Artist, photographer, performer, teacher, Shukou Tsuchiya has a few strings to his bow. Merging traditional Japanese with contemporary flair he is a master of Nanboku Suiboku, a style of ink-wash painting and was awarded the 2009 Grand Prize of the All Japan Suiboku painting Association. His more experimental work has seen him exhibit in the Louvre and enjoy solo exhibits in New York and Florence. His talent as a live painter also continues to turn heads and inspire, with Tsuchiya recently featuring in Adidas’s Unite All Originals campaign. Shukou was a speaker at #CStokyo, our last global event. We caught up with him to find out a little bit more about what makes him tick.
How did you get to where you are today?
My grandfather owned a Spa Hotel in Japan’s Gifu Prefecture, where my mum is from. We used to visit there every summer holiday when I was a kid. Even as a child I was deeply moved by the huge collection of Ukiyo-e and Sumi-e which adorned every wall of his hotel. There was something about the the bold, strong brush strokes and the skilled use of many shades of ink to produce the sensation of light and dark. I found a sumi-e class near my house and enrolled when I was 18 years old. Two years later I became a master of the art form.
Whilst it was great being a master of sumi-e, I noticed that there was no market for this form of art amongst younger generations – especially those in their 20s. In Japan, young people aren’t so interested in classic Japanese culture, such as sumi-e, because everyone is so influenced by popular western culture. At the time I was really surprised by this and I wanted to do something about it.
I decided to start doing live painting in clubs on weekends with the hope of bridging the cultural gap between young people and classic Japanese culture. It was through my live performance, that I was able to meet Shinichi Mita, a cutting edge stylist here in Tokyo. It was a chance encounter but it proved to be a big one for me. Mita’s deep understanding of the fashion world helped me to incorporate new elements into my classic style and soon we began making installations together. Shortly after that we linked up with fashion designer Suzuki Takayuki and our design unit TENKI was born.
This kind of collaboration has allowed me to keep classic elements and the craft of sumi-e alive whilst also expressing new ideas and concepts. The fashion insights of Mita and Suzuki are always fresh and changeable and provide a source of inspiration which continues to evolve. This is totally different from the classic culture which I specialise in, which is in many ways more of a constant. In this way I really feel the fashion scene of Tokyo has and continues to change my style.
What are some of the projects that you’ve been involved with that you are most proud of?
Whilst I have been involved in many wonderful projects, I am really just very proud to be here. Shukou Tsuchiya – a self-made artist living in Tokyo, 2013.
What’s the most interesting thing you’ve seen recently?
What’s been your biggest learning throughout your career so far?
Don’t be confused, always stay calm – inspirations come in flashes, they’re never far away.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
I think life has given me my best piece of advice – Always be hungry, your hunger will lead you to what you are looking for.
If you could be someone else for the day who would it be?
I’d like to be my own grandson in the future and see myself through the eyes of the young.
Who do suspect of being an alien?
Keanu Reeves. Aliens abducted Keanu, made a copy of him and returned his doppelganger to the earth. Unfortunately they forgot to account for gravity, so his rubber mask is stretching now.
Who’s your favorite villain?
Jimmie (Quentin Tarantino) from Pulp Fiction
Where do you do your best thinking?
In my studio (whilst fasting).
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