A Perfect World

Simple yet poignant, the works of Japanese artist Ai Yamaguchi speak of a world where beauty and noble values reign. Held hostage by her absorbing art pieces in the exhibition Fiction@Love currently showing at the Singapore Art Museum, we chat with the soft-spoken artist to find out what makes her tick.
How did you get into art?
Illustration is not what I studied when I was in university. It was more a hobby then. I submitted an art piece for an exhibition in my campus, and received good response. I was then recommended to do some shows in Los Angeles. An old American lady really loved my works in Los Angeles, and that was when I felt that I could share and express my feelings with others through art, and I decided to become an artist.
How would you describe your artistic style?
I feel that I am a successor of tradition, and am more like a craftsman than an artist. I made the canvas myself instead of buying it from shops. Everything is created from scratch. I pursue beauty, which can be found in Japanese traditional paintings. The artists of these paintings pursue utopia in their works. I just want to inherit that kind of idea too.
Why the fascination with young girls with black hair and big eyes in your works?
The subject matter in my works is often nine to 10 years old. In the Edo era, some young girls have to practice and learn to be accomplished geishas. These girls are around nine or 10 years old, and are happy and innocent-looking, but everyone knows that in future, they are going to work and become geishas. So there is a sad and lonely feeling to their plight. At this age too, it’s hard to decipher the gender of children. They are “in-between,” caught at the stage before they bloom into a boy or a girl. The ambiguity associated with this age range and environment is close to what I want to express as an artist.
Would you say your career has been smooth sailing all the way?
I wouldn’t say my career has been completely smooth sailing. It’s not easy to be known, but I’m glad that I have the opportunities to do solo exhibitions, and I’ve met people who know what good art is, and who have inspired me. These few years, things are getting better. I’ve just done a project with Japanese cosmetics label Shu Uemura too.
For your project with Shu Uemura, your design appeared on the limited edition “SHU by ai” cleansing oils. What do you think of doing commercial works like that, as opposed to artistic pieces?
I’ve met up with Mr. Shu Uemura, who is also an artist, and we respect each other. This project may be a commercial one, but I had an interesting experience. I have to work with a different medium—the bottle. As a painter, I usually work on canvas. So, even though it’s a commercial collaboration with Shu Uemura, it’s a new dimension of experience for me as an artist.
Well, apart from Mr. Shu Uemura, is there anyone you would love to work with?
I would like to collaborate with musicians, regardless of the instruments they play. They can be singers, or composers. Music will be good stimulation and inspiration for images, and vice versa. I like to work with younger artists as well, because I’ve worked mostly with older people so far.