I had the pleasure of sitting with Ai Makita, a Japanese painter whose hyper-dimensional abstract works link and explore concepts of organisms, animism, the boundary between the artificial and natural. Over coffee we discussed her work and current practice.
Q: Let’s start with that - that’s very interesting considering Japan has fewer than 1% self-identified Christians - could you tell me about your Japanese Christian background - and how that might play into your work and life? Have you heard that saying that in Japan people are born Shinto, marry Christian and die Buddhist?
A: My mother was originally interested in Christianity, and after reading the Bible along with my father, they converted to Protestants before I was born. We didn’t go to Church so much. Christianity at home was more about reading the Bible sometimes and praying. I think there is a flexibility in spirituality among Japanese or they just don’t care about religion.
Q: Do you consider yourself religious?
A: Yes. I believe in Jesus Christ, but sometimes I go to temples and like most Japanese I don’t consider it so special - the important thing is that my religion connected me to an interest in German, Italian and Western philosophy, it has sometimes provided inspiration to my creation. I often read French philosopher Foucault and especially the Italian contemporary philosopher Giorgio Agamben; he is very connected to my work. I’m interested in their main concept of BioPolitics and the relationship between the structures that make humankind stronger and ways that allow us to live longer. According to Agamben, BioPolitics (the word originally came from Karl Kerenyi, a mythologist) is concerned with Zoe, which indicates the eternal flow of life that includes all of existence, and Bios, which indicates the human society existing within the dynamism of Zoe. I was curious about artificial life in human society, which led me in my practice to explore the boundaries of natural | artificial, organic | inorganic, material | data etc.
Q: That’s interesting because when I first met you I asked you if you considered your painting to be Japanese style or Western style and you said that you considered them both.
A: I may not have a strong Japanese concept in my artwork, but the way of capturing the world is slightly related. In my practice, I have a tendency to capture everything as a layer of two-dimensional images. By layering two-dimensional images in my mind / on photoshop / on canvas or paper, I create a three- dimensional perspective. The idea is the same as 3D printing technology, which was first developed in Japan. But I think my work cannot be categorized as either Japanese or Western actually.
Q: Yeah when I look at your paintings I have a feeling of contemporary, of the global. I see a future modern style. I see a lot of psychedelic repetition in your art, a sort of mandala type repetition. There is a DMT type pattern here in this work. There is a sort of mandala type element. Did you intend this?
A: About those paintings, I aimed to represent artificial landscapes which reflect human society by using inorganic items. They are sort of a big explosive energy from when the world was created, a living monster-like form. When I create a image, I am often inspired by philosophy. Describing these paintings, the theme is based on Tractatus Logico-philosophicus by Ludwig Wittgenstein. His philosophy is still very difficult to understand clearly, but I created some images while reading his books.
Q: Could you tell me about the way you collage these images? How do you create these images? Randomness or with purpose? There is a symmetry, and animalism in your works. Walk me through this process?
A: These are some of my older works. I have attempted to create biomorphic and organic shapes with symmetrical images. I imagined the shapes of insects, monsters, human faces and landscapes in my painting by using metallic objects as the motif.
Describing the creative process, I take photos of metallic materials at first, then I create one digital image by processing the photos and patching them together using Photoshop. After that, I transfer the image onto a physical canvas, and finally I finish my artwork with oil paint. When I create a digital image on Photoshop, I usually use 20 to 30 photos for a final image. I not only simply collage the photos, but also process them by changing shapes and angles and colors. I usually picture a finished work in my mind before creating a digital image, but a good image comes up unexpectedly while processing the photos on the computer. I spend about 1 month on each image, working nearly 12 hours a day on the image. After maybe a month I have an image that I can transfer to canvas and work on with oil paint. For creating an artwork, it takes almost the same amount of time to do the digital process on the computer and the physical process on canvas.
Q: Wow - so you spend 5 days a week 12 hours a day for a month working on an individual image collaging until it’s done?
A: Yeah. Hah. It takes a long time. Once I think it’s done, I put it on hold until the next day. I sometimes found that the completed image was not so good when I left the image for a few hours. So I keep processing an image until I find “The one”.
Q: Wild. This reminds me of the Tibetans making sand mandalas working for meditative hours. I’m really interested in how you create these individual works for 12 hours a day.
A; Yeah I can’t stop making these pictures. I have no idea where I am. Once I start to create an image on the computer or canvas, I can’t stop my hand and am completely obsessed with the creation. It is like a state of trance indeed. I listen to music with a lot of bass sounds and just keep working on these. I like bass music such as dub, roots reggae, dubstep, and ambient techno while creating artwork. Interestingly, I have not written or talked about this to anybody, but sometimes I find out that people who like my artwork like such music. I am curious about the relationship between music and image. Currently I often listen to John Hopkins’ music. I didn’t know it when I first started to listen to his music, but I later found his creative concept was very similar to mine according to his interviews.
Q: It’s interesting. In these I see sort of snapshots of a hyper dimensional object, some type of farcical mathematical realm beyond the current. I wonder if in your trance like state you’re reaching or entering another realm.
A: I don’t think so. The hyper dimensional artwork was on purpose. My desire to create organic images by using inorganic motifs has developed recently. If you compare my older works with my current ones, my intention has changed to focus on the motions of living things rather than the shapes of them. As I started to expand on my work I became interested in the concept of movement and exploring how to present organisms and movements. Currently I am working on creating 3-dimensional images using techniques from stereograms and other optical illusions in my painting to make moving and fluctuating images.
Q: I’m curious if your intention to create an organic image by using inorganic items tie in back to the Zoe / Bios division in the philosophy you mentioned earlier? The division between the structure and organism you mentioned?
A: The idea of Zoe and Bios can be replaced with natural condition and artificial life. I have been trying to depict human society in my artwork by using inorganic (artificial) materials as the motif. I think we humans will never be able to become independent from the laws of nature, no matter how advanced the scientific technology would be. I would like to translate that situation into my artwork.
Q: Could you walk me through the role of reflections in your work?
A: Yes I use reflections in my work to create pieces that are almost like landscape paintings.
Q: It’s interesting because in this landscape - the world is barren with no nature and no humans.
A: Yes I want to make the world minimal, with no humans, almost alien.
Q: It’s interesting to me because there is a desire to reflect humanity, but in your paintings I see a contrast with elements of the artificial, the alien, the cold and barren.
A: I’m interested in exploring that boundary between the artificial and the natural. I’m trying to reach that edge where the artificial touches the natural. I do not want to make my paintings too natural or too artificial. I like a sort of ”intermediate image”, it attracts people and leads them to try to find out what is represented in the image. It connects to my style of painting, the super realistic but also abstract painting.
I’m really interested in using movement, 3-dimensional effects. It makes paintings more organic. For example, this printing work is a multi layer printing on an A4 letter size. This image works on an abstract form and is my desire to create a biomorphic image. I printed and changed each layer slightly differently making it more organic, and more 3-dimensional.
Q: It’s very interesting. I see in the movement a sort of portal. It makes me want to jump in and dive in. There is sort of a worm-hole in the work. It’s like the Matrix or some sci-fi reference.
A: Yes! Actually I was very influenced by science-fiction movies. My painting motif has a connection with them. The reason I started to use metallic objects such as a motorbike in the first place is that I was attracted to the organic shape of the parts, but the machine was actually inorganic. Then I realized that I would like to find spirits in the artificial thing, and it would be interesting to create the biomorphic artwork by using artificial motif. I don’t believe in Shintoism but animism is a sort of common feeling for the Japanese. I found some similarities of feeling in American movies such as Transformers/ Matrix/Terminator and many other sci-fi lineages in the US.
Q: Are you trying to grasp another reality, like a quantum reality?
A: Possibly. I currently use techniques of painting and installation in order to achieve my concept, but I need to develop my concept to further explore the relationship between the observer’s vision and space - a border lain between the digital world and the physical world - more clearly, by integrating digital devices into my artwork directly. VR and AR technology expand the physical landscape by controlling the observer’s vision. This idea is very similar to what I would like to do in my artwork, so I would like to find ways to adapt those technologies into my artwork while producing test pieces.
Q: This sort of reminds me of William Gibson, do you know him?
A: Yes! He is a famous science fiction dramatist, I need to read him.
Q: Are there any painters that influence you as well other than the Sci-Fi?
A: Yes. The german painter Gerhard Richter. He has mainly worked on traditional 2-dimensional painting but he has offered a new idea of time and space in his painting. However, rather than creating 3D images that are easily made digitally, I would like to continue to make hand-made artworks because this “real” world is important to me. In the contemporary art world, film, digital art etc are important and maybe in trend, but to me I’m trying to push painting forward into the contemporary.
I have created mainly two-dimensional paintings, but some of my works could be classified as installation. My next project in New York will be an installation including painting, layered sculpture, printing, and photo book. So actually I can’t call myself just a painter, I am working on fluctuating dimensions of images.
Maybe we’ll explore new paintings in the future. I want to create paintings of the future. I’m trying to push painting.
See more of Ai’s work @ https://www.ai-makita.com