Each city has played a role in my life whilst growing up – as you do when moving through your twenties into your thirties. Paris was about language. I studied at Sorbonne. I didn’t know what I was going to do at the time. I did hang out with a few friends who went to L’École des Beaux Arts and it evoked my curiosity. But I thought they were cool whilst, I wasn’t, really.
In New York City I fell in love with the work of artist Rita Ackermann. I worked in two galleries. One of them sold works by Linda Stojak, whom I loved. I read The Bell Jar and was into that sort of thing. In the meantime, I started to work commercially with my first agency there. I discovered the illustrator Alastair while sitting in a waiting room at the doctor’s. I can still picture the illustration, it went through my heart and bones. He was contemporary with Aubrey Beardsley but not as famous. I learned recently that he lived in an area of London where I live today. I really liked that style of work then but my commercial work required something very different.
Beijing was an incredible experience. At the time, my permanent residency was in New York and it couldn’t have been more different. I was there on my own and no one spoke English. I lived in a courtyard in the Hutong areas, and bought a bike. I loved it.
Tokyo was the most difficult experience and place I've ever been to, but very important in my life, though. The cultural difference to Europe was mind-blowing. Even compared to a trip to Lebanon and Syria, I found Japan mind baffling. I'm very suspicious about westerners fetishizing the Japanese politeness. Attending meetings was absolutely surreal. I was told that bad water was running underneath the area where the westerners lived, Roppongi. So sinister but made perfect sense. I'm not sure it’s true. But it certainly made sense to me at the time.
I'm very grateful that I have since been able to meet a lot of Japanese students while teaching at Central Saint Martins. My respect for them. Coping with the cultural difference is immense, knowing a bit about theirs. I do think the famous print by Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, really is a representative image for my vision of Japan. It captures the mystical spirit and the power of the island.