Hugo Yoshikawa: Playful lines, vibrant colours and an unforgettable voyage

19 Jun 2015

by Vivi Kallinikou

Playful lines with vibrant colours are Hugo Yoshikawa’s trademark. As a child, the Dalston based French-Japanese illustrator began reading popular French comics of the Bande Dessinée style including the adventure comics Spirou et Fantasio which his mother bought for him.

The sophisticated artistic quality of the comics made a strong impression on him, and, at the age of ten, he decided to pursue a future in graphics.
He did so quite successfully. On 26 June 2015, Tokyo’s Chanel Nexus Hall presents with ‘Le voyage de Taka et Yukimi’ the artist's biggest exhibition to date. Manga is the chief medium used to develop a theme of travel where the artist introduces major cities such as London, Paris, New York, Moscow, Shanghai, and Tokyo in a diverse visual panorama as seen through his eyes.

ArtRabbit spoke to Hugo while he was making final preparations for the show.

Q: Hugo, thank you for making time for us! You’re only two weeks away from your first solo show? How are the nerves?

The nerves are OK, thanks, although I'm kinda sleepy from all the prepping. I'm wrapping up the final pieces as we speak, and I seem to be on schedule so far, so all is well! And actually this isn't my first solo show. It's definitely the biggest show by far but I've done a solo show in Tokyo in 2012 and one in London in 2013, and a few smaller ones.

Q: You were introduced to graphics & illustration in a very early age, and have since pursued this artistic path. Can you share a few of your most important inspirations or early memories of this genre?

I suppose I'm doing half fine art illustrations and half commercial illustrations. But yes, it all started from reading French comics growing up. I loved the full coloured pages and the fact these authors could spend a whole year producing a 45 page book. So I always drew wanting to do that myself. And along the way I went to art school and deviated towards illustration rather than comics, although I would like to make some comics in the future. Hopefully very soon!

Q: You’ve lived, worked, and exhibited your work around the world, what makes exhibiting in Tokyo particularly exciting or challenging?

Being French-Japanese and born in Tokyo I guess I could call Tokyo my home town. It's a city I've been to throughout my life, so I have a certain affinity to it. So, I suppose it's nice to do a show “back home”! This show has a lot of different medias through it. I'm making 3D figures, there's some animations, watercolours, canvas works, screen prints, cyanotypes, and a few other techniques. It has been pretty challenging and exciting having all these different types of work which have different pace in their production, and developing them simultaneously. But it's been lots of fun, too.

Q: Western art practitioners and enthusiast are often advised to forget everything they think they know about gallery and museum shows when they come to Tokyo. How would you describe Tokyo’s art scene to someone who has never been before? And how can one enter this scene?

One big difference there is between galleries in Japan and in Europe is their location. It's really rare to see galleries that give onto streets in Tokyo for example. They're usually inside buildings, so unless you've heard of it it's quite hard to stumble upon a gallery. They will tend to have art galleries on the top floor of department stores, and you will have a regular clientele that will have a look at the art every week for instance. I have been told people will see your artwork one year, then when you do another show in the same place they'll remember you and start taking interest, and only then maybe buy a piece.

And I suppose it's similar to many places where if you don't have a fan base or buyers it takes a while to build that market for yourself.

Q: Back to your work. In your most recent works, your two main characters Taka & Yukimi go on a voyage around the world. As the viewer follows the footsteps of these two characters through landmarks that symbolise the individual cities and cultures are introduced in the form of drawings or silkscreens. Who are these characters to you? And what do these places mean to you?

Taka and Yukimi are characters that have slowly developed through my time drawing. They first appear without names in two cookbooks I've made and they've evolved into who they are since. I always say there's a touch of yourself when you draw characters. I wouldn't want to dress my characters with clothing I wouldn't want to wear for instance. I think Taka and Yukimi are drawn alter egos of myself, Taka is probably the slightly more dreamy version of me and Yukimi's got her head on her shoulders more than me.

This being a show in Chanel, I picked the places they were going to visit where Chanel has important shops in. I added South East Asia (Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia) as an extra section on their travels as otherwise I found it didn't have enough of a travel feel to it. And it turned out I've lived in more than half of these cities. I definitely feel some connections to the places I've lived and been to, and it's made me want to go to the places I haven't been to yet.

Q: Can you say something about the process of developing these characters?

Like I was saying earlier they're two characters that I've developed over time. I suppose when you draw characters, there's certain styles, like the nose and hair which you come back to, like certain shapes you draw more often and more easily than others. I can probably draw them with my eyes closed pretty well now!

The idea is that, being a male and female alter ego of myself, they're half Japanese, which you can tell by their names. I haven't thought what Taka's last name would be yet. But Yukimi, since she has an instagram account, has a last name - Jansson - which is based on Tove Jansson, who is the creator of Moomin, so she's probably half Scandinavian or something.

I think the show has been a process of developing these characters further. You need to find answers for your characters as you go along. You need to make up new stories and histories for your characters when you need it. I need to draw their workspace, then I ask myself "what do they do for a living?", and I come up with something that I think would be fun. I've really been enjoying developing these characters and making them grow as the work for this show grows.

Q: ‘Le voyage de Taka et Yukimi’ is your first multi-media exhibition. You’ve experimented with animation, Instagram, cyanotype and 3D printer which adds a new dimensions to your work that is beyond the domain of conventional illustrations. Is this something you would like to keep up? If so, why?

Definitely! It's really fun working in different medias and I'd like to get better at all of them. Although I might focus on one at a time to not spread myself too thinly and get really good at each of them. I'd also love to collaborate more with people who have different skill sets than myself to produce work which you wouldn't be able to make on your own. But in the end, as long as it's fun it's all good!

Thank you!

Hugo Yoshikawa
Le voyage de Taka et Yukimi
26 Jun 2015 – 20 Jul 2015
Chanel Nexus Hall

Follow Hugo on Twitter @hugoyoshikawa

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