A Big Love
Interview and portrait by Sasha Bogojev
For centuries, the East and West have had a deep fascination with one another, despite the challenges faced throughout history. The love affair between these two cultures is undeniable. Japan has shown a love for rock ‘n’ roll and hamburgers, while the West has developed a craving for sushi and Manga. Amidst these generalizations, Tomoo Gokita stands as an exceptional individual who embodies the cross-cultural adoration. The Japanese artist has wholeheartedly embraced his passions for music and wrestling, and his relentless pursuit of obscure releases and performers has elevated them to the status of personal heroes. His work has gained immense popularity in Japan and beyond, capturing the attention of the Western world with his deformed representations of fallen celebrities, stunning experiments with patterns, typography, and various forms of visual expression.
As a result of this unique love story, Tomoo Gokita has achieved global recognition as one of the most exciting painters of our time. His artwork is regularly featured in institutional exhibitions both in Japan and internationally. Unassuming and honest about his work and practice, Tomoo Gokita graciously agreed to sit down with us during the opening of his solo exhibition at the Massimo De Carlo gallery in London, in early 2019. In this exclusive interview, we delve into the depths of his artistry and explore the untold stories behind his captivating works.
Tomoo Gokita’s Journey and Evolution
From Illustrator to Fine Artist
Sasha Bogojev: Tomoo, as an illustrator and designer, was fine art something you were always striving for?
Tomoo Gokita: When I was young, I simply wanted to be involved in any job that allowed me to draw and paint. Although I had an appreciation for fine art, it wasn’t necessarily my primary focus. Over time, I went through various phases and gained different experiences. It was through this journey that I naturally arrived at where I am today. My design work is solely for financial reasons!
Sasha Bogojev: Were there any pivotal moments, exhibitions, images, or people that shaped the direction of your artistic career?
Tomoo Gokita: I eventually grew tired of client-based design and illustration work. I craved the freedom to create art in my own unique style and express myself authentically. This realization occurred in my late twenties and ignited a profound transformation.
The Entry into the Fine Art World
A Personal Perspective
Sasha Bogojev: Can you share with us what your initial foray into the fine art world looked like? Was there a particular milestone that indicated your entry into this realm?
Tomoo Gokita: To be completely honest, I’m still not intimately familiar with the fine art world, nor do I fully comprehend it. Therefore, I hesitate to say that I’ve completely “entered” this world, so to speak.
The Early Works of Tomoo Gokita
Exploring Artistic Development
Sasha Bogojev: Before the current phase of your artwork, what did your earlier works look like?
Tomoo Gokita: The first oil painting I created during my high school years was heavily influenced by the style of artist Tadanori Yokoo, who was an idol to me at the time. Following that, I continued to create abstract oil paintings for a significant period.
Sasha Bogojev: Did you always envision yourself achieving the international success that you now enjoy, or did it simply unfold naturally?
Tomoo Gokita: It’s true that I have had more exhibitions overseas than in Japan, but I’m not entirely convinced that I possess true “international” recognition. I’m simply going with the flow and following wherever the journey takes me. I don’t have any specific aspirations in mind.
A Fusion of Cultures
Exploring the Intersection of Japanese and Western Influences
Sasha Bogojev: Your artwork seems to contain minimal traditional Japanese elements. Is this a deliberate choice?
Tomoo Gokita: This reminds me of the questions directed at the band Yellow Magic Orchestra in the 1980s. Western media would often inquire, “Why don’t you incorporate more Japanese elements into your work?” Since I was born and raised surrounded by European and American culture, it is actually unnatural for me to forcefully integrate Japanese elements into my artwork.
Sasha Bogojev: I’ve always felt that your work possesses a uniquely Japanese characteristic in terms of its depiction of Western imagery. Have you ever considered this perspective?
Tomoo Gokita: In my perception, there’s nothing particularly strange about the Western imagery I incorporate in my work. Growing up, I was constantly surrounded by Western culture, so it feels completely normal to me. Perhaps the mass quantities of Mexican pornography magazines that I am exposed to have also influenced my art.
A Deep Love for Wrestling and Music
Inspiration and Fascination
Sasha Bogojev: Your work often reflects your deep interest in wrestling and music. Could you share what initially sparked these passions and why they inspire you?
Tomoo Gokita: Pro wrestling is an incredibly captivating and unique genre. Those who don’t share this interest often dismiss it as nothing more than a fake fight, but they fail to grasp its true essence. Personally, my love for wrestling is simply a hobby and doesn’t directly influence my artwork. However, I’m constantly inspired and amazed by the spirit and dedication of the wrestlers.
Sasha Bogojev: These days, you are quite active in the music scene, engaging in cover design and even DJ gigs. Is there a desire to further expand or enhance your involvement in the music industry?
Tomoo Gokita: Music is incredible! I might even enjoy it more than fine art itself! However, for me, it remains purely recreational and doesn’t feel like work. There’s a part of me that prefers to keep it that way.
Sasha Bogojev: Do you have a favorite genre or type of music that resonates with you?
Tomoo Gokita: I have a strong affinity for music with soul.