Mighty Samurai Pen – An Interview With Wataru Yoshida

Wataru Yoshida was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1987. In 2007, Wataru chose to pursue an education in design at the Tama Art University, majoring in graphic design and illustration. He enjoys working intensively, and his illustration series “Body” is no exception to that rule. His design interests are not limited to illustration. Wataru’s work has been shown in other related design mediums. His portfolio includes works that have been incorporated into the posters, advertising, photography, designs for T-shirts, manufactured goods, even catalogues. One of his designs of T-shirt, for example, features an illustrated body structure that matches the physical system underneath, when worn. Wataru believes everything starts with an idea. When creating his work, his focus remains on creating images that are new and interesting.

It wasn’t going to be easy, interviewing Wataru Yoshida in Tokyo, Japan whilst I was in the final days of a short chapter in Samara, Russia. I had no teleporter, and despite repeated pleas about the necessity of a face to face interview and a Japanese language implant in my brain (they have those now, right? I mean, as I remember of the sci-fi promises from my dimming and distancing youth, that was coming before the flying car and after the food pills), the editors were having none of it. I mean, business class would have sufficed, and a translator.

I’ve been to Japan once before, and I didn’t understand the place very well; it was a three day stopover and I was confused at every turn. What will I make of Wata? Introducing ourselves over Skype messenger, it became clear that Wata’s English eclipsed my Japanese, but it was not quick enough for a fluent chat…you are about to read a re-jigged version of our Skype/email conversation.

>Hi Mr Yoshida, what should I call you, first of all?
Hi Luke, please call me Wata. Where are you?

>I’m in a cafe on Leningradskaya Street, Samara, Russia. Where are you Wata?
-Russia? Wow! I’m in Tokyo.

>How are things there? Before we start, I just wanted you to know that are thoughts are with your people after the recent disaster.
-Thankyou for being worried about the Japanese people. I am in the bathroom now, please wait for 30 minutes.


>I was just looking at the smoke rising from the chimneys in the “My Laboratory” line drawings – they are the only colour. Are you trying to see the beauty in our industrialised world, or make a comment on pollution?
-No, this work was made trying to imagine my art university. Whilst there is a continual flow of work at university, it is not mass production like a factory, but highly individual. I expressed it by colorful smoke – this work is anti-mass production.

>Sorry for the delay, I was lighting a cigarette, filthy habit that’ll kill me. Are you a smoker? Or is “Lungs” an anti-smoking piece?
-Yes, I’m a smoker. This piece is an anti-theme for “me”. And, I guess this theme is very fun visually. I get out of bed, I smoke a cigarette right away each day. I love “KENT” cigarettes. I started to smoke at high-school. Japanese law prohibits smoking under 20 years old. So, I received attention sometimes. Yes, sometimes I am disgusted by it…but, I can’t stop it…haha Yes! me too. I worry about it. I struggle with my addiction daily too. You and I are comrades..haha.

>What inspired the piece? It’s one of your witty works, like the body T-Shirts.
-My work is purely about curiosity and that is the only spur. My inspiration is it. It occupies my mind.

>But you must have some inspiration? The écorché of Da Vinci, perhaps?
-I refer not only to Da Vinci but also to more anatomical artists. I have seen other references. For example, Andreas Vesalius. However, I don’t like grotesque things. And yet, I choose this theme.
I suppose I don’t see this theme as grotesque, I merely have pure fascination for the mysterious and delicate qualities of the anatomy of mammals.

>Do you appreciate the earlier work of Damien Hirst – The Impossiblity of Death In The Mind Of Someone Living, for example?
-I wasn’t thinking especially about Damien Hirst when making these works, but I like his works. I have noticed my work has similar motifs when I finished it. There is a chance I was influenced but I probably failed to notice.
Again, I recommend Andreas Vesalius. I have referred to his anatomical works. His anatomical illustration is very good. At first, I didn’t know his name when I started drawing this work, but my friends said “Look at this anatomical illustration by Andreas Vesalius. He is good.” So I got to know his name. Since then, I have referred to the Atlas series. Atlas is a famous anatomical/medical book and even though this is very expensive in Japan, I bought it.
I have been greatly influenced by Oroz Istvan. He is a graphic designer from Hungary. Not only that, he is famous for his animation as well. His work includes copperplate expressions and tromp l’oeil simliar to Escher. It was his copperplate expressions that inspired me in particular. I don’t use copperplate in my work, but I use fine point pens to draw, to emulate it.

> I can imagine you drawing – a young man crouched over some paper, completely involved in his work. Maybe the only light comes from a lamp beside you, and your concentration leads to your tongue sticking out of your mouth. Am I close to the reality? What is your creative process, once inspired?
-Yes, I’m very focused when working on originals. Sometimes I keep drawing for hours on end. It’s just as you imagine. Though I don’t put my tongue out while drawing (haha). And, I take time to look at and to research some reference material. First I draw realistic works, after that I add my original ideas, gradually.

>Let’s talk about the “Brain” series.
-Specifically, it is not a series. I believe everything starts with an idea. When creating the Side Face, my focus remained on creating images that are new and interesting. This is one of the my favorite works. I drew this degisn in my early career, and it took a lot of time and energy. The reason why it is drawn in black and white is that it is easier to copy my original design without being influenced by the function of a printer, because I thought the copies would be true to the original beautiful and attractive design. Brain Light is based on the finding of ideas and hints that came to me during the production, not as you may think from cartoons – even though I liked to draw and paint MANGA as a child In particular, I liked to draw fine/sensitive paintings. So I went to art university this is a natural progression. I didn’t dream of being an illustrator in the future. Simply, it was the first time I was interested in illustration. Brain Quake is an idea that expresses the explosion and radiation in the brain. This work doesn’t particularly refer to earthquakes.

>The earthquake. What was your personal experience of the recent earthquakes and tsunami?
-First, I’m OK after the earthquake and tsunami. I’m in Tokyo and my family and all friends are safe. After the earthquake, almost all the public transportation stopped in Tokyo, which caused a little panic amongst people who tried to make it back home by bus/by car/on foot. The real damage is in Northern Japan, and I just cannot believe my eyes to see views of those areas on TV…Northern Japanese people still need someone to help.

>Do you think your work may be influenced by this in the future?
-Yes, of course. The Japanese graphic design scene will certainly change after this earthquake. Japanese advertising already changed. Many Japanese companies have self‐imposed control in advertising already. I have never seen a large earthquake & tsunami like this in my life. So, I can’t understand the future. But Japan is sure to revive. I believe it.

>We believe it too. Moving on; “Stomach” – what’s the thinking behind the organ being closed by a shell?
-This piece of work does not have any hidden theme underneath, rather my work is done mostly to seek visual appeal. My interests extend to photography, typography and etc. In fact, one of my favorite things is photography.

> It is easy to see your love of photography. “Compostion of Mammals” combines the fine delicacy of high resolution photography with the detailed curiosity of 18th century anatomists. Do you have a love of science or of history – or of both?
-Thank you so much. These are my favorite works, my graduation works at university. The description of this work is;
“A series of Photographs, to show a pure fascination for the mysterious and delicate qualities of the Anatomy of Mammals. The motive for the series of Photographs, “Composition of Mammals”, is to show the complex and interesting structure of mammals’ bodies. I came up with an idea of an exhibition, “The Composition of Mammals”, which studies the anatomy of mammals with displays of taxidermy and skulls. I tried to visually explain the context of the show by incorporating my diagram-like illustrations of bone structures and photographs that I took and edited myself. This project was my graduation work at Tama Art University.” First, the original drawing was done on paper. Then the drawn image was scanned. When necessary, additional drawing was done, then modified to be combined with the original drawing. I took photographs of the mammals at the same time. After taking photos, I modified them. Finally, I combined them. I don’t know science in detail but it interests me. Specially, the universe interests me. I love world and Japanese history too. If I could bring something back to life, it would be men of olden days, and hear about world or Japanese history. I am interested in Japanese and world history. Or I would bring back my ancestors. I will try to trace my ancestry. By the way, my ancestors are Samurai. It is true.

>The pen might yet be mightier than the sword, Wata. When are you happiest?
-I am happy when I have finished a piece of work. And when these works have made someone happy. It is the same for anyone creative. I try to please someone. And I smoke a cigarette right away each day when I get out of bed. I’m happiest at that time. And I love some coffee. Coffee and cigarettes are a perfect fit..

>Those dangerous smokes again. What is your greatest fear?
-My fear is “time”. Ti me passes quite quickly. The Beatles said “Life is very short!” I agree. I hate it.

>What is your great love, besides art?
-It is my family. And, my friends. And some exciting things that I still don’t know. I love that some people inspire me, spur me on.

>Family. What influence did your parents have on you? What was your upbringing like?
-I had a very strict upbringing, but I was a free and troublesome child that vexed my parents. I think that this upbringing converse to my free nature. But I love my parents. I had a strict upbringing, then again, my parents pampered me. I am an only child. I know now that my parents love me.

>Any final thoughts for our readers, Wata?
-Thank you for you read my bad English. I think it is hard work. I’m studying English.
The many Japanese man can’t speak English. Generally people can speak Japanese only.
and, generally Japanese people don’t go to abroad for a work. The Japanese people end’s my days in my country. I think we should go to abroad. The Japan is very small country. world is very big! I hope so. I hope to know many people.

>Wata, I’m fairly sure you’ll be understood wherever you are. Thanks.

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