East meets West in east side art studio
By Jacob Stockinger
From: LIFE Style, The Capital Times, Madison, WI, January 3, 2001, C, 6C.
|---In one image, Norman Rockwell's
famous grandparents serve up a Thanksgiving turkey to the American
Simpsons and their cartoon counterparts in Japan. |
---In another, the Marlboro Man
confronts two Japanese women smoking opium.
---In a third picture, a Japanese
kimono-clad woman (with the face of the artist herself) saves
the little dog Toto from the tornado in "The Wizard of Oz."
--- In the work of Madison artist
Fujiko Isomura, East can--and does--meet West.
--- Just not in ways you'd expect.
--- Born in Tokyo in 1970, Isomura
came to the United States in 1992 to pursue art studies. She
received her undergraduate degree in Iowa, then came to Madison
to pursue a master's of fine arts at the UW-Madison, where she
graduated in 1998.
--- Since then her images--which
sell for $500 to $1,000--have caught the eyes of critics, curators
and buyers, and her career has started to take off. She was featured
in last fall's Wisconsin Triennial at the Madison Art Center,
and she has had shows in New York, Chicago, Boston, Los Angeles,
San Francisco, Lincoln, Syracuse and Berkeley.
---Working out of her studio on
Madison's near east side, Isomura fuses old and new technology.
--- A particular image doesn't
start with thinking about cultural differences, she explains,
but with a kind of intuitive and inspired seeing.
--- First, she looks at ads in
magazines and pictures in books.
--- "Then suddenly I see an
image of what I can do with it," she says.
--- That's when the hard work begins.
She scans the images into her computer. She reworks and manipulates
them (using Adobe Photoshop on a Macintosh G4 purchased with
--- Then she has the image printed
out (inkjet on watercolor paper) at a commercial studio.
--- Finally, she takes the print
back into the studio and modifies the image with gold, silver
and copper leaf (traditional Japanese techniques) as well as
India ink, dyes, graphite, colored pencils, and watercolor and
--- The effect can be enthralling,
bridging two cultures in the same friendly way her Betty Boop
sidles up to a Japanese geisha: Just two chummy women crossing
a huge cultural divide.
--- Isomura is quick to point out,
however, that it's not as easy as you might think to separate
what is Japanese from what is American.
--- "I remember what I was
exposed to in Japan when I was growing up as a teenager,"
she says. ---"Everyone knew Disney."
--- "I think of my art as
pop art," she adds, noting that any similarity to Andy Warhol
is not accidental. "In Japan, Warhol is very popular."
--- Ironies arrive in the other
--- "When I was in Japan,
I wasn't interested in traditional Japanese art," she confesses.
"It wasn't until I came to the United States that I rediscovered
my roots. Then I was really impressed by it and thought 'Japanese
art is so cool.'"
--- Isomura says she sees no problem
with issues of copyright and piracy, though intellecutual property
lawyers for the Rockwell estate and the Disney company might
--- "I shouldn't have to worry
about it," she says, somewhat uneasily and almost as if
she is trying to convince herself. "I'm using American commercial
images as popular icons and making fine art out of them. It shouldn't
be a problem. Throughout the history of art, artists learned
from each other."
--- In some instances, she also
hopes her art helps set the record straight.
--- One of her images centers on
"The Lion King," which she points out was a Japanese
story long before it became a Disney film. In her version, as
in the two originals, the Japanese lion is a stylized white one
while the Disney is the more naturalistic tawny color.
--- Her cross-cultural art, Isomura
says, should make people think.
--- "I would like people to
enjoy them, " she says, noting that such serious issues
as immigration; the globalization of regional cultures and the
commercialization of hight art lurk just below the surface. "These
images are funny and humorous. People should think about why
I use a particular image. It's a kind of circular communication.
It converses with the viewer."
--- Adds Isomura:"My art is
having a conversation between Japanese and American cultures."
--- But she admits that cultural
differences also play a substantial role in how people appreciate
--- "Some Japanese people
who like my work just don't get it. Japanese people still think
of art as decorative and craftlike, " she explains. "American
people usually know right away what I'm doing and that it's art.
Whether they like it or not is another issue."
--- As for her own plans, she says
she has married and plans to stay in America.
--- "I love it here. It's
very hard for women to be artists in Japan. Women artists definitely
have it better here. I like the freedome I have."