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Spray Paint Stenciled on Rice Paper
15" x 20"
'Unknown Icons' (2013)
'(UN)known Icons' explores the construction of celebrity and influence through four pivotal figures from the 1960’s/70’s New York City counterculture.
Combining streetart and traditional Asian style, Wakuda creates a fusion that is both modern and timeless. With '(UN)known Icons' he merges stencil graffiti technique with classical Japanese kabuki portraits to reimagine the likes of Andy Warhol, Brian Jones, Steve Paul, and David Bowie. All of these figures influenced the world around them, but each did so in very different ways.
Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust was the original inspiration for the Icons set. Upon watching a film of his 1972 London performance (in kimono), Wakuda was struck by the parallels between his character and aspects of traditional kabuki performance- the artist began to think of other icons in the same era, and how they realized their identities would be perceived over the course of time.
While Bowie transitioned on from the Ziggy character (note the subtle ‘Spiders from Mars’ background), Andy Warhol never lost the wig and other accessories that defined him- from the precise pose of the hand on his chin, to the camera always at the ready. The parallels between traditional Japanese ukiyo-e and Warhol’s 20th century studies in color and repetition are finally connected here.
Wakuda fully explores the spectrum from unknown to icon with the five print series ‘Becoming Andy.’ Warhol begins as almost unrecognizeable- lacking any of the distinguishing characteristics and accessories that complete him, even the famous wig. But over the next four prints, the iconic details gradually fade in and stranger becomes celebrity.
On the other side of the spectrum, the publicly low-key Steve Paul’s critical eye and sharp wit made him a celebrity’s celeb. As a tastemaker for his NYC venue, ‘The Scene,’ Paul created an environment where many future legends gestated. Warhol himself designed posters for the club, and the infamous owner was always standing guard outside, his ever present joint in hand.
Finally, Wakuda uses the tragic figure of Brian Jones to examine genius and self destruction with this ‘forgotten’ icon. As founder of the Rolling Stones, Jones is still lesser known because he died, drowned in a swimming pool, before the height of the band’s fame. Known for his flamboyant outfits and consumption of psychedelic drugs, he is depicted in classic Kabuki actor style. But the variations in the paintings bring different interpretations- pill in hand, Jones seems either lost within another epic trip, or standing before his watery grave.
I grew up in isolation.
I use art to explore my culture.
My combination of free-hand aerosol painting and engineered stencil design means I can quickly execute large scale and durable public art projects.
Through my years as an artist, I’ve developed a unique spatial intelligence for large scale art- how it is informed by local culture and vice versa. While my process is derived from graffiti, I take inspiration from all forms of art and versatility is one of my strongest assets.
But I believe it is my Japanese-American heritage and use of subtlety with a uniquely biracial aesthetic that sets me apart.
Combining studies of traditional Japanese art with modern process and content, my work seeks to address a post-globalized world as well as my own personal biracial history. Using the aesthetic of ukiyo-e woodblock prints, I combine anachronisms and layers of homage to explore cultural dualities. In doing so, I feel like I am part of a centuries-old artistic discourse that has long addressed lineage, obsolescence and appropriation.
Ukiyo-e was one of the first mass produced forms of pop art, and the same woodblock design was often used with different color applications to achieve a variety of prints. Using the modern process of stencils and spray paint, I pursue a similar modularity amid repetition in both color and form. Producing variations of the same design allows for ‘play’ in the grey area between uniformity and singularity. I believe addressing the nature of individuality within a system is both a response to cultural homogenaity and a fundamental concern of 21st century existence.
Wakuda (Wha-Koo-Dah) is my Japanese family name; I use a hybrid of my family kamon as both an iconic branding image and a way to honor my past. Exploring the nature of Ukiyo-e and the interplay between Japan and America has given me the opportunity to better understand both cultures and create something for the future.
Growing up Asian in the homogenous Midwestern United States meant that I was keenly aware of my cultural and aesthetic differences from an early age. Regular visits to my mother’s native Kyoto helped me keep in touch with my Japanese roots and planted the seed of the art I create today.