Morita Manabu by WOOD Talks About His Exhibition "Unfinished"

From 1st to 23rd April 2022, Whitestone Ginza New Gallery presents"Unfinished", a solo exhibition by the artist Morita Manabu by WOOD. Morita has attracted attention from various circles as a graffiti artist, but the "Unfinished" exhibition features his canvas artworks. In this interview, Morita talks about his shift from graffiti, his reasons for making art, and the ideas behind his artworks.

From graffiti to contemporary art – embracing art as a lifestyle

ーWhat is the meaning behind the name "Unfinished"?

Morita: In my life as an artist, I have painted many different things, but they’re incomplete. I want to continue growing and evolving as an artist, which is why I chose the name "Unfinished" for this exhibition.

ーYou were known for being a graffiti artist. Why did you decide to start creating canvas art?

Morita: I used to do mainly street art, but after seeing various works of contemporary art, I began thinking about my own identity and how I should express myself going forward, which led me to making canvas art.

ーIs there any particular artist who has influenced your work

Morita:This may sound cliché, but KAWS has been a big influence on me. I didn't really understand his work before, but after I got myself involved in the world of contemporary art, I feel that I've come to understand his ideas.

Morita smiles as he talks about the artworks and manga that have had an influence on him.

ーIn your opinion, what is the difference between graffiti and canvas art?

Morita:To me, graffiti is a spontaneous kind of art. Itake whatever spray paint I have, and I’ll contemplate on what I’ll draw without a sketch. It varies depending on my mood or the environment at the time. But for canvas art, I often think about it objectively. The important thing is the message and I think about the story I want to convey when I paint.

ーIn your exhibition, there are various works that are presented as a series. Is there any theme behind the "BORDER Series" as the exhibition's main visual?

Morita:In the "BORDER Series", I try to express the character's emotions through colors and specific poses. The border represents changes in the character's heartbeat. An emotion expressed as a single word can be a mixture of many different feelings. So I used not one but three colors in the border.

ーWhat kind of emotions are being expressed specifically?

Morita:“Border Red" and "Border Blue" have curiosity as its theme , but the former expresses an uplifting curiosity, while the latter has a more uneasy curiosity. The red conveys an exciting kind of curiosity, while the blue conveys a curiosity towards something ominous, like an urge to watch a horror movie.

The "BORDER Series" in the exhibition expresses the character's emotions through colors and poses.

About NEO, a protagonist living in a virtual world

The "Shadow Series" in the exhibition expresses replication in a virtual space.

ーIn this exhibition, there is a figurewho seems to be the protagonist. Who is it?

Morita:His name is NEO. I chose this name to express the meaning of being "new". But I often call him by his nickname "Mirai-kun" (future boy).

ーWhat kind of character is he?

Morita:He is an artificial intelligence that was born in cyberspace; an android of the future. He exists in a virtual world. He’s very interested in humans and the material world that they live in, and he tries to experience the emotions and actions experienced by humans.

ーMirai-kun always wears a tank top and shorts. Is there any meaning behind this?

Morita:That's the clothing I wear when I go overseas [laughs] . If it's a hot country, I often wear tank tops and shorts. Mirai-kun is an android, so he doesn't really need to wear clothes, but his curiosity in humanity makes him want to dress up fashionably like humans.

ーSo is Mirai-kun a projection of yourself?

Morita:I wanted to leave some part of my identity in my work, therefore I chose this appearance. As for the name, my real name is Morita Manabu, but I was also known by the nickname "WOOD" when I was doing graffiti art. Similarly, the character's real name is NEO, but I wanted to call him by another name, so I gave him the nickname "Mirai-kun".

The "Silhouette Series" in the exhibition expresses postures inhumanly impossible. Though it looks 3-dimensional, it expresses how the character is in a flat, immaterial space.

The solitude of NEO and Morita

ー Mirai-kun appears in several series like the "Sand Series" and "City Series". Is there any overarching theme behind them?

Morita:The artworks that depict Mirai-kun have a theme of "solitude". He is an emotionless android. He cannot feel loneliness, but he knows that being all by himself can be lonely. That's why I want to watch over him. That's the feeling I get when I draw him.

The "City Series" in the exhibition depicts NEO wandering in a desolated city.

ーAre they influenced by the feeling of wanting to escape loneliness?

Morita:When I paint, I often think about not wanting to be alone. From our point of view, Mira-kun is very lonely. He experiences many different things in the world all by himself, but with whom does he share those experiences? Does an experience have value if it cannot be shared with anyone else? I think about these things while I paint.

ーWhat is your idea of a value that cannot be shared with anyone else?

Morita: I think it's a lonely feeling. An experience that you cannot share with anyone else probably has no value. In the art industry, an artwork increases in value when many people want to obtain it. But I doubt if it will have the same value if there is only one person.

Morita reveals in the interview how a fear of loneliness is a source of creativity.

ーWhat is the most valuable thing to you right now?

Morita:There are many different things, but one of them is my environment. The environment I need in order to live. I put much value on whether I can make the world or environment into something I desire.

Painting loneliness from fear of being lonely

ーThe exhibition title "Unfinished" implies a meaning of "evolving", but what inspired you to go into art in the first place?

Morita:One of the reasons is that I wanted to be a manga artist when I was young. When I was in school, I really hated studying, so I ended up drawing pictures whenever I had a pencil. Back then, I thought that drawing pictures meant making manga, so that's what I often drew.

ーSo you really like drawing pictures. Why did you choose to go into art instead of manga?

Morita:The manga I drew was not interesting at all, and even the act of drawing it was no longer fun. I couldn't bear the loneliness of just quietly drawing all by myself. I realized that I was not cut out to be a manga artist, and my future looked bleak. But after seeing a friend do live painting at a club event, I thought it was quite cool. I wanted to do something like that, which is how I got into street art.

The "TAGTAGTAG Series" in the exhibition is a remnant of his life as the graffiti artist WOOD. If you look closely you’ll find a small NEO.

ー In your early 20s, you had a stint working as a mechanic alongside your activities as a street artist. What made you decide to go full time into art?

Morita: I thought that by becoming an artist, I could shape my own environment. By conveying a message to others and letting them empathize with it, my paintings could serve as a tool for interacting with others. I’ve always been afraid that as the world becomes more convenient, people become more isolated. Which is why I choose "solitude" as a general theme in my works. But my paintings also have a positive and dynamic feel, therefore even if people empathize with the feeling of loneliness, I hope they can also get a sense of optimism.

Becoming an artist in his own right

Morita and his "BORDER Series" in the exhibition

ーYou've done many different things in the past, from painting graffiti art to designing sneakers, but what job title would you give yourself right now?

Morita: I think I can finally call myself an "artist".

ー Did you not have the confidence to call yourself an "artist" before?

Morita:In the past several years, as I started to pursue art in earnest, I realized that it is something you cannot do casually. Now I'm confident that I'm giving it my all, and I can finally say that I'm an artist in my own right. But I think I want to change my job title from time to time.

ーWhat do you mean by "change your job title"?

Morita: I plan to continue doing canvas art, but in the future, I want to experiment with different media and techniques. I want to sculpt a figure of Mirai-kun and create other three-dimensional art. I'm even thinking of drawing my own manga [laughs].

ーSo you want to channel your creativity into different areas. How do you want to go about those things?

Morita:I think it's important to keep refining my skills. An artist has to remain young at heart and try out new things all the time. I want to take in the positive aspects from othersto improve myself. As long as I'm involved in art, I believe that I’llnever be complete as an artist, and that is also one of the meanings behind "Unfinished".

ーThank you very much. Lastly, do you have any message for all the people who come to your exhibition?

Morita:Like I said, I want to keep evolving as an artist, but for this exhibition in particular, I gave it everything I've got at this time in my life. When you come and see my works, I hope it inspires you or feel a certain way.

One of the driving forces behind Morita's creativity is "solitude". Born in cyberspace, his protagonist, NEO a.k.a. Mirai-kun is alone in the world. He is an avatar of Morita, an artist who is afraid of loneliness. In Mirai-kun's eyes, what is a human being And from our human perspectives, how do we feel about Mirai-kun and his life of solitude? Visit the gallery to see the exhibition and find out.

WHITESTONE Ginza New Gallery

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