While going through a host of interesting videos from The Knife (indie duo popularized by José González’s 2006 hit cover of their song ‘Heartbeats’), I came across an intriguing number directed by Brooklyn-based Japanese animator Motomichi Nakamura (shown below). And though unsurprised by my instant captivation, for I’ve long had a penchant for Japanese exports and contemporary Japanese artists such as Takashi Murakami and Hiroko Nakao, the humourous if not sadistic animation instilled the unavoidable urge to to find out more about the Motomichi oeuvre and the man himself.
With exhibitions in France and New York, a screening at SONAR, and new commercial work fresh off the hard drive, Motomichi started the summer of 2005 off with a bang. His portfolio site title, “Japonés Hasta La Madre”, was inspired by the phrase “Mexicano hasta la madre”, meaning “Mexican by mother”. From a song encountered in his days of listening to West Coast Chicano Rap music, Motomichi’s chosen mode of artistic expression bridges the link between music and culture that is both different to and synonymous with his own background. “The Chicanos have grown up in the States, yet they’re very conscious of their origins. I have been living in the States for over ten years. And the longer I live, the more conscious I become of my background too. But the Japanese language is no longer the first language it used to be to me. Somehow saying “Japonés hasta la madre” described how I felt about my identity.”
As can be seen in ‘We Share Our Mother’s Health’, his animations and paintings–each crafted from a palette of black, white and red–portray playful and bizarre characters who confront the dangers and pleasures of their abstract landscapes. Motomichi, who has worked in as many different media as he has countries (Japan, the US and Ecuador, to name a few), demonstrates a host of unique influences in his graphic design. Inspired by the street sign and mural art of South America, hand-painted wall paintings, political slogans, junk food ads, and auto shop signs, his style is bold, confident and tittilatingly artistic. The earliest work on his site, Qrime (2000), was where the use of his signature colours and animation began, and certainly not without reason. Seeing them primarily as elements, his manipulation of black and white flashing back and forth creates–in his words–an annoying yet distinct feeling. “Black is the darkest level and white is the lightest. That’s the flashiest thing you can see. When you have black and white right next to each other, that’s your maximum contrast. Everything is defined as much as possible. Then, when you have red, it creates a feeling that is overwhelming.” The result: a raw feeling derived from the tension and the balance in the colours.
His work is quite often an exploration of human nature, using strikingly violent and sexual imagery: genitalia, blood, decapitations. Fear is a common theme throughout, highlighting the things in society that many often try to oversee. Motomichi’s ethic drives to bring those very things out in the open in order to know more about them. He also sees experimentation in different media as being essential for an artist. “For me, animation, VJ work and painting all have the same goal.” His process involves the use of a sketchbook and Sharpie markers, drawing images on paper, then bringing them to the computer and refining the lines in Illustrator. From there, he projects, traces, and paints them–a combination of digital and physical elements that works very well with the characters and ideas he has in mind. His animations, done mainly in Flash, also use Illustrator’s vector drawing tools. After Effects is used in addition for editing and sound, but Flash is preferred due to immediate rendering capabilities.
When asked if he ever worries that his work is so stylistically defined that it might overshadow the musicians he collaborates with, he replies, “I think it depends on how you look at it. When I work on a project, I consider it a collaboration. Music and video help each other. I hope the artists I work with and I have a mutual respect for what each other is doing. I don’t think either party should compromise. When it’s a good match, it should work together seamlessly… When I hear the music and talk to the musicians, I say, ‘Oh, these characters will be perfect.’ Then I can animate from there. But the music has a lot to do with it. It helps me with the storyboard and give it direction. In recent projects, the characters have more and more to do with it. I personally enjoy developing the characters and then developing what happens around them.
Recent work includes a commercial for a cell phone service provider in Poland, and a show in Bordeaux, France called Digit no Digit. He has been showing his paintings to people for a few years, but mainly in the digital world using FTP or FedExed DVDs. However, with painting, everything is analog and work must be physically shipped out. “It’s a crazy process that I had to learn for the Bordeaux show. The painting has to be taken off the canvas and then rolled. Then, it has to be shipped. Also, they don’t use inches there. They use the metric system. So, even to the last minute I was nervous about it. I ended up going to Pearl Paint at the last minute because I wasn’t sure about what kind of stretchers I would find in France. I shipped the stretchers myself and then built the canvases there just before the show.”
In addition, he has also done a show in the New Museum in New York called Rhizome Artbase101. Rhizome.org, started as an online platform for the global new media art community in 1996, recently formed an affiliation with the New Museum of Contemporary Art. “It is an interesting show because Rhizome has exhibited its art online. Net art was designed to be shown on the computer. But now it’s being shown at the New Museum and other art spaces. I find that interesting: taking net art and new media art and bringing it to the museum. It’s a good step for the community. It brings it to another level… I think the art and design fields are just now catching up with what artists have wanted to do. A lot of artists like to work in various media. Some do videos, design, and music too. And now we’re finally able to bring these things together, a lot of times in places we hadn’t previously thought…like on the cell phone. It is a very exciting moment for artists, no matter where you come from: music, design, or whatever. Especially in terms of technology, when everything has become so portable and reproducible.”
When asked about working with The Knife, Motomichi described the experience as being “definitely one of the best projects that I have worked on. The band gave me full creative freedom and they were very happy with the result. One of the film’s concepts was to express pain in suggestive ways. Funny thing is that coincidently I had undergone nasal and septal surgery at the beginning of the project, and because of that I was in pain and my nose was still bleeding during the first two weeks of production (sorry for being so graphic…).”
Interview excerpts from PIXELSURGEON
Sarah Badr © MMVII