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A Temple of Art: Studio Visit & Interview with Stephanie Inagaki

Stephanie Inagaki truly is a reflection of her art, and her art imitates the eclectic life around her. She is a Japanese artist living and working in Los Angeles, who we’ve previously featured here, and a well traveled individual with influences borrowed from various world cultures. Her charming studio is like a temple filled with these souvenirs, photographs of friends, her favorite art books, even her furniture has a deeply personal history. All of it provides the inspiration for her revealing and abstract charcoal self portraits. We caught up with her to learn more about why she exposes herself this way.

Stephanie Inagaki truly is a reflection of her art, and her art imitates the eclectic life around her. She is a Japanese artist living and working in Los Angeles, who we’ve previously featured here, and a well traveled individual with influences borrowed from various world cultures. Her charming studio is like a temple filled with these souvenirs, photographs of friends, her favorite art books, even her furniture has a deeply personal history. All of it provides the inspiration for her revealing and abstract charcoal self portraits. We caught up with her to learn more about why she exposes herself this way.

HF: There are artifacts from different cultures all around your studio and living space. Now that I look closer, these are reflected in your artwork- would you say your art has its own culture and how would you describe it?

SI: I’ve certainly built my own mythology around my visual narratives. It’s more apparent in my jewelry and accessory business (Miyu Decay) where it is an amalgamation of Old World aesthetics. It has been creeping into the work I am making as of late though.

HF: You and I were speaking about your background and how belly dancing is a long time passion of yours. Has dancing also had an influence on your work?

SI: Being aware of what the body is doing and how it can create an emotional state is certainly informed by my experience as a dancer. There is so much that you can express through something as simple as a gesticulation or as complex as using the whole body. I think this is why figurative work will always be made and be of interest.

HF: I can see why so many great artists incorporate dance. For example, Robert Longo and newcomers like Leah Yerpe also employ body movement as a way of conveying emotions. Who are some artists currently inspiring you?

SI: I absolutely love Odani Motohiko‘s work. It makes me wish I was sculpting again. I saw his solo show at the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo several years back. It blew my mind. The fluidity and seamlessness of his execution, concept, and mastery of materials is what I strive for. I received both my undergraduate and graduate degrees in sculpture but the galleries that have represented me here, predominately show 2D work. I have a few ideas but they are huge installations so I will just have to wait until I find an appropriate venue. Some other artists that inspire me are Takato Yamamoto, Vania, Lee Bontecou, Bernini…the list goes on, especially when it comes to the Old Masters.

HF: In your recent solo, “Metamorphosis”, you explored mythological themes and figures. This piece you are working on reminds me of a bodhisattva, the way she has many arms radiating from her. Is this a new theme you are exploring?

Yes, it is a new theme. I was inspired by the strong, creative, positive, and supportive female friends that I have. They are in a figurative sense ‘pillars’ for me. I never had role models growing up since I have been fairly self reliant by nature but I look up to these amazing women. I have drawn myself as well, because it’s necessary for all of us to be our own pillars too. These new drawings are for my upcoming show at Century Guild on September 20th with my friends, David Mack and Bill Sienkiewicz. David will also be having his book release that evening.

HF: I particularly love the way you’ve “lit” this piece. It almost looks like a photograph. How are you using lighting as a way to convey meaning?

SI: Depending on how and where the lighting hits the figure, it can intensify or enhance what the figure is expressing and I love that dramatic feel. With lighting I am able to control where the viewer’s eye is drawn to and where the focal points are.

HF: It really enhances the physical and emotional nudity of your subjects as well. Why do you choose to portray yourself this way?

SI: I’m a fairly honest person and I don’t mind talking about my history. I would rather have someone tell me the truth and feel any blows immediately than have it masked. Since my work is very personal, it seemed like a natural progression to depict myself this way. Every human being has a body and I don’t think we should be ashamed of it. We all come in different sizes, shapes, and colors and that is very beautiful. Of course, I had my insecurities growing up, pressured by not just American media but also by Japanese media, which can be completely opposite to each other and rather confusing. There are things that I don’t find ‘ideal’ about myself but it’s not something to obsess over. Our culture is too puritanical and ashamed of nudity, distorting what we all naturally have into unrealistic goals. This is my way of inadvertently celebrating the human body while using it as a vehicle for my own mythology and stories.

HF: Photography seems to be an important part of your life; not just as reference, but you enjoy projects recreationally among your friends. Do you have a background in photography, and any new projects you are working on?

SI: I love photography and learned how to process film and develop my own photos in college. I am involved in an exhibition (“Temple of Art”) that Allan Amato is putting together. He has photographed over 50 artists and we have been given the task to draw, paint, and/or collage over our own portraits. There will be an accompanying documentary that Allan will kick start in a couple weeks, an exhibition catalog that Baby Tattoo is producing, and a panel at this month’s San Diego Comic Con.

HF: In “Temple of Art”, you are collaborating with a lot of local artists of varying styles. Are some of you close friends who collaborate often, or is this a first time?

SI: I do have a couple close friends who are involved in the project. Many of us help each other with modeling or developing concepts. It tends to happen organically when we’re just hanging out or visiting each other’s studios. I am really blessed to have a solid group of creative friends where we can openly discuss our ideas and get feedback in a constructive manner. Everyone is here to encourage each other to become better artists. I haven’t participated in that many collaborations since I’m a fairly solitary artist. However, when I have, it usually has been an enjoyable process and I am open to doing more.

HF: Is there anything coming up in the immediate future you’d like to share? Any personal goals?

SI: I will have a few coasters at the annual La Luz de Jesus Coaster Show and the Century Guild exhibition that I mentioned previously, which are both in September. I will also have new work at Copro Nason in October, Marcas Gallery in November, and La Luz de Jesus in December for “Temple of Art”. I would love to exhibit my work in museums and internationally. I am working on getting my work out in the public view more, since I am fairly new to the art scene in Los Angeles.

Thank you, Stephanie.

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