Japanese artist Kazuhiro Hori’s surrealist paintings may at first appear to depict the playful delights of young schoolgirls, cuddling their favourite teddy bears on heavenly soft, sugar-coated clouds of meringue, surrounded by sweets and toys. But delve deeper into Hiro’s Instagram and you’ll begin to recognise the torturous pains of adolescent conflict.
Behind these familiar childhood symbols are the darker and more disturbing realities of adult life. With comfortable yet sinister ease, Hiro explores this loss of innocence through teenage naivety, the mysteries of sexuality and our inevitable tendencies for self-destruction. You wouldn’t be alone in finding a certain kind of comfort in these images, failing to notice the often explicit, but sometimes subtle, juxtaposition between fairy tale and nightmare. In fact, Hiro’s work is gaining notoriety far outwith the Japanese audience.
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When and how did you start creating art?
I have liked drawing since I was a child, and I studied oil painting at university. I loved animation and manga, and my childhood dream was to become a cartoonist. They still have a big influence on me even now.
Those who know you well may know that your early work (pre-Instagram) depicted quite dark, disturbing scenes with distorted figures. In some ways, this darkness is still present in your work. Can you describe where this comes from?
I tend to have a negative perception of others, of society and of the future. I am poor at socializing and speak from my heart. I think that such a personality has an influence on the art I create.
What made you focus solely on adolescent girls as the main subjects for your work?
When I thought about changing the style of my previous paintings, I decided to draw a girl.
I am working at a junior college and am often surrounded by young women.
Despite being in school uniforms, surrounded by toys and candy, the girls seem under attack and in danger. There’s a clear conflict between innocence and evil. But the ‘monsters’ or creatures attacking the girls have a cute side as well: they seem like giant, fluffy teddy bears. In other illustrations, it’s actually toys that are attacking the girls, like these miniature, plastic soldiers. Is it a sort of dark twist of Toy Story?
Although the girls may seem bright and sparkling, they have many troubles and conflicts. They entrust themselves to the toys, shaping their worlds with their favourite things. But in my paintings, the sweets and stuffed animals might eat them while at the same time satisfying them. They’re both good and evil. Lovely things and invaders of their peace.
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What is the significance of the red liquid that’s common in your paintings?
It is a sweet strawberry jam and expression of blood at the same time. A representation of the wrist cutter confirming that they’re alive by shedding their own blood.
There’s a definite indication of sexuality in your paintings, some more explicit than others. Does this fetishize the young women, in your view, or is this a representation of something deeper?
From the viewpoint of many men, girls are the farthest beings from them and the most mysterious and attractive at the same time. I am very interested in expressing them.
Your work has been featured and exhibited all over the world. How have different cultures reacted to it so far?
At first, I thought that it would not be understood much by non-Japanese people because my theme is extremely expressive of Japan's unique situation and emotion. However, with many people I found that my work represents common, universal problems.
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How has this exposure changed your career as an artist?
Since I understood that my theme is understood all over the world, I now hope to present work in various countries.
You’re also a professor of fashion design. Does this bleed over into your painting at all?
Actually, fashion is not much related. Apart from fashion, I am in charge of teaching contemporary art and drawing. The contemporary art classes especially are helping me to acquire many ways of thinking.
What is the most important lesson you try to teach your students?
To make a lot of work and to think a lot.
What are your plans for the near future? Any upcoming exhibitions?
I have a couple of plans for group shows. In the future, I would like to make a solo exhibition abroad.
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