When you look back at the Japanese club scene from the 80s and 90s, the visuals that come to mind for most people might be the illustrations of Katsura Moshino. He’s an illustrator who not only provided works for Japanese musicians like DJ Krush, Mondo Grosso, and Monday Michiru — who represented the club scene at the time — he also helped shape the times together with those musicians. For the past two weeks, his first exhibition in eight years has been held in Tokyo, featuring works from the last two decades. Time for PingMag to visit him for a chat.
Written by Chiemi
Translated by Natsumi
First of all, you are known as an illustrator but your activity actually consists of far more than that, right?
I’ve been doing video productions since around 1990, and I create PVs, short movies, and commercial messages usually by myself. Recently, I’ve produced the PV for “Vuja De” by the British techno group The Orb. Other than that, graphic works and art direction for outdoor festivals account for a large share of my work. I also do industrial design and design supervision for projects such as AIBO by Sony, as a continuation of high-end illustration works. From November of this year, I’ve also been doing research as an assistant professor at the Nagoya Institute of Technology too. Science courses at a national university are quite different from the world of art, but it’s just as interesting.
So you are based in Nagoya — what was the reason you chose Nagoya?
These days, I spend a lot of time in my studio in Gifu, but I suppose that’s still in the vicinity of Nagoya. From the creative perspective, Nagoya is neither urban nor provincial and it only takes an hour and a half to travel to Tokyo by Shinkansen. So in many ways Nagoya is “ordinary” while there is little risk of being isolated, and the fact that it’s easier to acquire a larger space helps too. Also, I have many friends who are club musicians in Nagoya, so I didn’t really want to change that kind of environment either.
You’ve just mentioned music, but do you feel that music is a fundamental element of the Moshino World?
Yes, I think the 80s club culture and its music might be my biggest influence. As a high school student, I used to play in a punk band, and then I followed the course from punk to hip-hop and grew up surrounded by DJ friends. So I was fully immersed in the genesis of the 80s Japanese club culture. Nagoya is a region that produces many talented musicians and I was surrounded by many such people, so having creative ideas wasn’t all that extraordinary. And those friends also had the potential as models for my drawings, so the fact that I’m drawing those people and the atmosphere of the club culture might be the reason why people call my creations “Moshino World.”
I suppose you like creating works that go with music?
It’s true that I tend to be really committed when I give counsel to artists with great tracks. I’ve been providing works for many musicians so far, but my associations with most of them date back to their indie days. That’s when they had little budget and I inadvertently accepted their offers just for the sake of my pleasure, to be involved in their growth. However, my taste for music tends to be extremely biased, so depending on the tracks, there are times when I can’t come up with images that match the sound. In such cases, I usually give up when I receive the track.
What about your work process?
Many of the offers I get tend to be for the overall art direction to some sort of campaign, including illustrations. But if it’s for a major client, there are always opportunities to discuss their intentions and conditions. This is an extremely important stage for both sides, and I make sure to find out things like the client’s identity in detail. Actually, I come up with possible ideas of the finished image at this stage.
That sounds like a surprisingly early stage to get an image.
Over the course of my long career, I have developed the ability to get a clear image at this point. So I usually have everything, including the colors, right from the start. I draw sketches if it’s necessary, but it’s not unusual to start drawing them straight on my PC. Usually I get many ideas, but I only present the ones that I instinctively feel will work.
Do you ever reject your ideas?
Yes. Whenever the work in progress starts to get elusive, I ask myself if I’d be happy to receive this picture from someone in the street. If the answer is no, then I try to come up with another way to present it. If it’s only a matter of the image not exactly matching the client’s taste, then I might brush it up and use it as my own personal work. There are times when I turn down ideas even when I’m doing my own personal works. So rejecting, I think, is a process to create a good result.
I’ve heard that there is a rather touching story regarding one of your works.
Yes, when they turned on the power of the first prototype of Sony’s AIBO that I’d been working on for two years, AIBO said “Hello” to me with the sound of contemporary music composed by Nobukazu Takemura! This was truly touching and I felt as if I’d given birth to my own child… It was a moment when industrial design was in perfect harmony with a dozen motors and an artificial intelligence.
Oh, that’s such a wonderful story! Can you tell us about your current exhibition in Tokyo, your first in almost 8 years?
The exhibition features my 2D works from around 1988 up until now, so it’s almost like a showcase of the transition in my works. It incorporates both my masculine works in Japanese club culture and more girly works in the apparel industry, such as VIVA YOU, so I think you can see how my styles have broadened.
So finally, what’s next?
I’m going to do a public performance at the exhibition venue and in Nakameguro Solfa on the final day of the show, on December 3. At Solfa, MAHARO — well known for his HIFANA album covers — will also participate, so if you’re interested, please drop by.
Katsura Moshino, thank you for your time today!
Exhibition Info: Katsura Moshino’s exhibition is running until this Wednesday. Hurry up!
Katsura Moshino “Black Market”
Running until Wednesday, December 3, 2008
Venue: Daikanyama Speak Four
Address: B2F Speak Four, 28-2 Sarugaku-cho, Shibuya, Tokyo