Perverse, bizarre, violent, grotesque… A quick Google search only confirms Makoto Aida is no stranger to controversy. On the contrary, he makes a career out of it.
We meet one of the most important and influential Japanese artists living today in his tiny, run-down and out of Google Maps reach bar in Kabukichō. Weathered tape graffiti on the door reads 芸術公民館 (Geijutsu — Art, Koumin — Citizen, Kan — Center). Our host leads us up a narrow staircase to the second floor, asks for a drink and proceeds a floor higher to a tatami room upstairs. A sip from the glass, “So…”
Interview and photography by Andrey Bold
You have a solid artistic base (Aida graduated Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music with MFA in painting). Did the school have any affect on you?
When I was a student, university would let us do whatever we wanted to. I wasn’t taught much there, just experimented with various styles on my own. I entered one of the stricter courses for my master’s because I actually wanted to learn something. I studied traditional European oil painting techniques and materials there. I feel it became a part of who I am.
Who influenced you?
I think I was influenced by Yukio Mishima the most. It goes all the way back to my high school years. Yes, he’s a writer, but I empathize with his view on art. It may explain my erratic behavior. [Laughs] Mishima was a very complex person. Many consider him to be an ultranationalist, but he was much more than that. Someone to learn from really. Originally, I wanted to become a writer, not an artist. That’s why I mostly draw inspiration from literature.
That explains why your works are more concept based.
What attracts me is storytelling. I never actually wanted to be an artist, but once I realized I have no talent for writing I had no choice but to give up. Somehow, I was always good at drawing even if I didn’t care for it. There was a gap between what I wanted to and could do, so I ended up like this. [Laughs]
What excites you?
Hmm… Twitter. This year is special for me, I have a big show coming in November. To prepare for it I had to retreat to concentrate on painting. I chose Twitter to be my only link. Whenever I get tired of painting I read tweets. After the March 11 earthquake Twitter has become a mirror for the weary souls of Japanese people. That’s pretty much this year for me — work and Twitter. To tell you the truth, I really want to get out. Maybe climb a mountain or something.
Belonging to a group is essentially Japanese, yet, people seem to praise originality. Everyone is craving for more freedom, not least of expression, but few exceptions aside continue to follow the usual, “don’t stand out” path. How do you explain this paradox?
Hmm… Interesting question. It’s the first time someone asked me a question like that… Well, I’m a wacko by Japanese standards. I’ve always been an outsider, it’s a part of who I am. At the same time I also value traditional Japanese small village mentality, particularly coming from Niigata prefecture where farming is much more crucial, than say in Tokyo. Both feelings are equally strong within me. I’m probably the best example of the paradox you described. I think I’ll never be able to solve this conflict until I die.