Junko Mizuno: Red Tresses and Freckles Show @ Narwhal and Exclusive Interview

On a misty Thursday evening, a long line-up formed in front of the Narwhal Art Projects Gallery in Toronto. Young geeky types, older professionals, scantily clad nurses and Gothic Lolitas, some traveling hours to get here have come together to celebrate a momentous occasion: Junko Mizuno’s first Canadian solo show.

I was the first in line, camera in hand and an excited, perhaps even borderline fangirl grin on my face. Junko Mizuno has been my favorite artist since I first stumbled upon her Keiko figure back when I first got into vinyl toys a few years ago. Beside me was a girl and her boyfriend, both from out of town. She showed me a small Junko Mizuno tattoo on her ankle. She had plans to have Mizuno sign it so she could then run to the nearest tattoo shop to have it permanently inked. She wasn’t the only fan with that idea. At least two more people made the trip to the tattoo shop after receiving their autograph and came back with bandaged appendages.

Amongst the line up of the hardcore fans was a curious photographer who just happened to be walking home from another gig when Mizuno’s gallery window installation of mystical trees and giant eyes caught his attention. He spent the rest of the evening on his cell phone gushing to his friends about how amazing her work was and urging them to come check out the show. It was pretty clear that a single glance at Mizuno’s art would make almost anyone hooked. Like, crazy hooked.

The show did not disappoint either. Junko Mizuno, best known for her cute, yet erotic adaptations of popular Western fairy tales had re-created the world of Anne of Green Gables in her own imaginative way. This classic Canadian story (I know, how appropriate) is depicted with splashes of colour, flowers and flowing swirls of smoke. Her trademark chibby-style-with-a-twist-of-erotic females, in this case, Anne pops out in the foreground. Along with the colourful canvas and board paintings, she also had limited edition prints, as well as pencil drafts of each piece that were displayed on the walls. Mizuno’s other work, her comics and her newest release of blind box Pure Trance vinyl toys were also available for fans to enjoy.

Sitting timidly on the table, drawing on Munnys and the first page of her books for the fans in line was Junko Mizuno. This was her first visit to Canada and she was very grateful for the wonderful turnout. Earlier in the day, I was fortunate enough to interview her about her work. Junko Mizuno’s Red Tresses and Freckles Solo Show will be up at Narwhal Art Projects from June 18 until July 26, 2009.

647.346.5317 contact@narwhalartprojects.com

Many Western artists are facisnated by asian - particularly Japanese art, and yet many Asian artists such as yourself gravitate more towards Western influences. Why do you think there is such a fascination with cultures other than their own?
Junko Mizuno: I think it’s very natural. It’s like the grass is greener on the other side. I was born in 1973 and at the time Japan was full of Western cultures-- American cultures, but still it was very special for me. If i had an imported candy, it looked very special. I used to keep the container. I don’t know how to explain it, but I think it’s natural to get fascinated with something very special, different and rare.

Did you also grow up with the fairy tales you adapted? How did you get introduced to them and what inspired you to turn western fairy tales into your own style?
Junko Mizuno: Actually that was the editor’s idea to make comics based on the stories that were already existing. Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel, they were all very famous at the moment in Japan. I think it’s not different in America or Europe. They are very well known fairly tales. I think they were more popular than Japanese fairy tales. Basically, Japanese fairy tales are usually very sad. Cinderella has a happy ending. I think that it is hard to find that happy story in Japanese culture.

Would you ever adapt stories from your own culture into your work?
Junko Mizuno: We were thinking about it. You know, I have three fairy tale books. We were thinking about doing more, but it didn’t happen. If it had happened I think I would have done some Japanese fairy tales too, but it was easier to do stories like Cinderella and Hansel and Gretel because it was visually very interesting.

Your work effectively bridges the cute and childish with the sexy and gruesome. what inspired you to combine both into your work?
Junko Mizuno: It was just a very natural reflection of myself cause i grew up in Japan. I was a baby boomer, so when I was a kid I was surrounded by a lot of commercial products designed for kids like comics, animations and Sanrio stationary. I was like, brainwashed with cute stuff, so it’s in me. I also liked horror comics and horror movies. I don’t know, I guess it’s just everything I have experienced in my life. So now when I make art, it’s not like I’m going to put cuteness here and scary thing here. I don’t try to shock people. I usually don’t think and just go with the flow. Draw the things that naturally come out from my brain. I think everyone has different sides-- I like cute stuff, scary stuff, funny stuff. It also depends on my mood and condition. It just naturally became my style and I think it will keep changing in the future.

Have you ever received any backlash for your racy take on children’s stories?
Junko Mizuno: No because I think I’m too underground as an artist. If I was a best selling author, maybe I would get some critic saying something. Especially in Japan, my work is very underground, very limited. I’m actually more popular in North America than in Japan.

Your famous graphic novel, “Pure Trance” is quite popular here in North America since it is such an interesting and original story with stunning visuals. How did you come with the whole universe and it’s characters?
Junko Mizuno: It’s over 10-years old, so I don’t remember exactly how I came up with it. I remember that I was so excited because it was my first long story. I had only done short stories before I started drawing “Pure Trance”. It was very challenging. I didn’t know what to do at first, so i decided to not think too much and just draw whatever came out.

Your work has been translated into toys. How involved are you in the process? Was the work easy to translate into 3D?
Junko Mizuno: I first started making toys with a Japanese company, so i was already used to drawing all the turnarounds: front, side, back. At first it was a bit difficult to work with Kidrobot. I was a bit nervous. when I was working with the Japanese company, I could meet with them and see the actual model. People from Kidrobot and I could only exchange a lot of photos and emails. Sometimes it was hard for me to explain the changes I wanted in English, so I would have to get a dictionary. It was a lot of time and effort, but i think it was a great experience.
Congratulations on your new collection and having a successful show so far! This collection was inspired by Anne of Green Gables. What inspired you to translate her story into your artwork?
Junko Mizuno: It has been one of my most favourite stories. It’s from Canada, and it’s for my first solo show in Canada, so it works.

Would you ever want to visit PEI where Anne’s story originated from?
Junko Mizuno: I’ve never been before. I hope to someday when I have time, but I’m flying back to San Francisco tomorrow!

What are your future plans with your work?
Junko Mizuno: After I get back home, I will start working on a book. It’s a picture book for a French publisher and it will come with a toy. I think I have to finish 40 or 45 pieces. After that I will have a show in Seattle in December. Then there is a third show in LA. I’m also planning a new serial comic with a Japanese comic company. There is also a new graphic novel that is coming out very soon in English it’s called “Little Fluffy Gigolo Pelu”. It’s about a little creature from an outer planet that comes to Japan to find his bride. There were three volumes that were published in Japan six or seven years ago, and it’s finally going to be in English. I’m going to be very busy.

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