Art & Design

INTERVIEW: LY's Artistic Alter-Ego Takes the Spotlight at "Living With LUV" Exhibition

We caught up with the Japanese artist ahead of her pop-up at Truman Brewery in East London, presented by Avant Arte.

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Avant Arte is bringing Japanese artist LY to London through an exclusive pop-up exhibition titled “Living with LUV.” This anticipated event will showcase LY’s captivating muse, LUV, an enigmatic figure that has captured the hearts of everyone worldwide. Acting as both a companion and an autobiography, LUV serves as LY’s medium for portraying her life experiences on canvas. The exhibition offers a unique opportunity to immerse oneself in LY’s artistry, featuring not only original works but also new limited editions. In a bold exploration of her creative boundaries, the creative will also unveil her inaugural line of bespoke limited-edition hoodies, inspired by her nostalgic memories of Tokyo’s skateparks.

Born in Tokyo in 1981, LY has been honing her artistic talents since childhood. Though she attended art classes during her formative years, she veered away from structured painting techniques, instead allowing her creativity to flow freely. As a junior high school student, LY found solace in storytelling, poetry, and painting, solidifying her desire to express herself through art for the rest of her life.

LY draws inspiration from the beauty of nature, particularly the serene landscapes of forests and mountains that lie beyond the bustling cityscape of Tokyo. In an exclusive interview, the artist explained: “Nature is precious to me, as I grew up in Tokyo, where it is not readily accessible in my everyday life.” LY’s alter-ego, LUV, navigates through monochromatic urban settings, nature’s tranquil embrace, and intimate domestic scenes, meticulously collecting precious moments and objects that serve as tangible memories. Skateboards and fast food pay homage to her youthful experiences in the Japanese capital, while flowers and dogs symbolize the joys of motherhood.

Despite the use of monochrome tones in her artwork, LY perceives these hues not as a representation of tranquility but rather as vibrant expressions of her creative vision. LY’s artistic journey has extended beyond the canvas and gallery walls, with her paintings transformed into awe-inspiring public murals across Japan, France, Thailand, Malaysia and the United States. Reflecting on the impact of her murals, LY shared: “Encountering a large mural amidst the mundane cityscape is akin to stumbling upon a dinosaur or a mythical creature during urban exploration. I am fascinated by how murals embed themselves in a location and become special to individuals. One of my Tokyo murals has graced the city for a decade.”

As LY gears up for her inaugural pop-up exhibition at Dray Walk Gallery, Truman Brewery, London, presented by Avant Arte from June 16-18, we had the opportunity to delve deeper into her artistic inspirations, creative process and lovable alter-ego, LUV. Scroll down to discover our exclusive interview with LY.

Your work depicts many of your memories from your twenties and thirties. Do you ever use old photographs or other sentimental objects as sources of inspiration or do you primarily rely on intangible elements like memories and melodies?

When I was a child, I often drew pictures of stories that I imagined and this hasn’t changed. Some of my tangible inspirations are natural landscapes, like trees and mountains. Examples of intangible inspirations are the atmospheres and smells of foreign cities I’ve visited.

Why I do this is a mystery even to me, but while I paint, I play the same film over and over again, every single day. It’s like background music. I change the film that I play two or three times a year. The films don’t directly influence my paintings and I don’t paint while watching them.

It seems that the atmosphere of the film, the voices of the actors and the music have a calming effect on me. I think that playing the same film neutralizes my feelings and helps me work in a stable state. I also feel that this sense of comfort creates an environment that allows me to discover new inspirations.

There was a time when I played Harmony Korine’s “Mister Lonely” for a whole year while I worked. My husband and other visitors to my studio would say to me, “Not again!”

living with luv pop-up london japanese artist ly interview avant arte details

LY/Avant Arte

Tell us about LUV. What are they like and how did you meet them? LUV appears to be a highly curious and inquisitive individual. Would you describe them as an introvert or an extrovert? How do they reflect your own life experiences?

I frequently drew pictures of imaginary monsters as a child and LUV is one of them. LUV came to me when I was feeling a little low in my life as a painter. LUV represents both myself and my determination to continue painting as an artist.

LUV is an extrovert who loves to travel to various places and connect with people they care about. They have a strong sense of curiosity and are always seeking meaningful experiences and connections.

In many ways, LUV reflects my own life experiences. They embody my desire to explore the world, discover new inspirations and maintain a strong sense of determination in my artistic pursuits. LUV symbolizes the adventurous and inquisitive spirit within me that pushes me to keep creating and growing as an artist.

living with luv pop-up london japanese artist ly interview avant arte details

LY/Avant Arte

You’ve mentioned that you consider each of your creatures as an individual. Do you feel attached to your paintings and do you experience a sense of sadness when they are sold to a new owner?

Definitely. Even now, when I send my paintings and/or LUV abroad, I think about how I won’t be able to see them anymore and sometimes feel a sense of loneliness. As I send them off, I hope that the owner will take care of them and display them in their home. This is how important my own paintings are to me. They are like my children.

living with luv pop-up london japanese artist ly interview avant arte details

LY/Avant Arte

Your work is known for its neo-pop, superflat style with a palette consisting solely of black, white and grey. Do you consider black and grey to be the absence of color or do they speak in a different way to you?

To me, there are many shades of black, white and grey, so I don’t consider them to be an “Absence of color.” During my childhood and teens, I lived in a house designed by my architect uncle. The exterior of the house was completely black and some of the interior walls were grey. This is why black and grey feel familiar and important to me. Black has always held significance and been close to me.

Furthermore, I needed a purpose in my life for using “Color” in my work. That’s why I used to paint only in black and white. However, in my mid-twenties, during a period of feeling down, I visited a skatepark atop a mountain with friends. The grey at the park struck me as beautiful and ephemeral. It held a sense of hope. Since that day, I have incorporated the “grey of hope” into my work, using over 100 shades of grey.

living with luv pop-up london japanese artist ly interview avant arte details

LY/Avant Arte

Can you describe your painting process? Your work is carefully composed as a series of sharp-edged solids. Is it a form of meditation for you?

I face a white canvas and ponder, “What kind of picture should I paint today?” Then I begin. I don’t create any preliminary sketches. Instead, I paint gradually, discovering new images and colors along the way until I reach completion. When I start, I have no idea what the final work will look like and I eagerly anticipate the finished painting. This has always been my approach.

However, with the numerous exhibitions and the high volume of work I’ve been producing recently, I sometimes keep sketches of the things I imagine or the landscapes and stories that come to my mind. Some of my pieces are based on these sketches.

In my paintings, I employ sharp edges to accentuate LUV’s curved lines. This technique helps to emphasize the distinctiveness of the figures I depict. As for whether it is a form of meditation for me, I do find a sense of calm and focus during the process. Painting allows me to immerse myself in the creation and it brings a sense of tranquility and introspection to my mind.

living with luv pop-up london japanese artist ly interview avant arte details

LY/Avant Arte

How do you want the world to perceive your artwork? Do you have any specific messages or emotions that you hope your audience will take away from your creations?

All I ask is for people to enjoy my work. Perhaps they will see a reflection of themselves in the LUV depicted in a painting or maybe LUV will resonate with them in a way that brings about a positive feeling. LUV will forever embark on new journeys and I hope that the LUV within my artwork and the viewers themselves will continue their own individual journeys as well.

living with luv pop-up london japanese artist ly interview avant arte details

LY/Avant Arte

What has been inspiring you recently?

My paintings are deeply influenced by my own life and in recent years, my greatest inspiration has come from my four-year-old daughter. She has a genuine love for creating art and often visits my studio to join me. We paint and engage in various artistic activities together.

Surprisingly, she even offers me advice on my work! One of her suggestions is, “Mummy, you shouldn’t paint LUV all the time.” Her perspective encourages me to explore new themes and subjects in my paintings. As she has a fondness for flowers, I have started incorporating them into my artwork. Working alongside her has brought fresh colors into my palette, which I now utilize in my creations.

Regarding recurrent dreams, while I don’t have any specific recurring dreams that directly influence my art, I believe dreams have a subconscious impact on my creative process. They contribute to my overall imagination and the ideas that emerge in my work. Dreams possess a mysterious and powerful quality that can seep into my paintings in subtle and unexpected ways.

living with luv pop-up london japanese artist ly interview avant arte details

LY/Avant Arte

Finally, what’s next for you? Can you share any upcoming projects, collaborations or goals you have in mind for your artistic career?

Next spring, I have an exciting exhibition planned in Bangkok, where I previously painted a mural of LUV back in 2015. It has been a long-standing desire of mine to showcase my work in Bangkok, especially because the mural still stands there. I’m eagerly looking forward to the exhibition, as it holds a special significance to me. During the creation of the mural, I received tremendous support and assistance from local artists and I hope that they will be able to visit and see my artwork in person.

Moving forward, my main goal is to continue painting works that I truly love. I want to maintain my passion for art and keep exploring new ideas and themes. Additionally, I have been contemplating projects and initiatives that involve art and children. I am keen on finding ways to engage with young audiences and contribute to their experiences through the creation of art. It is an area of interest that I would love to explore further in the future.

living with luv pop-up london japanese artist ly interview avant arte details

LY/Avant Arte

Living with LUV
Dray Walk Gallery,
The Truman Brewery,
91 Brick Ln,
London E1 6QR

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