Kazu Tabu’s work places a romantic focus on the human relationship with nature, both on a physical and spiritual level, and his rich tapestry of exploration invites the audience to take part in a fairytale. Dash Majesty talks with the Japanese artist to uncover more about his artistic process.
Dash Majesty: For those who don’t know, could you sum up what you do?
Kazu Tabu: During my day job, I am an illustrator. I seek my clients’ needs and illustrate their ideas to make them visually available in the best way I can. For this part of my work, it isn’t very important to me that I express what I think, although I do think and feel and use my thoughts and feelings to find the best solution in each situation. It’s important to try and synchronise with what the client is seeing in their mind.
I am also an artist. For me, being an artist is a way of living. It fulfils my desire to be who I am. It enables me to be aware of the thoughts and emotions I have about myself and my surroundings. When creating, I feel like everything is one, it’s a feeling of complete freedom. I can see how the boundaries and limitations that define who I am embrace my creativity and guide me to a place where I truly want to go, a place where my desire may meet the desire of the world. It is in this place I realise my life can expand far beyond the limitations of ‘me’. My work is very much about myself and reflects my thoughts and feelings, but I also like to keep things open and unanswered so that it can stimulate the viewer’s imagination, helping them to listen to their own emotions. I believe that deep down in our subconscious, we are all connected, and by seeing the audience’s point of view, I feel like I can see at least a hint of that connection.
DM: Why did you choose to experiment with sketching above all other artistic forms?
KT: My recent body of works are all drawn with pencil and then painted digitally. I used to paint with acrylic, but I happen to have found digital painting more suitable for my needs at the moment, both for creative and time related reasons. I am open to any kind of media as long as I enjoy the process and the result. I have also tried music and writing as artistic forms, but I started drawing much earlier, way before I considered myself to be an artist.
DM: You returned to your home of Toyota after a period of living in the US. Do you think this move affected your art?
KT: I think it has, but I am not sure how exactly this is shown in my art yet – I think it will take some time for me to understand it myself. As I mentioned earlier, my art reflects what is happening within myself. By moving back to Japan, there has been and will continue to be some impact within me, for sure. I moved to the US at the age of 19 to study art and moved back at 34. There are lots of actions that I take which are rooted to how I grew up in Japan as a child, although it can be said I learned how to behave in society as an adult from American culture.
These two countries are very similar in terms of capitalism and materialism, but the spiritual foundations are a little different. Where American culture focuses on each individual and his/her freedom, Japanese culture emphasises ‘the whole’ and harmony. Like all cultures, they both have their own strengths and weaknesses – experiencing both helped me to see them objectively from different angles.
DM: Do you have plans to travel anywhere else?
KT: Not at the moment. But I am open to any opportunities. Right now I am happy with where I am, busy observing my roots and how they affect my choices in the present. Living by the ocean or in the woods sounds good to me when I get older.
DM: A great deal of your work seems to focus on the human relationship with the natural world. May we ask why this is?
KT: For one thing, I like nature. It comforts me. I like trees, mountains, oceans, and animals (I have been rock-climbing for 17 years). I like people and things created by humans: cityscapes, bridges, vehicles, musical instruments and high-tech machines. I do not wish to see the natural world as the human world’s counterpart. I believe that it is only our mind which separates us from nature – rather, we are only a single part of it. It is not as though we exist here and nature exists there, and the nature-lovers go out there to enjoy the nature. I see human buildings as a part of nature, just like a bird’s nest on a tree. Nature has never shown a direction in which it wants to go. It exists without reason and its existence itself is the reason for its being. When it is time for it to die, it dies.
I do not believe that nature wants to stay natural or that the human should be more natural, although perhaps it might be nicer to have fewer people and more trees in cities. We exist here, just like nature does. By accepting the fact that we all exist, right here, right now, I wish to find the true harmony of all beings. I want to create a time and space through art for my audience to think about their own existence and their own possibilities.
DM: A personal favourite piece of ours is The View From Where We Used To Be. Could you tell us a little about the inspiration behind this?
KT: I was on a hill in Los Angeles, very early in the morning. I was alone, sitting just like the piece depicts, looking at the grass and some ants walking around. I thought, ‘Maybe this could be how God looks down on us from up above?’ Sometimes I like to believe we all come from the same place and we are part of the same being. Each one of us is so imperfect because we are only a part of ‘it’, but as a whole, we can be perfect.
DM: Do you have a muse?
KT: I think I do. Although I have never really thought about it, so I don’t know exactly what a muse means to me specifically. Whatever it may be, I at least know that when I have an opinion about something, it always seems to argue against it or tries to tell me every possible opinion it has about it, which ultimately helps me to stay as neutral as possible. This happens most strongly when I am creating art. It tends to take the form of the people I interact with or the people that I care about. It tells me how they would react to my creations. My creative process feels as if I am bouncing back and forth between these thoughts.
DM: Is there a specific reaction which you try to provoke in your audience?
KT: As long as the reaction truly comes from within the person, I am open to any and all kinds of reactions to my work. In recent times, it seems people in Japan are comfortable with being given answers, as if they are too afraid to be “wrong” – although I don’t think there is any “right” answer in art. I have heard many of them saying they shouldn’t share their opinions because they do not “do” art, therefore they are not qualified. I don’t want my art to be only for art lovers, I want it to be for everyone, especially for the ones who don’t know what art is capable of. There have been many times, at the start of creating a piece, where I haven’t even understood my own art. I sometimes form an understanding of it, and myself, by listening to the audience.
DM: At a Place with Almost No Colors is so captivating. Is there a story behind this work?
KT: This piece was inspired by the tsunami and earthquake of northern Japan in 2011. I was still in the US at the time, but the devastating disaster kept me in deep contemplation for a long time. As the very existence of death emphasises the existence of life, it led me to asking myself, and I think many others, such questions as: Why are we here? Why are they dead and I am alive? What can I do to justify my survival? The image came to my mind when I was thinking about their death, maybe hoping for the peaceful exchange of life and death in some deep, quiet place. It was very peaceful, but colourless somehow.
DM: Which was the most difficult drawing for you – not necessarily in terms of technical ability but perhaps because of the message behind it?
KT: Meet Me in the Crowd was difficult for me to finish. I wanted to create a piece only using realistic elements. I tried to avoid the use of fantasy elements, such as big floating fish. I think I wanted to prove I could do it. I don’t know how many people would consider the white crows as realistic elements (for me they are), but the giant pig wasn’t there originally. No matter how long I waited, staring at the piece, it didn’t feel finished. I felt it was missing something. So I decided to add the pig, which I came up with during the rough drawing stage – I actually once got rid of it because of the reason stated above.
Adding the pig definitely gave me comfort and a feeling of completion, but I failed to achieve the original plan. This piece made me realise that, somehow, I was trying too hard to keep it simple. I was thinking the simpler the better. The less complicated elements the better. Maybe it is true that less is more. Who knows? I certainly wasn’t ready for it at that moment. I was trying to be something that I wasn’t. It was difficult for me to accept that I wasn’t ready, but I still haven’t t given up trying to create something that is amazingly simple and beautiful.
DM: Do you have any upcoming projects that you’re excited about?
KT: There is an iOS app game, which I spent the whole of 2016 art-directing and illustrating. With some limitation, in terms of structure and time, I had complete creative freedom, from the basic concept to the minute character details. It is a tower defence type game that happens inside the mind, with different imaginations fighting each other, almost like a dream. The game is called ‘Sleeps’ and will be released soon.
I also have a solo exhibition in Tokyo this coming fall. I am producing a series which I am later planning to publish as an illustrated children’s book. The exhibition will, on an unspoken level, look like it makes up some sort of story, but each individual piece will work as a concept on its own.