Q&A with Resident Artist Mr. Kiji
There’s a consistent theme of place and identity in Mr. Kiji’s work. For an Artist who has trotted the globe, such identity and sense of place can be defined by having a home as it is by living out of a suitcase. In transience, sights and sounds of new environments resonate as powerfully as earlier memories from your childhood bedroom.
In his stylized illustrations, paintings and graphics — realized via murals, animations or even editorial cartoons — Mr. Kiji manages to celebrate both lifestyles as powerful statements. He’s woven his own experiences into his work effortlessly — decades of influence from growing up in distinct cultures like agrarian Japan, studying Tibetan Buddhist thangka painting in Nepal and earning a degree in Industrial Design from the Rhode Island School of Design. Mr. Kiji’s work is strongest, however, when it distills an array of abstract yet familiar imagery — often utilizing visual signifiers such as flags and insignias with a nod Pacific War or the Pacific Theatre of WW2 as the backdrop. By doing so, he allow’s the audience the opportunity to kickstart their own curiosity and wonder around meaning, purpose and place.
During his residency at Red Bull House of Art, Mr. Kiji is aiming to further explore the divide between transient vs permanent settlement through materials like fabric.
Would you consider the body of work you’re preparing for Red Bull House of Art as a departure from your 2-D graphic work?
It’s more of a continuation. My last show [Me We Now Everybody] was focused a lot more around scales of identity — social, racial, personal and national. I wanted to explore these scales and the idea that there is truth and falsehood to even how we stereotype ourselves as it can become apparent in the process of visual distillation. Wherein a symbol or flag, etc can be the summation of your entire identity. There’s a lot of grayness between those scales. [At Red Bull House of Art], the physicality of fabric adds to this abstract notion of what we think of home as. Home in the sense of the warmth represented in a quilt, an area rug that serves as a gathering place in our home, or the fabric of a tent that provides a source of shelter.
How much of your personal experiences populate this body of work?
I’m talking about my personal narrative, but it’s really about the shared narrative of home and transients and seeing it in different scales of age. I’m comfortable using my own life as a starting point to tell this story, but it’s not so much about telling my story. We all know what ‘home’ is as much as it’s hard to define it.
Even with a shared sentiment represented throughout the work, you don’t necessarily want to hold the hand of the audience.
There’s some things that should be alluded to and things that people should just find aesthetically appealing. My mural work — the public work — is meant to be appealing based on color and composition — not necessarily have a messaging or branding to it. I’m not speaking to anyone. It’s about your take away. Here’s this visual language. If I can start extrapolating peoples stories from it, that’s great. Right now, I’m just trying to build a visual language that can communicate in a lot of different ways to a lot of different people.
By Ryan Patrick Hooper