In August – 23rd to 29th – Darren Springer’s Ancient Future organisation joins forces with the Hoxton Gallery to showcase the paintings from Tokio Aoyama which mix the myth, music, spirit and the essence of nature into one palette of imaginative psychedelia.
This is Tokio’s first visit to the UK and his art works draw inspiration from ethereal sources such as ancient mythology, the wonders of the cosmos, and psychedelic experiences and states of mind. While he is influenced by artists like Picasso, Dali, Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Jean Michel Basquiat, Tokio channels through his art the essences of peace, ascension and love as embodied by musicians such as Bob Marley, Jimi Hendrix, Stevie Wonder and Sun Ra.
On the eve his visit I decided to shoot off a mail to Tokio in Japan and ask him a few questions. Enjoy.
Are your roots in the city or the country side?
I grew up in the countryside in the north of Japan. I never really grew up in a big city. My roots along with most of my family can be found in the countryside.
Did you grow up in the Buddhist or in the Shinto traditions or both?
I grew up in both …we have buddhist funerals but we celebrate and go to festivals based in the Shinto tradition. We also go to shrine (Shinto) and pray during the New Year. Well most people in japan don’t know about what is Shintoism and what is Buddhism because everything is so mixed.
Can you explain briefly how the practices of Shinto / Buddhism relates to your life in Japan and how these belief systems influenced your work?
It definitely influences my paintings especially after living in Seattle Washington for a few years. I say this because being away from home made me more aware of the cultural differencesbetween Japan and America so I instantly became more aware of myself as a Japanese person and my cultural practices. The temple and shrines by themselves are so beautiful and their art influences me in many ways. The festivals and practices of the peoples in the shrines are very inspirational and spiritual…very unique.
Are you self taught?
Yes I am. But I went to graphic design school and studied drawing a little bit in Seattle but not painting. I actually didn’t finish the school.
How do you relate to the graff / street art scene?
Movies, music, American culture, mostly inspired me. Especially as a teenager when I first came to the USA I was mostly inspired by what I saw in the USA. Yet as I got older, ancient and spiritual artifacts and culture mostly inspire me now.
Psychedelia obviously rose to global notoriety in the Sixties…. 50 years later you are tapping into that culture. Having visited Japan it seems to me that immersing oneself in commercial drug culture (ganja, LSD, cocaine etc) is a potentially risky business. Is there an undergound culture where, for example, people go hunting for mushrooms etc.
Yes, it is definitely there. Some people do go hunting for mushrooms in the forests and mountains. Some people even grow ganja in the secrecy of their own backyard but it is so risky. I won’t do that because the laws in Japan concerning drugs or magic mushrooms are extremely strict and carries a heavy price for anyone caught in such a business.Many people don’t know that many people used to grow Ganja before the WW2 and it was a common and normal thing for Japanese people and people used the mushroom for certain ceremonies. But that culture was destroyed by the occupying Americans who made certain rules concerning drugs and morality in Japan. Also ganja is closely relatedto Shintoism and everyday life, but people have forgotten about that fact and now it is a really bad thing to take ganja.
Japan, like Britain is an island culture and post WW2 – like Britain – Japan has absorbed waves of Black culture from the US and Jamaica along with music from Africa, Brasil, Latin America…. is this a minority thing compared to J-pop… or is this where the creativity is?
A lot of Japanese people are inspired by the African american, African, and Jamaican artists that they see on TV or hear in the radio and it has been that way for a long time. It is not a small movement. I remember as a kid seeing Stevie Wonder, Ray Charles, and various Black artists in advertisements and commercials on TV. J-pop is big in Japan but I am not really into J-pop of today. Hip hop and Jazz is extremely popular in Japan.
How important was it connecting with Georgian Ann Muldrow and Dudley Perkins in taking your work international?
I had loved their music before they even know about me or my artwork. Their music is very unique and pleasant for me to listen to. They were very instrumental in getting my name out on the international stage. Each time someone saw their album they also saw my work so it was like handing my business card to thousands of people, something that would have been difficult for me living in Japan.
What is it in their music that inspires you?
The message that they are trying to say in their music really connects to my thoughts and beliefs about life and people. Of course, I do love their beats and melodies.
Have you traveled a lot?
I think so. I have been to Colombia, Jamaica, parts of the USA, Canada, Italy, Thailand, and soon England.
Is there a particular shamanistic / transcendental tradition that you adhere to or in this age of information do you find yourself engaging with concepts and experiences born of other spiritual traditions from around the world.
I don’t have a particular religion or follow a certain shamanistic tradition. It’s a mix of everything for me. I really do like Shintoism but for now, many things from around the world inspire me. I like Shintoism because it respects many aspects of nature but I don’t strictly follow it. Ayahuasca however is something that I would like to try in the future.
Following the tsunami and the ongoing nuclear disaster at Fukushima daichi power plant have you as an artist been compelled to focus your vision on the physical impact this is having on the people, the environment and the culture?
Not as an artist but as a volunteer. After the disaster me and my family and friends went to the disaster area and gave food and supplies along with helping to move debris. It was an eye opening experience. I don’t support such things as a nuclear power plant and I was in a protest using my art as a way to educate people about the dangers of nuclear plants. I also did a few covers for a freepaper that was talking about the dangers of nuclear power.
I feel that one’s spiritual quest is inevitably linked to our immediate and global environment and therefore to activism of some kind. Has the nuclear disaster thrown up a new generation of activists and how important is it for the cultural /arts underground to get behind them?
This disaster has inspired many Japanese people to protest and speak out against the use of nuclear energy in Japan. Just about every Friday, many Japanese people in Tokyo and around Japan are getting the word out about their anger and mistrust of the government using nuclear energy as a major power source, even with the dangers involved. Many artists, popular and underground are doing their best to speak out against nuclear energy after seeing the horrifying events of March 11, 2011.On the other hand, many people think that the Fukushima disaster is over but it is still going on and we still need to think of a solution of the problem in the coming years.
CHECK IT OUT @ HOXTON GALLERY, 9 Kingsland Road, London E2 8AA
Thursday 23rd August 6.30pm – 9.30pm: LIVE PAINTING SESSION w/Tokio Aoyama
Saturday 25th August from 5pm: EXHIBITION CONFERENCE
The conference will be a panel-style forum featuring psychedleic art. They’ll be openly discussing their work, the current climate, and the future of the medium.
More info: http://www.ancientfuture.org.uk
(Please note: Ancient To Future and Ancient Future are related only in attitude and spirit!)