Eri Wakiyama is a unique artist in that her illustrations and paintings have been ornamented onto the garments of big fashion houses such as Miu Miu, Calvin Klein and Supreme. Recently she exhibited her artwork in a more traditional style at the Marc Jacobs Heaven Gallery, New York in a solo show titled Because I Can’t Stop Thinking. Although traditional, the exhibition space welcomed us into an imagined bedroom world, where glow in the dark stars glimmer above a doll impersonating Wakayama snoozing in bed. In conversation with the New York based artist we talk about subjectivity, magic, fashion subcultures, and drawing instead of talking.
When it comes to drawing and painting, Wakiyama is like a magician in the way she is able to transfer and share her subjective world of vibrant and brooding characters onto paper. A rich imagination, organised chaos, fashion, and friendship found in both humans and animals, are all important elements in the making of her beautifully childlike and emotionally reflective artworks.
I find your work to be powerful and alive due to the evidentially strong subjective and personal relationship you have with the world. In a world where things are framed as objectively right and subjectively wrong, or only real if you can see it, do you think your art practice enables self-agency and unique openings for deep and rich worldings to be held and lived?
Definitely yes. I think we are constantly pressured in our world to think what is right and wrong, and what is allowed or not. I think what is real and unreal is ultimately up to yourself- no matter what the world says about you - they usually call you crazy but hey. The art world is especially subjective - and I appreciate that form of freedom. I think it’s sacred and such a special tool to be able to create and share to the world. What everybody else sees in my work and what speaks to them is up to them. I’m happy for whatever interpretation and message that speaks to them. Whatever world it opens them up to is really up to their eyes.
With numerous wars tragically taking place do you think it is important for us to connect deeply with ourselves (as opposed to dissociate) in order to imagine and see alternative answers?
War is one of those things that just doesn’t have an end or answer. It’s one of those things in life that is so tragic and helpless. Of course, I’m completely opposed to it and it hurts me on so many levels. But I can only do so much. I do what I can to contribute awareness for peace, or empathy to those directly traumatised by it. I think it’s important how we react to it, even if it’s just a message of spreading peace or to want it. A little thing goes a long way, and I think if every single person on the Earth yearns for peace, it’s possible for a better place for everyone. I don’t know the right answer for peace - I imagine it and believe in it all the time though. Maybe we live in war constantly and are fighting for moments of peace all the time.
Do you believe in magic? How would you define magic?
Yes. Magic also comes in so many forms to me. It’s magical to be able to fly, but it’s also magical when a baby is born. It’s magical that there are things called friendships, and magical that certain things like music can make you feel a certain way. But more directly, magicians are insane, I fall for every trick (laughs).
In what ways does drawing and painting free you, and words limit you?
Paintings free me because some things cannot be verbalised. They just don’t have words. For the same reason, words are so limited because I can only explain so much of let’s say, a feeling. Some things are just felt through the experience. You don’t need notes to live through moments.
Your exhibition Because I Can’t Stop Thinking just showed at the Heaven Marc Jacobs. This seems like the perfect place to show your work due to the strong link with youth culture and fashion. What about these elements, that are found in your work, are so close to your heart?
It was the perfect place and I’m forever grateful to them! Fashion is a really big part of my life - it always has been. It’s been a way for me to be different (as cliché as it sounds) - it’s true. I also went on to studying fashion in college and still work in the fashion industry. When growing up in a strict household, all you want to do as a teenager is the opposite thing of what you’re told to do - so naturally I was always seeking out things to wear that weren't so appropriate to my parents and what not. Anyway, I think in fashion subcultures, it’s interesting that people just nerd out on specific things, and it’s just very similar to nerding out on things like marker colours or anime. Does this make sense?
Yes totally! I have read that your artwork tends not to have any pre-conceived theme and that it is more a result of what comes out of you. Could you speak a little more about this kind of process and how it feels for you? Are there any discoveries made in the process?
It’s all a mess and very natural. I find myself being organised but in the most chaotic way, so that’s how my brain kind of works. Have you seen the new movie Everything Everywhere All At Once? It’s kind of like how my brain works. It’s almost harder for me to have a theme and draw based on it. Better to have a pile of random thoughts and try to put it on one paper or canvas. And yes- discoveries are always made. As well as mistakes.
I have read that for you, drawing provides an expression for the turmoil that can occur in your head. When and how did this become an outlet for you?
I’m sure since I was young...I had an urge to let things out by drawing, instead of verbally. I wouldn’t say I was mute, but I was a very quiet child, and always afraid to get into trouble for anything that came out of my mouth. By drawing, I couldn’t really be wrong or right. No one can really tell me what I’m feeling is wrong.
This may be a little personal, but what are your dreams like? Do you find that when you are drawing more or less, it changes the atmosphere, intensity or content of your dreams?
My dreams are chaotic! But they can also be very realistic and hard to tell dream from reality. I dream a lot. I remember them all the time. Sometimes I wake up crying, or laughing; meaning, I’m just so immersed in the world whenever I do sleep. I get nightmares too, which really trouble me a lot. I still can’t sleep with the lights completely out. And I do get inspired by my dreams quite often. I love dreaming.
Is there anything you do or need to trigger your rich imagination? Where and how does your artwork usually occur? Are there any specific environmental requirements? Or inner sensations that must be going on?
I’m not sure exactly where the imagination comes from…a whole mixture of everything happening in my life I assume. The past definitely triggers me, and reminders of the past: music, toys, memorable things etc. Environmentally, I can’t draw in front of others, I’m too cautious and distracted that way. If I’m on a roll, I’m just playing anime music or movie scores to keep me going. Many, many inner sensations. But I also need a whole lot of doing and thinking of nothing time before I start. I have to just lay on the ground and space out for a bit before I start working.
How is your cat Hedi? Do you think pets are grounding beings for artists? What role do animals and friendships play in your artwork?
Hedi is the best. He is named after Hedi Slimane of Celine. Pets are definitely important to who I am. I don’t think just to artists, but people in general. He is one of my biggest emotional support systems and I can’t live without him. I think it’s important for humans to have a sort of mutual understanding with animals. They sometimes know more things than you do when it comes to true feelings. Friends are also a huge part of my life. I can truly say that I wouldn’t know if I would still be here today without them. I am so so blessed and forever grateful to have them in my life.