When scrolling through YOSHIROTTEN’s website it’s difficult to determine a common underlying theme behind all of his works. What quickly becomes clear, though, is that the Tokyo-based artist’s discerning eye for combining futuristic and natural elements is equally obscure as it is beautiful. In recent years his undeniable talent has caught the attention of the likes of Boys Boize, DJ Hell, Tiga and Ace Hotel New York just to name a few, supplementing his impressive list of domestic clients which include Mercedes-Benz, UNIQLO, AMBUSH and Onitsuka Tiger. Coupled with his personal projects and installations in Berlin and London, YOSHIROTTEN’s impact on the scene is far from over as he continues to work his way to other continents with various mediums. We recently got the chance to talk to the artist at his Nakameguro studio, where he shared some insight on his constantly evolving style and the delicate balancing act of art and business.
Could you briefly introduce yourself and tell us what it is you do?
I’m YOSHIROTTEN. I’m a graphic artist and art director based in Tokyo. I do a lot of client work here in Japan, but I’m also able to concentrate on working on personal projects here, which I have showcased in various exhibitions overseas.
How long have you been involved in the creative field, more specifically graphic design work?
I started when I was 18, so around 15 years ago in my hometown of Kagoshima. Back when I was in high school I used to make graphic T-shirts, design skate decks and do a bit of graffiti work around the city. I also really loved music so I wanted to be able to design record jackets. I learned that all of these things involved graphic design, so I decided I wanted to pursue it as a career. From there I moved to Tokyo and enrolled in a design school.
Can you explain your name? Does it derive from Sex Pistols’ Johnny Rotten?
I used to be in a music duo called “Y.A.T.T.” when I was in my twenties. It was me and a friend and we used to throw parties and DJ. Our artist names were Taka Khan and YOSHIROTTEN which were derived from Chaka Khan and Johnny Rotten respectively. This reflected the wide range of music styles that we tried to mix. We organized a lot of events, even with artists from abroad such as Bang Gang Deejays who were from Australia. Music really was, and still is a huge part of my life.
Are you a one-man team or are there any other individuals which help realize the ideas and concepts that you have?
The team at my agency Y.A.R. is made up of three graphic designers, a movie editor, web designer, props manager and an art director. Sometimes we work as a whole unit, but in most cases everyone is free to work on projects that they like. We also have some staff members taking care of the office.
Did you ever work under someone’s tutelage as an assistant or have you always been very focused on your individual work?
I actually worked at a design firm for five years from when I was 18 to when I was 24. I learned the fundamentals of design there. Since then I’ve been working by myself.
How long did it take you to be able to live off your art? Did you have any part-time jobs to make ends meet?
After I left the design company, I worked with various friends’ brands and cover art for musicians, and I was also making flyers and posters for my parties. I started getting attention through these and opportunities for more work came progressively.
Are there any defining moments in your career that really made you feel like you reached a certain level of success?
My first big project abroad was designing a room for the Ace Hotel in New York. I also worked on a CD jacket for Stevie Wonder which was awesome. Another thing that really had a big impact was a feature that New York’s City Magazine did on me. Looking back, all these opportunities came about after I started my personal website where I would post my personal projects, which allowed me to showcase works to people across the globe. Boys Noize and Ace Hotel reached out to me after they saw a zine I published on here called 1CCI. More recently I collaborated with LQQK Studio on a pop-up store in Tokyo, where I designed the visuals and graphics showcased in the space.
How do people from different countries react to your work? Are they more receptive in some cities than others?
I always wanted to show my work across the world. Three years ago I had the opportunity to do an installation in Berlin, and a year later I did a mini exhibition in London. Berlin in particular was so interesting because it was almost an interactive event, where local artists would talk to me about their own works and we would just have a conversation. They were very knowledgeable about the industry. I think that’s reflective of the large artist community that lives there. In contrast, there isn’t something that comparable in Japan. Here it’s more of just a show and tell. The market for art also isn’t as big as let’s say in New York, where there are a lot of collectors. It’s more classical pieces and I hope to slowly change that. I’m currently looking to do something in New York in the future as well, since I had a great time living there for three months.
Your style is tough to define, which makes it stand out that much more. Would you consider your work as “internet art?”
I think recently my work is centered around the theme of “Nature Future.” I am fascinated about nature more than anything else. All the aspects, for example the size, forms and colors that it brings to the world. I really think it’s amazing. With this in mind I thought it would be cool to showcase is in a more futuristic light, so in essence combining both of their elements to make something new.
How has your work changed over time?
I think my style is constantly evolving. When I first started I was influenced heavily by punk so that was reflective in my work. For example my first zines were all in monochrome but nowadays I’m doing more colourful things and using materials other than paper as well, such as transparent films and aluminum.
Retro futurism was a movement that allowed for fantasy in the late ’80s, early ’90s. Do you think your art borrows from this category at all?
Yeah definitely I got some influence from there. I really enjoy ‘80s records and ‘70s design most of all. Japanese design was really cool during that time, particularly names like Shigeo Fukuda, Ikko Tanaka and Shusei Nagaoka who were known for using airbrush techniques. Also my favorite collage artist from the ‘60s or ‘70s was Toshiko Okanoue. She was used magazines that were left over from the war to make works depicting dream-like realities.
Nowadays, many artists have opted for lo-fi graphic art created in a rhetorical stance whereas much of your work is really hi-resolution. What kind of sensibility do you try and carry out?
I enjoy seeing that kind of style but I think it’s really only a trend that’s big right now. With my work I try to combine the notions of “Nature” and “Future” which mixes up more psychedelic lo-fi aesthetics with sharp contours and lines.
The task of creating graphic art may come across easier than say painting or creating art offline would you agree? Are there any misconceptions?
Naturally, drawing a line on a computer is much easier than drawing with a pen. But in my opinion the end product is what really matters. If it looks cool then it looks cool, it’s only the tools that are different.
Where do you draw the most inspiration from?
I would say from the “Nature Future” concept that I spoke of earlier. I also watch a lot of movies as well but that isn’t really reflective in my work. However, Alejandro Jodorowsky has had a real influence on me and I was fortunate enough to be able to work with him last year. He made a documentary called Dune and I made some merchandise for the release in Japan.
Despite the far-ranging concepts, your work upholds a certain familiarity. Would you say balance is an important factor in your work?
Yes definitely, but in some cases it’s quite tough to really showcase my style in the best way possible. When I do work for clients I have to cater more towards what they are trying to achieve so I don’t try to overshadow that completely with my own ideas. However there have been times when a client has seen my personal works and asked me to do something similar of that nature for them. That is the most fun because it gives me more freedom.
You have been able to translate your creative prowess across various mediums of work. Which one is the most challenging out of them all (video/graphic design)?
There isn’t really one medium that has been more difficult than others. Perhaps music and fashion-related works come most naturally to me, but doing installations is something that I have started to do more recently so it’s been a little more challenging. However I enjoy it all at the end of the day.
You have a very interesting work space. How long has it been since you moved into this studio?
I moved into this space about a year ago. Before that I was in Harajuku for six years and was constantly on the look out for a better space. Luckily we found this space which was more open and had higher ceilings so I decided to relocate here. It was also in a good location in Nakameguro and is easy to access.
What are some the essential tools/programs that you use?
It really depends on the project I’m doing because I use a variety of different programs and tools for my work. In terms of programs I probably use Photoshop most frequently to start things off but music is also very essential to get my mind flowing. So I guess my essentials are music and Photoshop. I listen to a wide variety of music styles but probably Alternative stuff the most.
You have an impressive list of clients and fellow artist you have collaborated with. Are there a few that stand out from the rest?
There are quite a lot of things that really stand out but I’ll try to narrow it down. I was very happy with my project with Mercedes-Benz for Tokyo Fashion Week because it got a lot of exposure from a broader audience that weren’t necessarily familiar with me to begin with. Also making album artwork for artists that I enjoy listening to such as Boys Noize, Tiga and DJ Hell, and working with the likes of Ace Hotel and Lodown Magazine was great as well. I also really enjoy working on things that aren’t solely graphic art related such as doing visuals.
You have worked with a mix of niche and commercial brands. How do you pick and choose collaborations?
I am quite open to work with anybody if it’s a good fit. I’ve done work that is quite different to my “signature style”, but I don’t necessarily showcase that in my portfolio because it looks a little out of place alongside the rest of my works.
Is there anything we should keep a look out for in the near future?