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Shooting Gallery Exclusive Interview: Yumiko Kayukawa


Kayukawa, “TSURU (Crane)” Acrylic and Ink on Canvas, 24×16

Yumiko Kayukawa is inspired by wild animals and nature; her paintings, influenced by Japanese comics, feature a menagerie of tigers, bobcats and polar bears. Her upcoming solo show Madness (full press release here) opens in the Shooting Gallery on June 8, from 7 – 11 PM. Kayukawa has invented a Manga-style Eden, where her female protagonist gently interacts with fierce creatures. The Japanese artist, now based in Seattle, shared her insights regarding the cultural differences between Japan and the United States, where each country has a different take on what makes art “art.” She also revealed her strong ideological stance on the pet industry, which affects her choice of subject in her paintings. Learn more about Kayukawa below!

Madness, New Works by Yumiko Kayukawa
Opening Reception – Saturday, June 8, 7-11 pm
On View Through June 29, 2013
@ Shooting Gallery (www.shootinggallerysf.com)
886 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA 94109


Follow the jump to read the interview in its entirety.


Kayukawa, “OORORA MOCHI (Aurora Mochi)” Acrylic and Ink on Canvas, 28×20

Who is the lead female character in your paintings? What is her significance to you? How do you identify with her?

The girls in my paintings are just somebody. They are symbol of my feelings. They describes what in my heart.

You’ve drawn a broad range of animals – many of them being native to Japan. Any animals you want to paint that you haven’t yet?

I confess that I keep drawing the same animals again and again, such as tigers, wolves, foxes etc… Just because I love them, and it’s such a pleasure to draw them. There are many animals I’ve never drawn, and of course I have a passion to try to draw them. I already have new idea with giraffes, okapis, pronghorn antelopes, etc…So you’ll see them at my next show!

What’s it like to live in such a radically different culture from where you grew up?

It’s been eight years since I moved to here, so I feel pretty much used to it. I enjoy it more now. My favorite part of Seattle is that people are not only kind to other people, but also to animals and nature. I’ve never seen a pet shop selling dogs or cats in this area. It’s pretty common for people in Japan to buy pets from a pet shop. I hate to see puppies and kittens in show windows. I’m very happy that people are more considerate about them, so I don’t have to be sad in the middle of downtown :)


Kayukawa, “SAKURA CHIRU (Cherry Blossoms Fall)” Acrylic and Ink on Canvas, 16×12

How do Americans receive art differently from Japanese people?

For American people I feel my work is basically “foreign art.” People accept that it is “Japanese style” because I’m from Japan. But for Japanese people, my style is not “art enough” to be displayed at a gallery. Rather it’s something for a comic book or illustration. About twelve years ago, I started to translate my Manga into an art piece with some Japanese words. Adding Japanese words into my work was inspired from seeing American tattoos with Japanese symbols. Of couse some of them are super cheesy and funny. But I really enjoyed seeing it when I visited the US for the first time. So I started to say some obvious things in Japanese in my work. I imagine it wasn’t so cool for Japanese people though. So in the beginning of my career, I heard some comments from Japanese people that they thought I’m an American artist! But today, I have Japanese fans who enjoy my style as it is. It’s unique transfer of culture.

What breed of dog do you own? Would your pet ever debut as a character in your paintings?

My dog is a Papillon. My husband and I adopted him from a local rescue group. I don’t think I will put him in my paintings since my policy is not to support the pet industry. I’m afraid to draw specific breeds of pets in my paintings, because there is a chance that my work will influence fans to buy pets from a pet shop. Since I’m against the selling and buying of pets from a shop, I only paint wild animals. I sincerely hope that nobody will ever buy elephants or wolves online!


Kayukawa, “TEREYA (Shyness)” Acrylic and Ink on Canvas, 20×16

Have you noticed any similarities among your collectors? What types of people are they?

They must be “nice people!” Who understand my jokes. Unfortunately I’ve only met few of them, but all the people I’ve met were really nice. That’s the only I can remember about them because I was so happy to see their big smiles because of my paintings.

Have you branched off in any commercial ventures? Since your art is highly influenced from pop culture, could you see your images translated into products?

I have a long friendship with phone & laptop protector company Gelaskyns. It’s really fun to see my work into their products.

What role does Japanese mythology and spirituality play in your paintings?

My grandma was my nanny, and she taught me a lot of myths and folktales. Many of them are stories with animals, so I started to imagine hanging out with animals. I am also influenced by Buddhism and Shinto-ism, which also teaches about spirits and creatures in our world. I enjoy to play with these ideas in my work.

When you paint animals, which materials do you refer to for modeling them? Do you use magazines, books, websites, etc.?

I use pretty much everything to try to find an image of the animals I want. I even collect children’s books or make scrap books with magazine photos. Just so I am prepared to draw any animal in any pose.


Kayukawa, “YACHOU (Wild Birds)” Acrylic and Ink on Canvas, 12×14

Your paintings portray a range of animals – from wild, and dangerous ones, to cutesy pets like bunnies and kittens. Do tame versus wild animals in your work carry different symbolism?

As I said earlier, I don’t paint pet animals. Even a piece from the new collection “Wild bird” – the theme is that these parakeets are originally wild birds. But I guess what you mean is the little wild bunnies, tiger or bobcat kittens :) Yes, I love dangerous or cute animals, both. I especially have strong feeling for predatory animals. Since I was a child, I was really into nature shows, like lions hunting zebras. I know it’s hard to see one killed in a brutal way, but that’s the way that predatory animals survive. I just adore, and respect their amazing lives.

Where is your favorite place to work on art besides your studio?

I have everything I need in my studio space. I don’t even enjoy doodling anymore. So I always work at my studio, and nowhere else.


Kayukawa, “YUKIHYOU (Snow Leopard)” Acrylic and Ink on Canvas, 22×15


4 Comments so far

  1. [...] of a traditional fine artist. Kayukawa recently answered our questions about her work in this recent interview, where she explained the role of animals and traditional Japanese motifs in her [...]

  2. [...] an interview on her blog that gives a bit more introspective into what inspires her. She talks about how her work is [...]

  3. [...] of a traditional fine artist. Kayukawa recently answered our questions about her work in this recent interview, where she explained the role of animals and traditional Japanese motifs in her [...]

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