Studio Visit: Stephanie Inagaki Shares Her Ghostly Charcoal Drawings

by CaroPosted on

Japanese artist Stephanie Inagaki’s black and white charcoal drawings depict female figures that are not only an embodiment of her roots, but also of herself as an artist and a woman. For the past couple of years, she has been incorporating the Japanese ghost folklore and mythology of her culture into what she describes as “pillars of inspiration”; tall, bold, creative women, often self-portraits, that represent the well rounded woman Inagaki aspires to be. Previously featured on our blog, she likens the figures in her drawings to the Creation and Destruction goddesses like Kali from India or Izanami from Japan, and there is generally an underlying theme of life and death throughout. Inagaki, with a group of her close friends, recently made a pilgrimage to the “old capital” Kyoto, Japan and visited Yokai Street which is located in Jyokyo-ku, a street dedicated to the various ghouls and ghosts of Japanese legend, as well as Shinto shrines in the southern region. The influence of her travels there can be found in her new series of drawings titled “Yurei – Yokai”, monochromatic portraits of ethereal Yokai that assimilate elements of collage using traditional papers. My drawings tend to be personal as it is a creative way to synthesize my experiences,” she says. “The work I made for my solo show, “Metamorphosis” was just that, a personal metamorphosis so it was heavily based on self portraiture. However, the newer work I’ve been creating is helping me develop and build on my visual language by other means than direct self portraiture.” Inagaki invited Hi-Fructose into her new studio in Los Angeles to give us a preview and tell us more about the direction of where her work is going.


“This is the entrance to my studio. It’s still in the works and I would like to have it a bit more ‘finished’ but for now, I am grateful to have found a home with a satellite studio to work in that’s in my backyard. Besides being in school, I haven’t been able to have a separate work space until now.”


“These bones and horns on my window sill have either been inherited or gifted. I use them as reference and material for my drawings, jewelry, and costuming. For me life and death are cyclical and symbiotic. Life and death gives way to the creation of each other, making death not necessarily a negative thing. By using bones and horns, it creates a means to communicate this concept in my work. It is most prominent in my drawings, “The Pillar Series.” Horns are also a natural extension made from the same thing as hair, which is keratin. Much of my work in the past has incorporated hair similarly to the function of horns.”


“If I’m not working on large scale drawings, this little corner in my studio is where I create my jewelry and smaller drawings. I am highly influenced by Eastern cultures from the Middle East to Japan. I started Middle Eastern dancing in high school and have since amassed an array of decoration and accessories that I incorporate into my artwork.”


“This is a commissioned portrait of Devon Avery that I am currently working on. He contributed to the highest tier of Kickstarter for Allan Amato and Olga Nunes’ documentary, “Temple of Art.” Part of the reward was a portrait drawn by me in my preferred medium which is primarily in charcoal.”


“Crows are a huge motif in my work as they represent positive aspects such as devotion and compassion. They’ve gotten a bad reputation in Western culture but they are highly intelligent creatures who predominately mate for life. They also will communicate with the murder if a person or another animal is being kind or cruel, telling generations after.”


“This series was inspired by a commission. He admired the themes of Japanese folklore and mythology that I used in my solo show, “Metamorphosis” at Century Guild in 2014 and my use of minimal color.”


“Each drawing is a sort of vignette, telling a different story but still keeping to the overall theme of life and death as cyclical, represented by the flowers (life) that are the only aspect in color and the Yūrei as death.”


“I remember seeing heads of female ghosts but not their bodies when reading illustrated ghost stories as a child so I wanted to represent something slightly different. There were also stories of disembodied hands that belonged to lost souls. I’ve incorporated them into my visual vocabulary as representing negative human aspects or events like in my drawings, “The Vampiric Deception of Disembodied (Souls)” and “The Exorcism Triptych”.”


“I’m drawn to ghost and monster stories because it’s a way to convey human stories in a fantastical manner that allows the reader to relate to subjects that might be otherwise sensitive or taboo. Storytelling through science fiction creates a layer of separation that enables it to reach a wider audience.”


“I have been using traditional Japanese paper or washi, for my drawings to add color as well as some context to my work. Each flower or cluster is cut out meticulously with an exacto knife. I am really happy about this new paper that I found while I was in Kyoto this past November.”


“Sometimes it can take me almost as long as the drawing process to cut out all the flowers. I have an affinity to washi since my mom and aunt would make origami with me as a child. I still have my Japanese books on how to make origami animals.”


“Several years back, I created a huge sculptural installation that I made out of one thousand human vertebrae that I sculpted and cast. It was inspired by “Senbazuru” or a thousand paper cranes. Legend has it, that if you fold a thousand origami cranes, you will be granted a wish.”


“These are details from the recent drawing series. The helmet is a kaji kabuto or fire helmet and the fox mask is fairly well known.”


“Foxes or kitsune in Japanese folklore are known to transform into humans and have magical abilities. The older the fox is, the wiser and more powerful they are. There are so many different stories related to them.”


“My boyfriend and I were in Arashiyama, part of the famous bamboo forest in Kyoto and we stumbled across this tiny paper shop along the path. The lady that ran it was so sweet! I showed her my artwork and how I incorporate washi into my drawings. She told me I was working too hard by cutting out the patterned flowers so she spent the time to show me how to make sculpted flowers out of solid colored washi. At some point I’m hoping to be able to use this new knowledge to add more of a sculpture element into my drawings.”


“I love how playful foxes are in nature and in Japanese folklore they definitely have a mischievous side. I also have had shiba inu, which is a type of Japanese dog breed that look like foxes. I recently bought this handmade kitsune mask on Yokai (Monster) dori in Kyoto. I already had one that my parents gave me but because it was slightly different I couldn’t resist.”


“Despite not being religious, there is something about historic religious artwork that has always struck a chord. On my wall are the Book of Kells.”


“For the longest time, it was the only means to a creative outlet for artists so it seems only natural to have so much passion and meticulous detail imbued into them. I was blown away by Bernini’s “Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.” I experienced it in situ while the organs were playing at high noon, the prime time to see the sculpture’s golden rays shining down from the hidden sky light in Santa Maria della Vittoria in Rome. The acoustics were perfect. To this day, it’s still my favorite sculpture.”


“My jewelry bench also serves as my art table for now. Sometimes I am having to switch between jewelry orders and drawing, that it’s easiest to sit in the same place. You also can’t go wrong with having Japanese chocolates for late night fuel.”


“My friends Zoetica Ebb and Alexandra Matthews did a photo shoot with some of my creations and I made this horned headdress for them. The headdress is made out of recycled vintage Indian fabric and kuchi chains.”


“Inspired by one of my best friends, Satine Phoenix, I drew her as a mermaid in a wave and sakura patterned washi. I wanted to continue and expand my exploration of using washi as a background for mythological creatures like I did with the Nesting Series for my “Metamorphosis” solo show.”


“I bought this book, “Otogibanashi no Gensou Sashie” during my recent trip to Yokohama, Japan.”


“It’s a great collection of illustrators who painted folklore such as Kay Nielsen and Edmund Dulac. There’s a great sense of passion, movement, and whimsy, with an undertone of the dark and macabre that I really enjoy seeing.”


“My little rescue puppies, Klaus and Nomi, always hang out with me while I work in the studio.”


“This is where I usually am working in my studio. If the drawings are small enough to fit on my drawing board, I like to sit while I work. My jewelry bench also serves as a table to set all my pencils and erasers on. I am also flanked by my sticky notes, reminding me of the projects that I need to get done.”

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