“Yoshitaka-san is younger than us all!” exclaims Wakabayashi Ryo, CEO of Mizuma Gallery at Gillman Barracks.
It might sound like a bizarre statement since Yoshitaka is not exactly spritely at 61. Ryo then explains: “He is youthful in the sense that he takes great risks and dares to try new things.” One look at the artist's works and you can see his pieces are vivid compositions of metaphysical fantasy — they look as if they were created by a hip 30-something instead of a mature and distinguished gentleman.
When you meet the artist, you'll see why Ryo said what he said. Clad in a dark suit, stylish red sneakers and sporting a crop of dark wavy hair, the Japanese cuts a fine figure that belies his age. He speaks with ease and has a certain debonair charm — one that, no doubt, aided in his journey to becoming one of the animation industry's most prolific artists. Illustrations aside, he is an all-rounded creative personality who has lent his imaginative power and drawing skills to different mediums.
“I try as much as possible to do new things. I prefer stepping out of the box instead of staying in a safe zone,” he says of his artistic philosophy. From video games to Japanese anime, kabuki stage and costume design, and sculptures, he's done it all. But for now, he's back to the drawing boards.
Growing up in Shizuoka, Japan, Yoshitaka drew all the time and developed his passion into a profession early on in life. At just 15-years-old, he landed a job at animation firm Tatsunoko Productions in Tokyo. From there, he ventured out into the world and has since worked with many industry greats such as George Lucas and Neil Gaiman. He collaborated with the latter (describing it as his “first job in the US and a great honour”) on The Sandman: The Dream Hunters, of which he won the Eisner Award in 2000.
Also a five-time winner of the Seiun Award for “Best Artist of the Year” (1983-86, 2007), he is currently staging at Mizuma Gallery a series of visually arresting paintings, of which every line and curve was drawn with handheld precision. Titled Mythopoeia, it revolves around the concept of mythology. By combining old legendary characters of yore with newer, modern avatars, he has projected a visual spectacle of gods, androids, beasts and superheroes that frolic and cavort in a contemporary space-like universe.
“There is a lot going on in my paintings. I wanted to create a hub of activity in one big space. You can stand and stare at it for a long time without getting bored.”
He gleaned his inspiration from a variety of sources: Anime creatures, Greek and Roman mythology, Renaissance painters such as Michelangelo, and even characters like Alice from Alice in Wonderland. With a mix of traditional and modern techniques, he used acrylic on an aluminum canvas, before painting them like a car. Working with an auto factory, his artwork was coated with automotive paint, flattened and then coated again in a process repeated several times until his signature smooth finish and sheen was obtained.
Quirky, colourful and finely executed, his works are composed of a continuum of mythologies conceived by Yoshitaka, of which he is proud of. “The concept of mythology is as important today as it was in the past. It is very close to us on a day-to-day basis, for example in Japan where many cultural or religious festivals are celebrated.”
“Believing [in myths] is important,” he insists. “Human progress has taught us a lot more about our universe but it's dull to just focus on form and function. Stories, tales and legends have also made us who we are today. It makes the world a lot more interesting and dynamic.”
So how does Mythopoeia reach unbelievers — those inclined towards facts and logic?
“At the end of the day, art should make people happy. That is the overriding reason of why I created Mythopoeia. I want to give people happiness just by looking at it. Whether they want to believe in its philosophy is their choice. But happiness, that's universal.”
Mythopoeia is exhibited at Mizuma Gallery, Gillman Barracks from June 7 to Jul 14, 2013.