Some of the most compelling art happening in Salt Lake City this winter isn't exactly being found in a gallery, but rather nearby on the corner. --- Street art, while ever-present and continuing to develop, has seen a recent spike in creative pieces around the city, provoking passersby to snap a quick shot and admire what was created in our cold weather and shitty air with nothing more than a couple of spray cans and a free hour.
One of the more prominent names gaining attention is Casey Kawaguchi, a Japanese artist who has been in Utah the past five years, creating his own blend of traditional Japanese styles and graffiti stokes for displays that make you look twice and force admiration. Today, I chat with Kawaguchi about his career and artwork, along with a few other questions. (All pictures courtesy of Kawaguchi.)
Gavin: Hey, Casey. First thing, tell us a little bit about yourself.
Casey: My full name is Casey Chohachi Kawaguchi. I'm a Japanese artist from Salt Lake City. And I love spray paint.
Gavin: What first got you interested in art, and what were some of your early influences?
Casey: I've been drawing for as long as I can remember; I've always known that I was an artist. My older brother is also an artist and was a big influence on me. I always looked up to his work and would strive to draw as good as he did. Video games and comic books were also very inspiring to me growing up. I'd say 99% of my drawings as a kid were either ninjas or super heroes.
Gavin: What appealed to you about Japanese designs that made you want to recreate it in your own style?
Casey: I've always been inspired by Japanese culture. Being Japanese myself, I've always felt a connection to Japanese imagery. I've been drawing ninjas my entire life. And as I've gotten older, the Japanese themes in my art have just gotten stronger and stronger.
Gavin: Did you seek out any education in the arts or are you mainly self-taught?
Casey: I'm self-taught.
Gavin: What drew you toward street-art style, and how was it incorporating it into your work?
Casey: I love everything about art on the streets. I love that that type of work has such a short life span. As opposed to oils and fine art that is made to last, art on the streets is here-and-gone in a flash -- similar to our own lives, I guess. It's like the act is just as much the art as the painting itself. And I like the look of painting on brick or wood, all the different textures you find when working outside. Even when I do work that is meant to be hung, I'll work on stuff I find, like plywood or particle board.
Gavin: How was it for you starting out and creating your own pieces for public display?
Casey: My first art show was a group show at Blonde Grizzly. I was stoked to start showing my work and getting it seen by the public. That was the summer after I moved to Salt Lake.
Gavin: What made you decide to come to Utah, and what was it like when you first got here?
Casey: Well, I was born here, in Northern Utah. And except for a couple of years that I spent in the Northwest, I've lived here my entire life. I moved to Salt Lake about four years ago and it's been all positive. When I first got here, it was big to be able to start getting my work seen both in the public and in galleries.
Gavin: What was it like for you breaking into the local art scene?
Casey: It's been good. I've had nothing but good responses from everyone I've met and worked with in SLC. That's one great thing about living here and chasing your art dream in Salt Lake City. It's small compared to L.A. or New York, and the art scene here isn't hard to tap into.
Gavin: What's the process like for you in coming up with a new piece, from concept to final design?
Casey: I'm all about just going for it. My focus is always on getting myself out of the way when I create, so that there are no doubts or judgments and the art just comes through you. It's not always easy, but when it really happens, those are the pieces that mean the most to me. Like, it's more about my experience creating it than the end result.
Gavin: Do you play around with it a lot or do you stick to the original idea?
Casey: I play around with it the entire time. One of the reasons I like to work on really scrappy, messy surfaces is because I like to let all of that stuff help shape what the piece is going to be and look like in the end. I like to let drips and all of that mess happen and then just work with it. It's like a collaboration with your mistakes; that Bob Ross shit.
Gavin: How would you say your style has adapted since moving here?
Casey: I wouldn't say it has adapted, more like it has evolved. I've grown quite a bit as an artist since I've moved here.
Gavin: Do you prefer illustration or street art above the other, or do you just enjoy the balance between the two genres?
Casey: I definitely can't say I prefer one over the other. I grew up drawing and mainly worked with pencil and paper up until high school. I really didn't start focusing on painting until I started spray painting. My drawing transitioned over to my work with spray paint, and then what I learned with spray paint would transition over to my acrylic work with a brush. And so it kind of all comes full circle and plays into that evolution.
Gavin: When did you notice companies taking an interest in your work, and how did you start designing material for them?
Casey: It really all came through meeting the right people. The majority of my professional design work has been in the ski industry. I met Julian Carr, who owns Discrete, and started doing some design work for them. Then, shortly after meeting Julian, he invited me out to SnowSports Industries America -- SIA -- in Denver, where I met the guys at 4FRNT and started talking about doing work with them, which turned into a design for one of their ski models that was just released this season. So, it's been a chain of events that have just led from one opportunity to the next.
Gavin: As you mentioned, you currently work with Discrete, SIA and 4FRNT. How is it for you coming up with designs for them that match their gear and also staying true to your work?
Casey: I've feel like I've been really lucky so far. All the companies that I've worked with have been really open to letting me do pretty much whatever I want. With the ski design, it was a short back and forth with the creative director. He pretty much showed me some different work of mine that he really liked, I came up with a general design, got the okay and then did it. They put a lot of trust in me to create something they would be happy with; luckily, everyone was. So far, it hasn't been hard at all to stay true to my work.
Gavin: Who are some local artists you've been checking out lately and really admire for their work?
Casey: Guts is a local guy whose work blows my mind. Isaac Hastings is another local artist whose work has been another level lately. Christian Micheal, Sri Whipple and all the Oyster Pirates work is super-inspiring. There's too many to name.
Gavin: What's your take on our art scene today, and what can we do to make things more prominent?
Casey: I think there's a good amount of original work being produced here and a bunch of artists who really inspire me. But I really focus on my own work and am in my own world most of the time. And as far as making it more prominent, just keep producing. Work harder than you did last year.
Gavin: What can we expect from you over the rest of the year?
Casey: My first solo show will be happening later this year. I've been invited to do a solo show at FICE in August. This is the first time I'll be creating a whole body of work for one show, so I'll be spending a lot of time on that. I'm also going to be doing more work with 4FRNT this year, but those skis won't come out until 2015-16.
Gavin: Is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Casey: Follow me on Instagram, Facebook, Discrete Headwear, 4frntSkis, HifiOptics and YouTube.
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