Lady Aiko is in town! For the past few days the stencil maestro has set up a temporary studio in our little suntrap of a garden, creating fantastic new pieces for her ink’D debut show ‘Edo City Girl’. It’s been a privilege and a pleasure having her here and fascinating watching her work as the pictures come to life. Aiko very kindly put down her knife and spray paint and took some time out to answer a few of our questions over a cup of coffee. So read on for a bit of insight in to the crazy, colourful and creative world of Lady Aiko!
What do you think of the street art and graffiti scene here in the UK?
It’s massive. It’s enormous here. I think it’s crazy how you guys have the whole Banksy thing all the time. I come from New York, so Banksy will come over and do something crazy, and the excitement will be temporary, but here it’s a constant Banksy movement even after 10 years. I think people recognise street art and graffiti here more than in other countries. It’s a like a fashion phenomena, It’s amazing.
Have you paid a trip to Banksy’s amusement park Dismaland yet?
I haven’t yet. I’m planning on going after the show and I’m so excited about it.
What is it about stencils that appeal to you?
I really like using knives. For me the cutting out part is one of the most interesting. You create images and shapes with the knife, using markers or pencils, tracing images, I think the outcome is unique and I’m really into that process. You can then reuse the stencil on different surfaces giving the image its own life. It’s kind of mysterious until you finish, you don’t really know how it’s going to turn out but it’s so exciting when you are cutting and thinking about a spot, planning the colours and where it’ll be. I think stencils are a really cool media.
Which artists do you admire?
In New York I always hang out with old school graffiti writers and people like Henry Chalfant, Charlie Ahearn, Martha Cooper, Futura, Daze, Lady Pink, who started the whole graffiti and subway art movement, that’s my influence. I admire all of those guys who give me energy and motivation. I do stencils but a lot of these people’s backgrounds are in graffiti writing and the old Hip-Hop movement. They have so many great stories about the times and I’ve spent the past 10 years learning from them. At the same time American Pop-Artists like Robert Indiana, Warhol and Basquiat. I met Robert Indiana and spent sometime with him, we made a print together. He’s 86 years old and lives in the countryside, we went to visit him. He has a print studio connected to his house, where he’s telling assistants what he likes, pointing with his cane. It’s so inspiring. He’s so enthusiastic about what he’s doing; I hope to be like that when I’m old.
How have you found it in our little town by the sea?
It’s really cool here, kind of like San Francisco. You have the ocean and hills; I think that environment inspires creativity. The people are really into art and everyone seems friendly, it’s less hectic than London. I haven’t really travelled to other parts of England but I really like it here.
Do you have plans to put up some work on the streets while you’re here?
I hope to. Last time I was here was around 2003 when I was teaching how to stencil and wheat paste with graphic design students at the university. This time I’m here with my own show and will be staying for two weeks so hopefully I’ll have time to do some fun stuff on the streets.
Have you ever had any trouble with the authorities when making street art?
I’ve been caught several times but nothing too crazy or serious. I’m a nice Japanese lady! [Laughs]. When I get arrested I just feel like I want to go out and do more painting.
When are you happiest, creating work in the studio, out painting walls or exhibiting?
I’m happy when people see my work on the street and take pictures. I don’t have to get recognition but I enjoy seeing people smiling at my work on walls, posing or talking about it. Sometimes I go back to walls I’ve painted and watch how people react, it’s fun. There are two different extremes; I like having shows like here at ink’D but at the same time it’s nice to be able to travel to places like India or Africa and just be an artist. It has nothing to do with selling, just being able to create work. I can go to a local hardware store and get some cheap paint or whatever I can get, then make art with local people. That’s a really happy time for me.
That must be refreshing getting away from the ‘scene’ and making work with complete freedom…
These people those countries don’t know street art, they don’t even know of Banksy. In Africa I was just tagging little hearts in pink, the local kids were amazed and asked if I could paint their shoes. They started using spray cans like instruments shaking them and dancing for me as an offering for my painting. It was really memorable.
You worked as part of FAILE for several years, are you still in contact with them and see each other?
We don’t really get to hang out unfortunately. It was a really big part of my youth from 25 to 30 years old. I travelled everywhere and worked everyday, spending all my time just doing pure street art. That was my youth and after that we went on two different paths but the funny thing is we are always having shows in similar venues and galleries so it never disappears.
It must have been quite intense working so closely with two other people, much like members of a band…
It was, that was one of the reasons I thought it was really difficult. We had to have a discussion before making an image, for me images just come out from my mind without words or speech. It is the same for musicians or a sports team; when you are in good flow it works, but when people start working more individually it’s hard to organise. At the time it was like artistic marriage, where we shared everything together but now we’re both happy doing our own separate stuff, which is really good. It was 10 years ago, now is more important and the future is more exciting.
What are some of the myths associated with being an artist?
When you make art you never feel completely satisfied. You’re constantly trying and testing different things, it’s an on going process. It’s a myth that people think when an artist is successful they are a master of everything. Especially when I’m high up a ladder or scaffolding painting and they think it looks easy. We’re always challenging and trying to do something no one has ever done before. People think I’m a pro and know everything but everyday I’m trying out new things and learning.
If you could collaborate with any artist dead or alive who would you choose?
In the past I would like to have met Hokusai, I consider him a street art type of guy, long before the movement. He moved studio 93 times in his life and was traveling constantly creating art much like a modern day street artist. He also changed his name, using different names for cartoons or porn graphics in his work. Hokusai used to paint huge images of faces in the temples to entertain people, much like what we do. I feel like he’s our kind of guy and his art is so beautiful. I wish I could meet him, say what’s up and take him round Brooklyn. [Laughs]
You’re over here for the Japanese festival as well as ‘Edo City Girl’, do you have the chance to get back to Japan much and what’s the street art scene like there?
I was there last New Years and I’m going back in November. There’s more of a throw up and tagging scene there like New York. Not so much stencil or wheat paste just more vandalising. I don’t really do anything illegal or tagging there, I just go home and chill out with my family.
Do you use digital technology in your work?
It’s very much analogue. I make small collages and blow them up, cutting and tracing images, adding my own texture. I don’t really plan the images, just freestyle. I have a lot of stencils in my archive so I can pick them like records and mix them together.
How long did it take to paint the huge Bowery wall in New York?
It took two or three weeks to cut the stencils by hand. There were eighty-eight stencils in total each two metres by two metres. They were too big for me to hold so I called up five girl friends and asked them to come and hold them while I sprayed. We spent six nights painting. It was too hot in the day so I started painting at eight in the evening until four in the morning. We worked really hard, it was an amazing experience. I spent a lot of time working on that project compared to a lot of other artists who just show up and spray, I need two or three weeks to prepare. That gives more love for the wall and the finished piece, I think people appreciate that.
What do you think about the representation of women in street art?
I think it’s getting better. Lots of women are working in the art industry, not just as artist but also as curators, gallerists, PR and also behind the scenes. I don’t feel like I’m part of a minority or that I’m having a hard time. When I left FAILE I didn’t want to tell people I was female or that I was Japanese, now I say more. I wanted to use AIKO as this mysterious graf name but I changed to speak about my female side and my Japanese style. It was Bast who was telling me from the beginning “Aiko you should do your Japanese thing. Don’t paint Mickey Mouse it’s our thing but you have your own cool Japanese thing”, it gave me more motivation to talk about my heritage.
Finally do you have a favourite piece from the show?
I’m more concerned with the whole room rather than one individual work. This is the first time introducing myself in Brighton so I wanted to make a good impression. I’m part of the Japan festival here so I wanted to include some Japanese imagery as well as sexy girls and other things; I’m really excited for the show.