Studio Visit With Artist Meguru Yamaguchi

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As we entered the sun-drenched studio in Bushwick an elderly man stood with his back against a wall. A knit cap slouched over his head, a sweater draped over his shoulders and his eyes lay focused on the small turntable in front of him. “This is my Dad,” we were told. Apparently we weren’t the only ones who had come to visit Meguru Yamaguchi, a Brooklyn based artist who has made a name for himself by incorporating modern day technological idiosyncrasies like copy & paste, Instagram and Facebook into his artwork. These contemporary promulgations have a tendency to be viewed as self-indulgent, narcissistic and artificial. And yet, at the core of Meguru’s work – and himself as an artist – we find something that is incredibly pure and honest.

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It was a frigid morning in February and Meguru had met us outside. In a t-shirt. He introduced us to his father Katsuzo Yamaguchi, a retired fashion designer who was previously creative director for Ozone Rocks, the now defunct high-end label for fashion house Ozone Community. “Being in the fashion business we were constantly surrounded by art,” says Meguru’s father, who always insisted on the culture being a large part of his family’s lives. This helps explain why, at the age of 6, Meguru took oil painting classes where he first encountered a Van Gogh. “Our teacher told us to try to recreate the masterpiece,” Meguru recalls of his younger, smaller self, toiling away in front of a small post card of “Sunflowers.” When asked who his favorite artist is, to this day Meguru will tell you it’s Van Gogh.

Meguru is 30 years old but when he was 15 (actually if it weren’t for his carefully trimmed facial hair he wouldn’t look a day older) the young artist had the opportunity to see the one of Van Gogh’s Sunflower paintings housed in the office building of a major insurance firm. It’s certainly an odd place for one of the most expensive paintings in the world, but also somehow fitting as part of the series was destroyed by fire during an air raid in 1945. Everything about the painting astonished Meguru but what really left an impression was how real and alive it looked compared to the postcard he had studied as a child. It was an important distinction between virtual and reality that would go on to impact him as an artist.

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Meguru grew up in Shibuya, Tokyo a hot bed for street culture, which was blossoming in the late 90s and early 2000s. In art school he met the NY-based artist Tomokazu Matsuyama, who encouraged him to visit New York. On a whim Meguru took the plunge and never looked back. “At the time Matsuyama-san probably thought he lured in a real pain in the ass,” joked Meguru. But pain in the ass or not, Meguru ended up spending 5 years working for Matsuyama as his assistant.

Don’t get the floors dirty

In New York, Meguru continued to paint. His style was a hybrid: part memories from classic manga like Dragon Ball, part legacy from Tokyo’s graffiti and street culture, and part influence from the colorful work of his boss. Meguru recalls an incident in which Matsuyama went away on a business trip but let him use his studio. “Just don’t get the floors dirty, he told me.” So to play it safe Meguru decided to lay plastic film sheets for protection. Sure enough, he spilled. As he was cleaning up Meguru noticed that the paint he had spilled peeled off, revealing parts the resembled puzzle pieces. This, as he would later come to realize, served as a starting point for what would become his signature style of collaging pieces of paint together.

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A Melting Pot of Styles

Like all artists, Meguru’s style is a portmanteau of masters that came before him. And his enthusiasm in revealing his artistic SparkNotes shows a deep respect for the techniques of others. Gerhard Richter and graffiti artist Swoon in the way they cut out their subjects. Eric Carle in the way he paints many tissues and leaves them to dry for later use. Jackson Pollock and his undisguised actions. And, more recently, Ryusuke Fukahori in the way he layers resin. It’s a melting pot of styles, just like Tokyo and his adopted home of New York.

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Meguru showing us an Instagram photo of a BBQ – with filters and all – that was used as one of his subjects

From Instagram to Insta-art?

Today, Meguru’s work, aside from the abstract streaks, are mostly portraits. And understandably so given the proliferation of selfies on social media. Indeed, many of his subjects come from photos he unintentionally sees on facebook, twitter and instagram. “I guess one of my friends ‘liked’ someone else’s photo and so that showed up in my feed,” recalls Meguru. “It was a photo that belonged to someone completely unknown to me and I was intrigued by the way this landscape appeared and then disappeared right in front of me.” But there’s nothing momentary about Meguru’s paintings. He takes his time on each piece, often putting them aside to let them “ferment” and then returning to them. This one in particular took 2 years, practically a lifetime in social network years.

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Meguru’s father was in New York to promote his art book “Rocks.” They’re currently available at McNally Jackson Books and Kinfolk Studios.

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Meguru wandered off into a corner and returned with several trowels. “I started off with this,” he said, referring to the small one. Then he held up a large industrial-looking one. “But now I use this. It takes two people.” He was referring to his paint streaks, which are made by starting off with large puddles of paint and, in a single swoop, spread across a protective film that lay strewn across the studio. Once the paint dries, Meguru painstakingly removes all the parts, small and large, that do not contain paint. This can takes several days but once complete it is then sealed with a coat of resin. The resulting piece – an almost violent swipe of color – can be installed on walls and building facades. In fact, a similar piece was installed on the façade of the Japanese-owned East Village bike shop Chari & Co. last year.

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Urban Landscapes

Landscapes – a historically classical subject in art – is important for Meguru. Some of his most daring and exciting aspirations have to do with the urban landscape of New York. “I would love to be able to paint an entire building facade,” he says, with a child-like naivete. And yet his sincerity may very well pay off. Amongst potential upcoming projects is a mural on the side of a building in Harlem, as well as a collaboration with the fashion label Rag & Bone to display his work on their walls. But public art also means throwing yourself into a sometimes-merciless pack of critics and vandals. When a previous piece was in the Lower East Side was damaged Meguru attempted to return to the site to restore it. But instead of blaming others he carries the burden himself. “If the artwork is powerful enough, no one will mess with it.”

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The questionnaire:

As usual, Huey (7) had a few questions for Meguru.

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Giveaway

Meguru was kind enough to offer a piece of his art to a lucky reader. To qualify all you have to do is leave a comment below and 1 person will be selected at random. Don’t worry, we’ll cover postage anywhere in the world! You have till April 1, 2014 to enter.

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(Special thanks to Kaori and Masako for making this visit possible. For all our previous studio visits, click here)

35 Comments

  1. Wow, anything you can imagine is real!

  2. Awesome! Great article!

  3. Wow, Jojo ( I mean, Johnny-san!) this one was super omoshiroi yo! Always so informative and inspiring. Great Japanese peeps art work, go Meguru san!!

  4. Great artist and studio profile… inspiring.

  5. Pick me! Pick me! Pick me!

  6. So beautiful, really love his portrait of his father too! 🙂

  7. Love the way he combines painting with collage.

  8. Very cool!

  9. I love how much energy Meguru achieves at such a scale. It feels like a painting was put under a microscope, which under the pressure of the creativity it saw, exploded.

  10. Your article is outstanding. You give a balanced view of the artist’s technique, evolution, and personality. More articles like this in your studio visit series, please!

  11. Always a fan of Meguru’s art! Keep up the good work!

  12. The white outlines make his work look electric!

  13. Love the paint streaks.

  14. Exceptional Stuff!

  15. Can’t resist those colors and textures.

  16. Great article and AMAZING work!! Very inspiring!

  17. Wow. Good article, fantastic artist.

  18. Love the energy in the paintings!

  19. clamp and motion blur in one! –
    reality follows virtual reality which follows our dreams which follow reality

    nice article

  20. Haha this was great!! Pick me

  21. Great interview, interesting process deconstructing and reshaping paint as a form.

  22. Your art looks amazing, great inspiration

  23. I really like how the colors get mixed rather incidentally and create a surprising piece of art. I love the process.

  24. This was my favorite studio visit – thank you for posting this.

  25. That strip of paint
    A bird
    It flies to the veil beyond Yugen

  26. Love it, interesting process and exceptional art.

  27. The anxiety of constantly producing something brings me here to recharge my bearings. I find it comforting to understand the creative practices of others.

    Meguru has really nice skin.

  28. Feel so green and weightless when seeing and reading this article. Vivamente!

  29. Morgan Roberts

    March 28, 2014 at 8:00 pm

    It would be awesome to have this piece of artwork.

  30. More than most blogs – I learn so much from Spoon & Tomago! Thanx!

  31. Aloha from Hawaii! Your work makes me miss living in NYC and Japan. Very inspiring!!!

  32. What an interesting technique he created, and such a great story of how he discovered it!

  33. His work is beautiful! Thanks for posting about your visit to his studio. Your son’s questions are always too cute! 🙂

  34. @Christopher Martin – congratulations, you were randomly selected as the winner! We’ll be in touch shortly to get your details.

  35. http://share.shutterfly.com/share/received/welcome.sfly?fid=6933a77b3abe7987&sid=1AcNmLRw5bsnVA
    Wow. I thought I was looking at my own work for a moment when I saw the stripped paint. I too, work sculpturally with paint skins and create figurative works with them…some pics documented in a book. Enjoy

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