Yu Maeda’s Harmonious Fusion: Artistic Synthesis in Lazinc Magazine

A Journey of Artistry: Yu Maeda’s Fusion of East and West


For decades, there has been an undeniable fascination among Americans, particularly artists, with Japanese culture. From comics to fashion, ceramics to underground art, Japan has consistently showcased passionate and intricate creative expressions that have captivated the world. However, artist Yu Maeda, originally from Japan but currently based in Los Angeles, unveils a surprising twist in this narrative. In a conversation with Bill Dunleavy, the founder of Superchief Gallery, Maeda shares how his move to the United States awakened his connection to the unique art language of his homeland. Embracing his newfound inspiration from American cartoons, music, and iconography, Maeda’s art now harmonizes the flavors of East and West, taking viewers on an exhilarating journey into the world of fine art.

A Transpacific Exploration

Bill Dunleavy: Where are you from originally, and what brought you to the US?
Yu Maeda: I was born in Kumamoto Prefecture, located in the southern part of Japan. After studying design at Kyoto University of Art, I spent seven years working as a commercial animator in Tokyo. However, I grew tired of creating work based on client instructions and yearned for more creative freedom. At that time, I was already dabbling in illustration and doodling for fun, and I wanted to pursue drawing more seriously. So, I made the decision to quit my job, initiate a significant life change, and try to make a career for myself. Being a fan of American film and culture, I chose to relocate to the US.

American Influences and Cultural Tapestry

Bill Dunleavy: What role did American culture play in your life growing up, and in influencing the artist you’ve become today?
Yu Maeda: American culture, particularly horror and sci-fi films from the 1980s directed by luminaries like David Cronenberg and Alex Proyas, have always had a profound influence on me. Instead of consuming Japanese content, my parents exposed me to a lot of American TV shows during my childhood. I vividly remember watching “The Simpsons” and Disney animations, with “Silly Symphony: Flowers and Trees” being a specific inspiration that fueled my interest in illustration. As I grew older, I also discovered and immersed myself in South Park.

In terms of art, I was drawn to works like Rat Fink, Lowbrow artists, and skate graphics by Jim Phillips. Despite not being skilled in skateboarding, the skateboarding culture greatly impacted me. Musically, I gravitate towards punk, hardcore, and post-punk genres, with a penchant for UK Punk, ’90s hardcore, and bands like Fugazi.

However, interestingly enough, my interest in Japanese culture did not fully blossom until I moved to the United States. Once here, I started delving into Buddhism, particularly its temples, statues, and philosophy. I also developed an earnest curiosity about the ancient Japanese religion of Shinto, predating Buddhism. Exploring and learning about Shinto has been a recent fascination of mine.

In some ways, traditional Japanese culture has become my personal counterculture. Growing up in Japan, I was primarily exposed to American perspectives, as my parents shielded me from Japanese influences. Additionally, due to my shyness, I had limited interactions and friendships during my time there. Today, my studies have led me to deeply appreciate animism, the belief that our relationship with nature is sacred and spiritual.

It’s worth noting that post-World War II, American capitalism heavily influenced Japan, causing many to lose touch with their cultural heritage. Coming from a rural background with grandparents who were farmers, studying animism, Buddhism, and Shinto has helped me understand and cherish my roots. Yet, despite this exploration, I remain opposed to the notion of nationalism. My aim is to harmoniously blend Japanese, American, and international influences, thereby creating art that resonates universally.

The US Art Scene and Embracing Individuality

Bill Dunleavy: What is your impression of the US and the art scene here?
Yu Maeda: American individualism has made me feel at ease. In Japan, individuality is typically not held in high regard. I genuinely appreciate the art scene in California, as well as the broader American art landscape. The abundance of exceptional galleries, artists, and diverse cultures and subcultures provides ample opportunities for engagement. People in America possess an open-mindedness that I find invigorating. The welcoming nature of the art scene to a multitude of ideas helps nurture its vitality.

The Artistic Evolution

Bill Dunleavy: You started painting when you came to the US. Can you tell me about the trajectory your career has taken as things have gotten more serious?
Yu Maeda: I have been living in California for over six years now, and I began painting as soon as I arrived. Initially, I worked extensively for Japanese companies to sustain myself financially. However, my ultimate goal was to become a full-time artist, and for the past three or four years, I have been able to support myself through my artwork. Posting my work on Instagram yielded positive results, and I witnessed the transformative power of social media.

Before 2010, there were limited avenues for me to showcase my work. Over the years, I have been fortunate to receive commission work from notable clients such as Animal Collective, Desert Daze, Thundercat, and Guerilla Toss. One of my earliest exhibition experiences in Los Angeles was a group show at Bergamot Station in 2014. Shortly after that, I exhibited at White Owl Social Club in Portland with the Defenders of Good Times. It was during this time that I encountered Superchief Gallery in LA for the first time, where I saw the work of Lil Kool. In a serendipitous turn of events, I handed them some stickers and prints of my artwork, and they offered me a spot in their Annual Mega Group Show in 2016.

Simultaneously, I also exhibited certain pieces with Giant Robot, gradually refining my skills as a painter through years of practice. In 2018, Superchief invited me to be part of a significant exhibition in LA called D3ATH, alongside Homeless Cop and Bonethrower. This exhibition marked multiple firsts for me, including my inaugural experience with mural painting and the showcasing of a cohesive body of work.

Following my success in the D3ATH group show,