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Artist Interview No.5  – Mai Nagamoto – Part 1

A group exhibition “Do No Ko ? Vol.2” will be held at PARCO no-ma from December 15 to 22.
The third artist in this series is Mai Nagamoto.
In recent years, in addition to her two-dimensional works, she has been showing many three-dimensional works called “FUTENEKO”. Before the interview, she talked about her love for cats in a cheerful and soft atmosphere, but during the interview, she talked about the serious themes of her somewhat shady works, the background of her works, and the importance of artists becoming independent as artists. The first part of the interview focuses on the episode of the birth of her icon, FUTENEKO! Here we go!

A group exhibition
D o N o K o ? Vol.2

at @noma__official

Johnny Akihito Noda

-I’ve been looking at your works, and I think you’ve been doing a lot of FUTENEKO work lately, but have you always liked cats?

Cats… There was a time three or four years ago when I was so sick that my head was balding, and when it was really bad, I couldn’t even get out of bed.
Naturally, I couldn’t do or think anything creative at all.

But at the time, I had a job in addition to my art, so I had to go to work, and there were local cats on the way. But at first I didn’t like them very much, I thought “they were just sleeping around every day and it’s good that they’re getting free food” lol

-I’m surprised you didn’t like it much, lol.
What kind of turning point did it take for you to like it?

One day, while I was sitting at the edge of the river in front of my house, a local cat naturally came up to me and sat on my lap. That’s when I realized it was “warm” lol I was so happy. I think it was probably really hard for me at the time

After that, I started going to see the cat on my lap every day, morning, noon and night, always at the same time, and it was so cute that the cat acted like, “I wonder if she’ s here..?”
There was an old man who would come every day, rain or snow, and there were lonely people like me at that time. While I was thinking about their backgrounds in my own way, I was able to be creative again like “water springs”, and that’s when I started to draw cats.
I couldn’t help but draw them! Because I love them!

-The local cats and the people surrounding them became the inspiration for your work.

From there, I started to dote on cats as well lol
In addition, I learned about the volunteer activities of the old men I met there, and I started going to that place every day. One day, I found a dying cat on the riverbank.

We took him to the hospital right away, but it was a difficult situation.
The doctor asked me, “Are you going to keep him or not?” I replied, “I’ll keep him!” But he died the same night I brought him home…
So the next day I made the tomb, and that night I made the FUTENEKO.
As has been the case in the past, there is always a motivation for me to make something, and in the case of the FUTENEKO, that motivation became the reason.

A photo of the cat when it was protected.
A photo of the FUTENEKO I made that night (unfinished).
A painting of a FUTENEKO. It’s cute, but I feel something emotional in the expression and coloring that doesn’t stop there.

-What is it about a wild cat that fascinates you so much that it inspires you to make art?

Cats that are kept at home don’t know the outside world, they live peacefully and that may make them happy.
On the other hand, wild cats are strong and free. There is an overwhelming difference in the stubbornness and toughness of the faces of house cats and stray cats.

I used to go to a shelter cat facility, but even domestic cats are not taken care of due to abuse by their owners, and there are many severe problems with shelter cats.
I thought it was important to be strong in the midst of such a variety of cats.

-The story behind the birth of Futeneko, or the reason why it uses cats as its motif, has a rather heavy theme behind it…

Basically, I don’t limit myself to a particular motif, but I can’t just draw whatever I feel like drawing, and although I’m currently drawing a lot of cats, these works were born from some kind of impulse.

-When I look at your Instagram, I see that before FUTENEKO, you did a lot of work on monsters.

Currently, I draw cats as a figurative subject, but what I want to express is my own free expression of emotions, so I could say that any motif is fine, but when I try to express emotions in an abstract way, my impulsive senses take precedence, so the things I draw inevitably become less figurative.
Especially in my old works, there are many things that I don’t really know what I’m drawing, and if I try to draw with all my senses, I end up with fantasy. But I wanted to make sure that I didn’t go too far into fantasy.

Most importantly, the people who see my work don’t get it. There are some people who take the time to come to the exhibitions and understand what I do, but most of them end up asking, “What is it? and that’s it.

A picture with a monster on it. You can tell that it is somewhat of an emotional expression.

-So you’ve hit a wall of expression.

As a result, not that it was a reflection, but it was about 10 years ago now, and I thought to myself, “I can’t move forward with this!” so I started to ask myself questions.
I’m the type of person who thinks realistically in that aspect, so I seriously faced the question of what I should do in order to move on.
When I thought about how I could give shape to my emotions without losing my own identity, I came up with the idea of a “monster” as a form that was inside of me.

-I certainly get the impression that the monster is a symbol of the emotional side of things.

To me, emotions are something that is very important.
But there is also anger in it.

To be honest, there’s so much anger, but it’s not a technique because I draw based on anger, passion, emotion, suffering, and so on. So when people ask me, “How do you draw? I can’t answer that question, or rather, I don’t put much emphasis on it in the first place. The heart is important. And color. Color is the same as the width of my sense of value. It’s very broad and deep, and I place a lot of importance on it.

From the environment and the things that have influenced me in drawing, I put down colors, make constructions, and do my best to make the things that I see in them into concrete forms.
In other words, I can say that I am painting something that is like non-fiction.

-By the way, what is the definition of “uncommunicable” that you mentioned earlier, for you? I would like to ask this question because this definition varies from artist to artist.

To get the customer to pick up the product. In other words, they buy. That is the reality for me.

-It’s a very important and straightforward idea…

In the beginning, all I needed was for people to be impressed by what they saw, but since I was all self-taught, I always felt the reality that I couldn’t go any further with just that.

If you’ve been doing art in a wealthy environment, you may be able to see the path you need to take through connections and backing, but in my case, I have to find it on my own, and sales figures are essential for building trust and securing space.

I started exhibiting at clubs when I was 18 years old, and the reason I was able to exhibit in ground level spaces was because my work sold.
The “monster” was born from my own emotions, and it is also a motif that is easy to bring my heart closer to the figurative, but in order to continue drawing, I had to be conscious of the numbers. The “monster” came out of this struggle.

This is the honest truth, and I usually explain to people that it’s because it’s easy to express emotion.
I try to refrain from talking about it because some people find it obscene, but I am conscious of the fact that painting works that can be purchased is directly related to my life.

-Going back to the basics, do you paint because you want to express your impulses?

There is also that point.
It is more natural for me to express myself through pictures and colors than through words.
But that’s not all. The act of painting helps me to organize my inner world and breathe more easily, and with the number of colors, my sense of value expands.
As you continue to paint, you will develop your own philosophy, and if it becomes a business, you will gain wisdom for living.

Because drawing is my life itself.
I can’t settle on a single reason to say “This is it”.

-You mentioned the key word “anger,” but which kind of impulse motivates you to paint the most?

Anger is a specific kind of unreasonableness. It depends on the person, but I think it’s often anger over unreasonableness, such as being oppressed or not being able to express what you think is right in the world, in relationships, or in your own environment.
I don’t know if it’s a good thing, but in terms of my relationship with my work, I think I can create better things when I’m in a very difficult situation…

On the other hand, when I create three-dimensional objects, products, and fashion, I really think about the happiness of everyone. If the person who touches it feels cute! It’s comforting! I feel that it is my pleasure to make people feel happy, even if only a little.

But in the case of painting, the motivation is a little deeper, something like trauma or karma.

-You often show Ultraman monsters and such on Instagram, have you always liked that kind of thing?

It’s largely due to my family environment, and my brother’s influence on the Ultraman monsters.
As a result of confronting myself, I think that my family has a big influence on me.

My father was one of the biggest influences. He used to be a billboard maker, but I think he also wanted to be a writer, inventor, or some other creator. For example, he decorated a mac book pro on a tree in our yard, mannequin hands were sticking out of every part of the house…he even made his own surprise glasses by sticking 5 yen coins on his old glasses to surprise his kids…he was such a unique but clumsy father lol

(In addition, many other amazing episodes came out, but there were too many to tell in writing, so I’ll skip them…)

(left) Gomorrah and Ultraman, (right) Hedorah, the monster from Godzilla.

-He is an interesting man! Surely that would have an effect on you!

I loved him, but he didn’t quite fit in with the adult world…or so I thought. I have three siblings, but my brother and sister didn’t seem to be able to communicate as well as I did. Again, I love my father for being such a klutz, and I think that is where my creativity comes from.

But on the other hand, my father used to say that anything that doesn’t make money is garbage, and he used to call my paintings garbage! I think the fact that I was told that all the time made me think very seriously about money, even though it hurt me.

By the way, just before my father passed away, I thought I should ask him some questions, so I asked him, “What is the meaning of marriage?” and with the last bit of strength he said, “Cheating each other” lol

This is the end of the first part. But still, there were many things that made me wake. On the surface, the work itself is a lovely picture with some shadows, but in the background there is a sharpness and harshness. I felt as if I had come into contact with a part of it, and that was very impressive.
In the next interview, we’ll talk about her work with soft vinyl, which is separate from her paintings, and about art as a turning point for her.

TEXT : THAT IS GOOD editorial department, Koga


Mai nagamoto /

Instagram / Seles account / HP

She has loved painting since she was a child, and is now self-taught.
Based on her own life, she expresses the innocence and purity that we all had as children, and the gloom that appears in the corners of our minds as we grow older, using pop colors and contrasting deep, dark colors and shapes.
Since 2002, she has held solo exhibitions at galleries and events in Japan and abroad. She has also participated in live painting and auctions using only the palm of her hand.
(Hong Kong. Shanghai. Singapore. Taiwan. Thailand. San Francisco, LA, etc.), as well as product planning and supervision, collaboration with companies, and since 2014, modeling, painting, and sales of soft vinyl figures, she has been ambitiously expanding the scope of her activities to include the commercial field.