"icco Yoshimura: add a dash of spice to life" First Solo Exhibition Interview

July 27, 2022
Karuizawa, Japan

icco Yoshimura photo by Hideki Amezawa (Amezo)

The Whitestone Gallery Karuizawa is holding a solo exhibition entitled "add a dash of spice to life" by the artist icco Yoshimura. It is an exhibition filled with food and animals painted in brilliant and exhilarating colors that will definitely lift your mood. In this interview, icco Yoshimura talks about her motivation for this long-cherished first solo exhibition, her reasons for pursuing an art career while working a day job, and the changes brought by the pandemic to her work style.

A Solo Exhibition Filled with icco Yoshimura’s Ambitions

icco Yoshimura solo exhibition "add a dash of spice to life" installation view

ーWhat is the meaning behind the exhibition title "add a dash of spice to life"?

icco: "Add a dash of spice" is a common English phrase used in cooking. You usually add a dash of spice to give more flavor to a dish you are making. That's my idea behind the works for this exhibition.

The idea of "adding spice" is something I've always had when I paint, but since this is my very first solo exhibition, I tried to be more conscious of it in the paintings I made, and I also decided to use it as the exhibition title.

ーThis is your first solo exhibition. What kind of exhibition did it turn out to be?

icco:I consulted with the gallery staff about everything I wanted to try, which probably caused them a lot of inconveniences. But I remember being told before that the proper way to do a solo exhibition is to do everything I want in the space I want to make. So I thought to myself, "Let's do this!" and that's how I decided to approach this exhibition.

We decided on the setup while discussing what to do, such as the placements of a large painting or adding an object. It became a solo exhibition filled with many of my wishes. Of course, it would be great if visitors could enjoy it too, but I'm probably the one who is enjoying it the most (laughs).

A 10-Meter-Long "Full Course Scroll Painting"

Installation view of icco Yoshimura's "supper" (2022), 100.0 × 975.0 cm, acrylic on rolled canvas

ーIt's an exhibition with everything you wanted to do, and one of its highlights is a 10-meter-long canvas painting. What prompted this decision?

icco:It's great, isn't it? It depicts a large banquet table, which I think is an object of happiness. It came to mind with the idea that visitors standing around the work would feel as if they were sitting around a dining table becoming a space to share gratitude.

ーWhat kind of dining table does it depict specifically?

icco: I painted it in the image of a full course meal at a restaurant. Before heading to the restaurant, you pass the time by drinking coffee while waiting for your friend. You arrive at the restaurant with your friend and enjoy your appetizer and soup, followed by the main course. You also drink wine accompanied with cheese and eventually end with dessert. So it appears as if the course of the meal is progressing gradually from one end to the other.

icco Yoshimura's "supper" (2022), 100.0 × 975.0 cm, acrylic on rolled canvas

ーAt 10 meters long, it's a large piece of work. How did you go about making it?

icco: First of all, I had to paint the whole 10-meter-long piece of rolled canvas with the base color. I unfurl part of the roll on a table to paint. After it dries, I unfurl the roll again to reveal the next section to paint. I repeat this process of unfurling, painting, drying, and rerolling until it's completely painted in the base color.

Next, I use eraser stamps I pre-carved to apply the patterns. I unfurl the canvas again stamping patterns all over, then reroll the canvas. I had to repeat this process again and again, but it was actually quite fun.

ーIt sounds like a very grueling process, but you had fun doing it?

icco:When you're priming the canvas, it can become anything you like, and I find that enjoyable. Priming is like laying down the initial possibilities for the artwork, after which it will gradually take shape. Therefore priming is probably the best part for me (laughing).

As for the stamping, I sometimes stamped it in a regular pattern, and irregularly at other times. It was fun to stamp while thinking about the pattern, or rather playing around with it.

ーHow did you feel when the 10-meter-long artwork was completed?

icco:It felt like "I did it!". After painting about half of it, I actually made a mistake due to lack of sleep, and it almost spoiled the entire painting. I even wondered for a moment if I should just quit making it (laughing).

ーThinking about it is enough to make you pale. So this is actually a masterpiece that survived a crisis.

icco: I worked hard to finish it. It was my first time making a 10-meter-long painting. But it was great fun, and I'm thinking about making two or more.

Rediscovering the Meaning of Eating Through the Pandemic

ーWhat kind of changes did the COVID-19 pandemic bring to your work?

icco:There were many big changes. I paint a majority of food and dining scenes. But during the first year of the pandemic, many restaurants had to close, and I was unable to meet with people. I often had to eat by myself, and I was unable to paint much. Many days passed where eating became just a means to survive, and I started to shrivel and felt depressed. Perhaps that’s why at the height of the pandemic, I created joyless paintings.

ーBy "joyless paintings", do you mean paintings that looks dark?

icco:That's right. I normally create paintings that bring joy to others, but during that time, I created a few paintings that were gloomy.

icco Yoshimura's "chamomile" (2020), 30.0 × 30.0 cm, acrylic on canvas

ーThose dark days have passed, and the works in this exhibition seem to have regained a lively atmosphere.

icco: Not everything has completely returned to pre-pandemic life, but since I can communicate with other people through the Internet, I've found other ways to enjoy life, and I managed to sort myself out. I now feel more inclined to go out and enjoy delicious food again, and I'm feeling positive that I can make many festive paintings.

A Love of Painting Since Childhood

Exhibition installation view (Amezo)

ーWhat inspired you to become a painter?

icco: I still clearly remember how it started. My family owned a restaurant, and waiting at the counter while my family was busy was quite boring. One or two hours can feel like an eternity to a child, so I decided to draw the wine bottles lined up on the counter with a ballpoint pen on the back of calendar sheets. Drawing made me appreciate things like the shape of wine bottles, and I felt happy when customers praised my drawings. Since then, I have always loved drawing and painting.

ーYou are a painter who also works a day job at a company. Why do you choose to continue creating art?

icco: Why do I continue to paint? The main reason I paint is because it's fun. Besides that, I don't have a definite reason, but when I look at my own paintings, it puts a smile on my face because of how satisfying it is (laughing).

I find joywhen I paint and when I'm in the middle of painting. It gives me a sense of fulfillment when I complete a painting. I think I continue doing it because to me, painting is happiness.

ーAre there times when you feel that painting is stressful?

icco:It's probably when I'm taking on a new challenge. There are some kinds of paintings that I still can't do, and I find it tough when I'm trying to make something I've never done before. But even then, I still find it fulfilling when it slowly takes shape, and I work even harder for that sense of achievement.

ーSo the feeling of fun is stronger than the feeling of stress?

icco:That's right. There are times when I feel like I failed at a painting, but it usually gives me motivation to do better next time. More than anything, I find it satisfying when I look at a painting I just finished.

icco Yoshimura's Painting Style

ーDo you have a routine when you paint?

icco:I never make sketches. I usually paint the entire background in one color. I decide on the painting's main color from the start, then I add other colors to it later. That is my go-to routine.

For example, if I paint the background in a deep blue like a clear summer sky,it gives off a sweltering summer feeling, so I add other colors to make it “cooler”. But then it will just be a mix of different colors all over, so I usually draw outlines to bring objects into focus.

ーYou say you don't make sketches, so do you have a picture of the completed painting in your head?

icco: Sometimes I do, sometimes I don't. When I don't have a complete picture, I draw it out from just a vague image of colors, then I slowly put it into focus. It's like a blurry scene through a camera lens that comes into focus, eventually becoming a clear picture.

Sometimes I have a clear image of what I want to paint, like a specific dish I ate at a restaurant. But when I'm painting from an abstract mental image, sometimes I have no idea how my paintings will turn out until it’s finished.

Motivation for Art and Choice of Motifs

ーWhere does your motivation for making art come from?

icco:It's great to have a space in your house where you can do fun things. My motivation to create art simply comes from my desire to continue having that space.

Also, most of my paintings depict food, so when I hear reviews about a good restaurant or watch TV programs that feature delicious food, I sometimes make it into a painting while thinking about how delicious it is.

ーSo you often find subjects for painting in everyday life?

icco:That's correct. I like to watch people eat, even though it's considered bad manners (laughing).

For this solo exhibition, I wanted to know what kind of food everyone eats, so I made an artwork called "memories". I asked some friends to send me photos of their meals over a few days, then I printed them on thermal paper and attached them to a poster board panel.

When you look at it, you might find something similar to a meal you've had before. But it's also quite interesting to see other people's food experiences and learn about the stories behind them. So I want to continue making this kind of artwork.

icco Yoshimura's "memories" (2022), 119.0 × 84.0 cm, mixed media/collage on poster board

The Story Behind the "Water of Life" Series

Installation view of icco Yoshimura's "Water of Life" series

ーYour paintings have beautiful colors that can brighten up a room. I particularly like the ones that depict a glass of cider.

icco: Those paintings are part of the "Water of Life" series. Summers are hot so you’re required to drink plenty of water. When I first started painting the series, it was a very hot summer day. So hot that I couldn't think straight. I drank a lot of water, but I ended up feeling sick from overhydration. "Water of Life" is a series of paintings I made while thinking about how precious water is (laughing).

icco Yoshimura's "The Water of Life VII" (2022), 60.0 × 42.0 cm, acrylic on canvas panel

ーThe paintings do have a summer feel to them, but it seems like you had a tough time making them.

icco: Yes, it's a series for the summer, but that summer was really tough (laughing). In any case, the concept behind the series is about drinking refreshing water, and I think I was able to create a thirsty quenching work.

Using Colors that "Look Delicious"

icco Yoshimura, photo by Hideki Amezawa (Amezo)

ーAre you particular about the tools and materials you use?

icco:I'm not really particular about tools and materials, but I like to use as many favorite colors as I can. Browsing art supply stores for a variety of acrylic paints is my favorite pastime.

I believe that there is a strong connection between colors and emotions (or memories). For example, looking at the colors of food, I would sometimes recall colors like "the color of the red bell peper mousse I had the other day" or "the color of the sauce on a particular dish".

ーAre there times when you see a color and think that it looks palatable?

icco: Many times. I get told off often to not eat my paints (laughing).

ーDo you try creating your own emblemic colors?

icco:I often do. Right now, my favorite color combination is orange and blue. I like a warm, gentle kind of orange with some fluorescence that gives it a shaper look. Combining it with blue gives colors reminiscent of the sunset in summer.

ーDid you use those colors for the paintings in this exhibition?

icco:Yes, I used them a lot, and I welcome you to look for them.

Wishing Everyone a Gratifying Meal

icco Yoshimura

ーLastly, do you have a message for the people who visit the exhibition?

icco:Everyone experiences tough times. If you continue to feel depressed, then you're going to have more depressing days. But if you look for something enjoyable during those times, then your "down days" will feel more like fun days.

In my case, I had a tough experience with overhydration, but it brought about my "Water of Life" series. When I think about it now, I don't recall it just as a bad day, but a bad day could result in a positive outcome. I try to make use of that experience in my artworks.

I think people have the power to change hardship to enjoyment, and I hope everyone will be able to create their own satisfying time.

I’d like for everyone to simply enjoy a good meal!

icco Yoshimura's solo exhibition "add a dash of spice to life" installation view

icco Yoshimura has been making paintings since childhood. When she chooses a subject or makes a painting, her top priority is always to have fun. Just looking at her paintings of delicious food and colorful plants and animals can lift your mood. Whether you come alone or with friends or family, you'll surely have a fun time seeing her solo exhibition "add a dash of spice to life", which runs until September 4, 2022 (Sunday). You can also see her artworks through the online exhibition.

Click here for exhibition details

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