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HAPPENINGText: Chibashi

Imai Toonz is a comic artist, who is popular with youth and famous for his works, such as MTV’s “Top of Japan” program’s opening animation, Suntory “C.C.Lemon” CF work, and the character design of SEGA’s arcade game “Fighting Viper 2”. You probably know him with his cover design for Shift. He was also featured on Gasbook.

He created a highly influenced drawing style that produced dozens of imitators within and outside of Japan. It could be said that the boom of his works symbolizes the feeling of 90’s subculture, such as Japanimation (Japanese animation), and Techno. He has consistently been one step ahead of all the others.

Imai Toonz’s solo exhibition is being held at “Gallery Speak For” in Daikanyama, Tokyo, from 28 April to 10 June 2001. I interviewed him about this exhibition and his attitude as a creator

First of all, please let me know how this exhibition was realized.

This exhibition was realized on the invitation from Ms. Yoshida, a curator of Gallery Speak For. This exhibition was a three-person exhibit in the beginning, and then changed into a solo exhibition at the last minute. So this exhibition was held in a hurried schedule

The title of this exhibition “Toonz Camp” began with the proposal of the keyword “camp” from Ms. Yoshida. I thought “camp” was an interesting keyword also from the standpoint of contemporary arts, so I tried.

At first, I thought that I would draw a picture on a tent. But I found that I could not draw well because the tent’s material rejected paint and paint spread on the reverse side. The tent which is now exhibited here is the second one. It fell through. In this way, since research of the material was not completed, I decided to give it up.

I have arranged the works all over the hall in installation style. I actually stayed at a tent after all. I seemed to camp (laugh). There are some illustrations drawn for this exhibition: an illustration on the digitally collaged photograph and printed large; a painting on the door of a car, a part of which I did live painting in front of the visitor. During the term, I have still drawn a few. I also diverted some sold works from other exhibitions, because these have the same concept. In addition, there is an illustration with a light box in the tent and a small work painted on the tent of a play mobile (toy). And I have broadcasted animation by video.

I heard that you always have a story in your head and draw one scene in the story. What story is there in the present illustration?

I imagined a lonely campsite with a coniferous forest in the U.S.’s countryside as a stage. The photograph used for the background of an illustration was a collage of photos, which was close to my image, collected from the magazines. An enlarged photograph of the white birch that was often seen in the old gas station, nature treated materially by human beings, was my image to this illustration.

The strange family is coming for the camp to this lonely campsite. Nobody knows whether this family is a real family or not. It may be not the family of a blood relative but the family in a hip-hop sense.

I am observing it from outside. Although its history is not well known, its relation by no means looks good. It should not camp together. It is such a family. This family is not enjoying the camp and is scribbling at various places with the spray can on one hand. When discussing the concept of a work, I don’t like my work turned into more than itself or less than itself, so I make a story for each work. Since it was necessary for this exhibition to transpose the flow chart of a concept to a story and to represent it, and I wanted to experience the space and the mood in the head, I placed keywords that hook. I thought that this led to live painting and installation. I also wanted to participate in this campsite. Therefore, visitors can also freely consider.

Does the family scribble on the tree?

Originally, scribble (graffiti) is the assertion that was ruined and overflowed in human society. It functions only within society. I wanted to represent “the contradictory feeling” that scribble is carried into nature. It is like human beings in nature. Although many people seem to feel nature by going to a campsite or a golf course, these are built on the destruction of the environment. Are they the family who sends a message to such nature? Or are they mere destructive junkies? Do they have an assertion? , There is probably no message about the destruction of the environment. When we human beings know that nature changes regardless of us, we feel our smallness and want to prove our existence on it. The first step toward the moon also began from the competition between states. Human beings are tagging ‘a significance of sense’ of their existence with words and assertions that nature cannot understand. Therefore, graffiti was chosen.

I feel intense graffiti-feeling for your style. What do you think of graffiti?

My works are called an American taste and bad taste (laugh), and I am actually influenced by graffiti. In order to represent my own feelings efficiently, I am collecting many of my favorite things, not only graffiti, but also comics, hip-hop, techno, which gives a hook to me as well as to the audience. I want to share with everybody the complicated feelings of these days that has a flood of information and influence. I do not want to persist in one representation. It’s hard for me.

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