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Meet the Artist: Yuko K.

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On view through February 28, 2014, the Mulberry Street Library is proud to present the work of multi-talented artist, Yuko K. Her solo show, Colors and Icons, shows a wide range of Yuko's artistic interests—graphic iconic paintings that speak to questions of belief, meditation, and peace, as well as colorful abstracts that leave the viewer delighted and perhaps even, unnerved. I spoke to Yuko K. about her art work, her methods, and her inspirations.

What inspired you to become involved in art-making?

I was born an only child and raised in a somewhat old-fashioned, traditional family. So, I had to play much of the time by myself after coming home from kindergarten as a small child, even while staying with my family. Meanwhile, during these lonely childhood times I started to draw, read and even made stories. The loneliness of that time made my imagination and creativity grow a lot and since then art-making has been one of the important communications of my life.

Red Cross White Cross © Yuko K
Red Cross White Cross, copyright Yuko K

What drew you to use iconic symbols as your subject matter?

I was originally influenced and inspired a lot from the art of Neo Dadaism to the American Pop Art scene of the 1960s. Many pop artists used aspects of advertising, newspapers, billboard and other industrial design product items but their approach in using such graphics gave the mundane cultural object more meaning, and re-created the quality of selected, rejuvenated fine art, having a more powerful message than we imagined. I simply liked the energies of the graphic approach in that art movement. The iconic symbols I often use also have the power of the shapes in those great graphic logo items' aesthetics, same as when I first encountered the ideas of American Pop art. I like the task of re-creating these graphic symbols to add more meaning with a universal concept.

What drew you here,  to NYC, to live, create and exhibit art?

Japan, my country of birth, has been constantly influenced by America culturally in the aftermath of the post-war economic miracle of the '70s. And since we are under a huge cultural influence of America, conscious or even subconscious now, many of us have, in a way, ideas of an imaginary, dreamy country of America. Traditionally and in reality however, we have a totally different national consciousness from the U.S., that of a modern Eastern island country's culture and life style with a long history of preserved traditional culture always behind us, even if we are, indeed, under a big American influence. So, many of us are always very curious to see the real America and have a personal experience of this country. I was no exception. NYC especially is a cultural melting pot that we can never see and experience in Japan, and also one of the biggest cultural spots in America. I have been very much into cultures born from NYC, the music, movies, as well as art, since I was kid. I really desired to experience doing art and creative activities sharing in this cultural melting pot with people of many different backgrounds from around the world, including many Americans.

Where else have you lived?

Several big cities in Japan, including Tokyo and Kyoto. But I prefer being a traveler more than staying in one place, so there has been traveling not only in Japan for me but Canada, the U.S. west coast and Europe also.

What are differences in exhibiting art in Japan and elsewhere?

I think it depends on the type of city, the environment and location, even in Japan. But I feel happy to have good communication with people who are from a totally different background through my art, whether in Japan or elsewhere. Especially if people are interested in my art beyond nationality and language, it's always a great pleasure.

What influence does your upbringing in Japan have on your art-making?

In Japan we have a kind of disciplined art, craft and creative related education, except for general art classes, since we are kids at school. Calligraphy is one of the representative, disciplined art education forms in Japan. We have to learn calligraphy from the first grade. It is the using of Sumi black ink and special brush. Its meaning and purpose is to grow our meditative peaceful state of mind, when we express something from our inner selves intensively in a short moment, and I think it connects a very important training in the foundation for creating art with good deep concentration. Also, calligraphy connects to the method of one of the Japanese traditional painting ways, originally coming from China.

Who/what are some of your favorite artistic inspirations?

It's too difficult to answer about "who." There are so many artists I admire and have been inspired by. As I already mentioned I was influenced by many American pop artists, too. If I were to say one artist however, "Man Ray" is always my favorite. Also, my artistic inspiration resources are coming a lot from my daily life… listening to music, watching movies, reading books, walking in nature, taking trains, going to market, cooking and traveling, etc. Shooting photographs in the street especially lets me encounter many of my ideas and inspirations, and is always very important to me.

Why were you interested in showing work at NYPL libraries? How is showing your art in the library different from showing in a gallery space?

I think artists are not, and should not be, always supported and created by only art related people. I am glad if my art works can inspire the library's general everyday visitors, not only people who are into art. It is part of the excitement of communication that art can really do, crossing the bridge between different races, backgrounds and languages for me. Also, the library is always one of my favorite places to give us free opportunities to be intellectual, cultural explorers to climb up mountains of books. Being not only limited to people inside art galleries who can enjoy my art works, is a very important distribution for me in this melting pot of NYC.

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