Two artists, one exhibition: Photographer Yoshimitsu Umekawa has been capturing the party lives of Tokyo’s subculture celebs all over the place, while Kensei Yabuno is an internationally established painter, known for the style he displayed on the cover of Beck’s “The Information” album. Fancy Head at B Gallery, Shinjuku, now brings these two together. PingMag met Yoshimitsu Umekawa and Kensei Yabuno to hear more about the exhibition’s untold truths and the ennui of these two Tokyoites.
Written by Chiemi
So, how did this collaboration come about?
Yoshimitsu: One night, we were drinking till dawn in Kichijoji with another friend who was chatting up a girl next to him. Then somehow, we fell into talk about tits and Kensei deliberately touched the girl’s right breast and because I was drunk, I touched her left breast. And when we held both of her breasts, we thought “Yes, we are going to work well together.” (laughs)
What?! That’s terrible! But I suppose that was your first ever collaboration…. So you are essentially drinking buddies but you also feel attracted to each other’s work, right?
The poster for “Fancy Head.”
Yoshimitsu: I usually don’t say that out loud, but yes.
Kensei: Oh, of course. (looking at
So, the illustration for the poster of your exhibition was by someone else…?
Yoshimitsu: I just scanned a cover of a horror movie I had at home, saying something like “This’ll do fine, it’s cool isn’t it?” (laughs)
It’s amazing that you can get away with it…. So tell us more about how you feel about the works. The theme is “Fancy Head” and in fact, Yoshimitsu Umekawa’s works have in some ways captured the moment of famous people’s public ecstasy – some of the photos might have placed the artists’ careers in rather precarious situations….
Yoshimitsu: Yes, it’s definitely THE moment. But I have asked for permission from everyone, so it’s okay. (laughs) Many of the works were what I’d been saving up for a while so I thought this was a good timing and decided to go ahead with it.
A photo of Naohiro Ukawa（MOM/N/DAD PRODUCTIONS） by Umekawa. Ukawa is one of the most influential young artists in Japan today.
“BANANA” for photographer Tatsushi Ishiguro, also by Yoshimitsu Umekawa.
One of the photos in the exhibit is of a car with graffiti. What was that about?
Yoshimitsu: About five years ago, my friend told me that there was a car near his place whose owner obviously had been in trouble. So I went to Azabu Juban to have a look at it. There, I found a Majesta with “You thief, give me my money back!” written all over it, and its tyres had been slashed. I think a moneylender was in for hard collection, seizing the whole building.
I entitled it “REAL GRAFFITI” as a full hundred percent statement. Or rather, it has got nothing else but the statement. I have many graffiti artist friends but this is my view of graffiti and the exhibition runs under this kind of concept. None of the photos is staged, it’s all documentary! I’ve been capturing the realistic side of Tokyo with quarrels, drunken people and gangsters on a routine basis.
It’s a good thing to get more people to look at the other side of Tokyo…. So, how does Kensei Yabuno feel about the works?
Kensei: There isn’t much of a message but I am influenced by people’s ways of living. When I work, I accumulate original ideas within myself and then paint when I feel in the right mood for it.
…you can see that the uber-senses are their common denominator.
“PIMP OR DIE (PUMP OR DIE)” by Umekawa
This exhibition will move on to the Dazed Gallery in London this autumn. What kind of folks would you like to meet there?
Kensei: People who’d buy all of my works.
That’s so materialistic….
Kensei: I’m only being realistic! You can’t do anything without money….
Yoshimitsu: Don’t worry, I’ll invite Beckham! He’ll buy every single exhibit!
Kensei: In Japan there simply isn’t a culture of collecting art. I’m really disappointed by people’s lack of interest in buying artworks. There are plenty of things to be disappointed about…
Yoshimitsu: There’s no such background for this in Japan which makes things really difficult. We have so much entertainment for people to easily enjoy what they have been served – but there are very few who would contemplate about it. That goes for young people as well.
Kensei: I think in Japan, there are less people with an ‘active’ imagination than elsewhere. People with a vision would recognise the value of an artwork and collect it, so I’d like to work in an environment where there is an actual demand.
Meaning Japan is a difficult environment for artists?
Kensei: It’s really hard without being owned by a gallery. If you want to work independently, you can’t just paint. You’ll also have to think about marketing and care about other things you’d rather not want.
Yoshimitsu: In Japan, the lack of government subsidies makes things harder too.
I know what you mean. In countries like the U.K., there are many organisations that support artists financially. Whereas in Japan you have to find companies that support you….
Kensei: I don’t think there is much enthusiasm to create something new in Japan.
I suppose, Japan is still conservative in many aspects as far as the art scenes are concerned. Then, what are your goals in the future?
Kensei: I’d like to meet someone who’s trying to start something new.
Yoshimitsu: I want to XXXXX. (laughs)
Oh, please stop saying things we can’t openly publish!! Yoshimitsu, Kensei, thank you for your time today. I hope many people will enjoy your exhibitions in Tokyo and in London!
Right now, the two are both looking for an agent in Japan and abroad, moreover Umekawa needs an assistant. Sounds interesting! So, go on and contact them through their websites.
London: October 11th until November 30th
Location: Dazed Gallery at 112-116 Old Street, London, EC1V 9BG