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In the Studio With Hikari Shimoda

Nestled away in the quiet, Japanese countryside of Nagano prefecture, about three hours outside of Tokyo, lies the sparkling gem that is Hikari Shimoda’s studio. A breeding ground of anime inspiration, bright colors, and countless bottles of paint, Shimoda spends hours upon hours of her day in here, honing the craft and skill of painting. From her appearance alone, it’s not difficult to surmise that she’s an artist, from her cropped pink hair to her rounded, lime green eyeglasses. It seems that her style of dress aligns with the aesthetic of her paintings—eclectic, forward-thinking, yet still anchored to a child-like charm.

2018 marks a major benchmark in Shimoda’s career as an artist. After making the decision to professionally pursue painting full-time in 2008, it’s been over a decade since she first began. Despite the fact that her paintings often feature cute, young characters drawn in anime style, for Shimoda, her artwork initially served as a creative outlet to assist her through tumultuous times, as she worked to understand the complexities of her mental health.

“It’s been 10 years since I chose my life as an artist,” Shimoda explains. “I started creating art to express the loneliness and despair I was feeling. Today we’re living in a world that is full of difficulties; wars, starvation, and poverty are real problems and there are many people suffering from mental disorders and social unrest not visible to others.”

The most pronounced facet of what makes Shimoda’s artwork so unique is the way she fuses darker motifs, even so far as death, into her bright works that often feature children. Shimoda frequently channels inspiration from the manga and anime she consumed as a child into her work—wide, bright eyes are juxtaposed against slit throats, protruding from mops of hair are demon-like horns. The fair skin of her characters are often mottled by bruised complexions, all the while surrounded by glitter and neon landscapes.

“Although the colors and characters I use are extremely cute, their simplicity is deceiving because I use them to emphasize deeper themes and emotion underneath the surface,” Shimoda says. “Serious themes are replaced by cute things or ‘pop’ expressions so that the meaning is more hidden and indirect. Of course, there is an apparent impact with art using more direct images, but in my case, I want the appearance of my work to create more of an essence.”

Staying true to the roots of manga artistry, Shimoda prefers to paint directly onto canvas as opposed to digitally with a pen and tablet. While she’s experimented with digital art in the past, a perceived sense of truthfulness and organic creation is what keeps her rooted in this tactile technique.

“I have created work digitally for certain projects, but for me, there is no ‘preciousness’ in the method of digital painting,” Shimoda says. “I think that the depth and complexity of colors, the material feeling of paint and the pleasantness of the depiction of paint, are part of the unique charm of painting.”

While Shimoda has showcased her artwork widely throughout the United States, for her current—and perhaps most ambitious—exhibit, she has chosen to exhibit at a local art museum in Nagano, the Asahi Art Museum. Titled “The Catastrophe of Death and Regeneration”, the pieces from the exhibit span the entire creative narrative she’s built over the last decade in which she’s been professionally painting. Additionally, the largest piece she’s ever created is featured as well: an immense 10-foot mural.

“As the venue is circular like a hall, you can look around from the past to the present,” Shimoda says. “At the beginning of working on the show, which starts with art from my inner expression, to a look at society from the outside, you can see the flow of my trial and error as an artist. My approach to express various problems in society is probably getting stronger, and what underlies those works is my own feeling of loneliness and anxieties, and even if the patterns and techniques change over time, that does not change. Throughout the 10 years of work, I feel that I am approaching where I want to be as a painter.”

Although Shimoda has established a signature style and aesthetic when it comes to her paintings, she remains open and receptive to potential changes to her artistic approach. As her art show in Nagano closes in August, she’s already looking ahead toward what projects lie in her future.

“Since my approach to my art changes as the world changes, I welcome the changes to my creative style. I believe that my style always changes, and in the future, I would like to try making works other than painting. After my museum show closes, I will begin working on my first solo show in Hong Kong at Over the Influence gallery. I’m looking forward to see where my art goes from there.”

Images courtesy of Hikari Shimoda

Stay tuned to Milk for more international artists we love. 

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