Fumiko Amano – Citizen LA (July 2009)
Japanese born and Los Angeles based artist Fumiko Amano does not align herself with one art practice, rather her work operates like a palimpsest on a richly graffitied wall. Amano is not just an artist but a fashion designer, former curator at Pharmaka, and fierce admirer of the composer John Cage. Amano who just returned from her first solo exhibition in Seville, Spain at Murnau Art Gallery personifies an eclectic and International sphere of influence that is deeply palpable in the Los Angeles art scene. Amano who felt as though she needed to “prove herself as a good enough artist abroad” has already sold 70% of her works. Deeply influenced by the city of Los Angeles, Amano’s canvases reveal a side of LA that remains a mystery to many, especially those who live overseas. I caught up with Amano in her Downtown studio space to discuss her experience on the International circuit and her fascination with Los Angeles.
A. Moret: I’m particularly drawn to the “Downtown Series” because it demonstrates a fascination with urban life, but it doesn’t get caught up in the details of the cityscape. It’s interesting that you don’t really get the sense of sunlight, even though the sun is almost always out. For each series of work are you delegating a particular set of materials?
Fumiko Amano: Not necessarily limiting myself. For the “Downtown Series” for examples I haven’t worked with resin before. I have been using enamel and using graphite and whatever works. So far it’s on canvas, acrylic works best. So whatever works you know?
AM: What was the impetus behind the series?
FA: The “Downtown Series” is something that originally came from the inspiration of Downtown, LA- Fifth and Main Street. It was scary. I had a studio right behind Bert Green Fine Arts- Bert had this tiny 100 square foot space. It was around the time we started the gallery (Pharmaka) so it was 2004. But it was scary. I couldn’t even go in the daytime by myself because there were always really weird people sitting or doing something right in front of the door. It was scary. Every time when I got into the studio and I found peace I could always hear people screaming on the street, police on the street. I just thought ‘those are interesting sounds,’ and I always took on a lot of inspiration from the noise outside.
AM: And that became the urban soundtrack behind the piece?
FA: Yeah. When I started explaining the “Downtown Series” in Spain, I was speaking Spanish. As soon as I started explaining that ‘this is the landscape of LA and that’s the inspiration, and I just got the feeling that I get from Downtown LA,’ and they were like ‘I have to check it out.’ So it was a kind of funny reaction that I got from people but I always have a really happy feeling when I’m in Downtown.’
AM: I notice there are a great deal of Japanese influence in your work- almost like a schism between the LA streets and the rich tradition in Japan.
FA: Maybe it has something to do with how I grew up. When I was a kid I grew up in Tokyo. In terms of composition I take from Kimono fabric because the Japanese Kimono fabric has a sort of flow and I like the fact it has a weight at the bottom and the flurry things going on. It’s very feminine but at the same time it’s kind of a scary look.
AM: The work becomes an infusion of tradition and urban influence. With “Sonic Landscape” you’re using the spray paint and stencil, which is so reflexive of the cityscape, but is also a form inspired by the Kimono.
FA: I remember in the last show at Lawrence Asher Gallery in 2007, I had quite a few pieces that had a lot of stencil and in a way it had an element that looked like graffiti art and traditional art combined. I remember Andy Moses said something like ‘it’s a beautiful graffiti art’ or something. It just kind of really hit me at the time. Like my art is sort of between, not necessarily graffiti art but it has sort of elements of cityscape and landscape at the same time it has traditional elements as well.
AM: I can’t help but wonder if the “Noir Series” was influenced by your time as a film curator showing European films at the Art Share.
FA: I took a lot of inspiration from Jean-Luc Godard’s Alphaville. It was black and white and at the time I was known as a colorist because I used so much colors but I was always looking for a new medium and new colors. Then one day I was going through Youtube and I happed to find Alphaville. It’s a trailer and it has funny subtitles probably by French people or something, but it was so poetic. It didn’t make sense but it was so poetic so I started taking those images and printing them out and putting them on my panel. Not they images but the words- they’re subtitles that came out as a black screen with words.
AM: One of the first things I noticed when I walked in your studio was this rack of clothes in the corner. Are you still designing?
FA: I left fashion maybe 6 years ago because fashion is like film production. You can create your own things but once you start promoting your work it’s not work, it’s a product so you have to work as a team have to have many other people to work. I tried really hard in fashion because I love fashion so much and I still do, but then I realized I just don’t have enough connections to start, I didn’t have enough passion to create fashion merchandise as much as I do for fine arts.
AM: When did you first see “Water Music?”
FA: Probably 1994, 1995 or something.
AM: Did it inspire a shift in your work?
FA: I never thought of doing Abstract painting. I never thought it was my thing. I started working on more Abstract pieces after I saw “Water Music.”
AM: You have integrated life painting, or performance pieces into your practice. This was a huge part of Cage’s work. His appearance on “I’ve Great a Secret,” in 1960 is spectacular.
FA: I’ve done two Live Paintings in collaboration with improvisation musicians. John Cage is a big inspiration because I didn’t think about visualizing the music until I actually saw “Water Music” and that’s when it kind of hit me.
AM: Are performances paintings contingent on the sound of the music, or the prism through the artist views life at that particular moment?
FA: I’m trying to do something that is not real literal and the audience could take it and there’s a direct communication between the audience and the instrument player. And I think that’s kind of the connection that I’m looking for.
Fumiko Amano is a former staff member of Citizen LA and is currently represented by the Lawrence Asher Gallery