth insect painting

Have the business pressures of being a professional artist ever deterred you from continuing on your path? Does the pressure to make work that sells occasionally weigh down your creative process?

It has been nine years since I started painting and exhibiting in galleries, but in the beginning there was a lot of pressure. My first solo exhibition sold out, which made me nervous for future exhibitions because I worried about being unable to sustain that success.

Ultimately, business doesn’t concern me because I paint for my own salvation. If the work I paint to save myself can save someone else's heart, then I feel it was worth being born into this world. Every time I paint, I have to face myself like that, so I don't consider the commercial appeal when creating art, and I probably couldn't.

Why do you think personal style is (or is not) important? What is your relationship to the clothes you wear, and how is your style connected to your identity as an artist?

I think it's wonderful when people wear clothes they like without being influenced by their surroundings. I appreciate this same sense of individuality in people who create art. I like people who unapologetically do what they love, and I aspire to be more like them. Fashion style can be one of the clues to understanding a person because it is highly visible. But in the end, I think the work is everything, so artists should not worry too much about fashion. It’s best for them to dress and live the way they want to.

I started wearing Yohji Yamamoto’s designs after working with him. I feel a tremendous sharpness in Yohji Yamamoto's clothes, like a Japanese sword. When I wear them, I feel confident, so I end up wearing them at exhibitions. When I wear soulful clothes, I also feel that I have to work hard with passion. For me, fashion is something that cheers me up and encourages me.

Suzume Uchida - Website | Instagram

Interpreter: Diana Shi

Writer: Sean Holley


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