Upperplayground News

Upper Playground Exclusive: Interview with Japanese artist, USUGROW

Upper Playground’s long time friend and contributing artist, USUGROW, made his way from Tokyo to San Francisco this month for his solo exhibit, “INKFLOW” at Fifty24SF Gallery.


The artist hit the ground running with a Book Signing and Print Release at Upper Playground SF last weekend.  The renown artist recognized around the world for his signature black and white illustrations, lettering and ink works is currently installing his highly anticipated show opening this Saturday, October 4th at 7PM.  We caught up with USUGROW for an exclusive interview with the artist.  Interview by Jy-ah Min:

Tell us about the theme of your show “INKFLOW”. Will it have any connections to your last show at Fifty24SF Gallery in 2007?

U: There is no special meaning to “INKFLOW”. I just like the words and feel that they are very fitting for my style at this time, because of their simplicity.


The ‘Skulls’ in your work have a unique style to them. How did you get started in incorporating them into your work, and has it evolved over time?

U: I used to like the way that a person’s mad or scary face looked on their head and realized I was actually seeing their skull behind it. I started to see skulls and skeletons in another dimension and appreciated their beauty and simplicity. Now I focus on the positive side of skeletons instead of the negative.


You explained in the past that your signature use of Black and White was born from economy and restriction. What led you to work primarily in Black and White?

U: I started out working on flyers for the hardcore and underground punk scene, where we used to photocopy flyers in B/W and make screen prints for  t-shirts. Black and white is always cheaper than full color which is how I got started. So it started for economic reasons and for simplicity’s sake and I have stayed with it ever since.


You seem to draw many references from other languages than your own.  Any significant influences in your calligraphic work?

U: I’ve always had an open mind and strongly dislike being categorized. I use what I want and try not to compartmentalize myself.


What is the conceptual preparation required for your hand inked artworks?  Do you go through several drafts in the process?

U: Yes sometimes, when there is a request from the client for commissioned work. For my personal work, I’m making up a story from my imagination and creating from my minds eye. I enjoy working in both ways.


Many people identify your style as having strong references to chicano tattoo cultures born from Southern California.  Do you find this to be true?

U: Yes, that is one of my inspirations but just a part.


Your latest print release with Upper Playground is a third edition of the KOKUTEN series titled ‘Shijima’. Could you explain a bit more about your subject matter, Kokuten, the messenger of sun and moon in this series?

U: Kokuten is the messenger from the sun. The sun and the moon are just like yin and yang except in front and behind instead of side by side but still all in one. Kokuten is simply a portrait. There is technology all over the place in our human world, we all need to make time to communicate to the sun and the moon. Kokuten literally means “sun spot” in Japanese, in Japan the icon for the sun spot is the black crow, the messenger of the sun.


And finally, What music is playing in the background while you work in your studio in Tokyo?

U: I play every different kind of music in the background: hardcore, metal, electro, hip-hop and lately I’ve been playing a lot of indigenous/ world music from around the globe all the time. I don’t believe in written down/ textbook history. I learn real history from the indigenous/ world music that has been handed down directly from generation to generation.