By Published 17 July 2018
The elemental curiosity of collage creator Yoh Nagao
Yoh Nagao/長尾 洋 is a Japanese contemporary artist. He primarily works with collage and acrylic to produce colourful, awe-inspiring pieces on large canvas.

Step us through your art process. Where do you find your inspiration?
I get inspiration from ethnic people and their goods, also fashion items and photos which you can find in magazines or on (the) internet. When I make art pieces, I make a rough sketch with figures and the background at the beginning. In the sketch, I carefully compose the figures and the scene. Combining visible objects and design patterns such zig-zags, stripes, spots, grid, even stars and flowers which you can find in many different indigenous cultures. I literally compose the piece with elements, which humans have possessed for a long, long time.

Yoh Nagao with Himba and Zemba people in Namibia, 2017. Artist supplied photo.

Can you describe your workspace?
My workspace is located in the housing area on the edge of a big city in central Japan. This building is an old (rental) with a tiny residential space in the second floor originally.
Since I moved in here, I have been renovating it by myself. I took down walls to make the spacious single studio room in the second floor. And I painted the walls and floors in white.

There’s a lot going on in your pieces. Would you say you have a cluttered mind?
(Laughs) Yeah perhaps it’s true. Actually I’m interested in many things – sociology, philosophy, science, archaeology, ethnology, anthropology, not just art or fashion. These are my favourite topics since I started being curious with human nature. And I have a huge wonder where we are heading to in the future, (whether) our world will be dystopian or utopian, or (whether) we all will be extinguished. I’m not just following my artistic instincts, but I am also challenging how I could give people the chance to think through my art. I have this kind of struggle all the time.

Yoh Nagao – Wondertribe Namibia (2017). Collage, acrylic, marker on canvas.

What’s the most difficult thing about being an artist in Japan?
Due to its long history, art in Japan is very rich and supreme. Also, the geographical nature of Japan being an island enabled the growth of its culture without invasion. I admire so much the traditional artisans and the handicraft goods and skills that have been inherited for such a long time. However, art in modern times is supposed to be something new and innovative or provocative. In this regard, we Japanese people don’t have certain references or context, which creates a big barrier for the understanding of contemporary art. It is also caused by the education style, being unique or independent isn’t so welcomed in society in Japan.

Are the colours in your art influenced by where you are in the world?
Yes, during the last couple of years, my colours have been strongly inspired by specific stories from many different countries and ethnic people in the world. I also travel to the countries to see the colours in their ‘natural habitat’. Humans subconsciously have chosen favourite colours and designs, and these choices sometimes remain for hundreds of years, through many generations. I prefer to pick the colours for my pieces based on their history and origin, rather than electing to randomly select.

Yoh Nagao – Untitled (2017). Collage, acrylic, marker on canvas.

What’s the hardest thing about running a clothing label and would you recommend it to younger artists?
I actually haven’t been making any new items for a long time. I’d rather focus on my artistic career and research of ethnic people and tradition. But I’d love to go back to producing some goods in the future for sure. They should have the same approach as my art instead of being just basic designs.

For me, art is education or philosophy. Otherwise it’s just personal, or just a hobby or instant entertainment.

Do you believe artists should always be pushing messages through their art?
Yes I believe so. For me, art is education or philosophy. Otherwise it’s just personal, or just a hobby or instant entertainment. But I also think that artistic challenge or discipline could be the message. It also gives influence.

Yoh Nagao – Pace Maker – Horse (2015). Collage, acrylic, marker on canvas.

How does future philosophy factor into your work?
My work deals with the philosophy or slogan ‘We the future indigenous’. It means that we should remember the roots of humanity and our cultural background, while heading towards the future.
In the past few centuries, this world has been changing so much in such a short time. And the world is going to be integrated into one standard under the name of globalisation. I don’t think it’s right, because each of us is unique in terms of culture and history. Why don’t people appreciate and respect this diversity rather than outrageously adopting modernisation and economical growth at the expense of their cultural heritage? This is also connected to natural resource consumption in developing countries.

The world is going to be integrated into one standard under the name of globalisation. I don’t think it’s right, because each of us is unique in terms of culture and history.

What’s the scariest thing on the horizon for humanity?
Discrimination and self-centeredness.

Yoh Nagao – Stepman (2017). 1900mm x 1550mm. Collage, acrylic, marker on canvas.

If you could collaborate with any artist, in any medium, past or present, who would it be and what would you ideally create?
Japanese artist Tarō Okamoto (1911-1996). I’d love to collaborate with Tarō to make large scale sculptures. He made the Tower of the Sun in the Expo Park in Osaka in 1970. He is still a big iconic artist in Japan. In addition, I have Ainu indigenous ancestry from Hokkaido on my father’s side. Most of their culture has been extinguished (during the) Meiji revolution in mid 19th century Japan. My family roots is also one of the triggers to deepen my theme.

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