During our talk Aya and I spoke about cooking, penpals, culture and much more.
Aya Kakeda grew up in Tokyo, Japan but not resides in Brooklyn, New York. Her illustrations range from sweet drawings to deep worlds. She has worked with companies like Nike, Delta, Disney Hyperion Books, The New York Times, Nickelodeon and many more.
Do you have any new inspirations?
My new inspiration… I mean travelling is always my inspiration. Like recently I went to visit Bali in Indonesia and that was visually amazing. I haven’t really been to a place that was a jungle where there’s so many plants and creatures. It’s visually very full. I feel like my work became a lot more detailed. I would make stories about terrarium, like complete world type of things. So that’s one of my inspirations.
Where have you traveled? Is that your favorite or do you have another favorite place you’ve traveled to?
I always enjoy going to Mexico, that’s another place that I love their culture, I love their crafts. So I went to visit a couple years ago for ‘Day of the Dead’ and it was amazing how people created with flowers and made the alter. Each house had an altar with bright colors and they did so much beautiful decoration and I love that kind of thing. I also went to Iceland which felt very different from Mexican culture, they don’t really have like colorful crafts or cultures. I went to this one spot where it’s a beach but there’s a glacier and the glacier is so blue. And the stones of the beach, each stone had beautiful pastel colors and I’ve never seen color like that in a natural environment. So that inspired me as well.
That’s great! You’ve lived a lot of places so how do you think you’re environment has affected you and your art and your life as a whole?
Growing up in Japan I feel like it influenced me of how I see the life in a basic way. I grew up in a household where there’s Christians, Buddhists and Shintoists. So I got to go to different ceremonies. Like culturally they put importance on each season so even when I move to the states I feel like I still have that in my head. So I’ll be like “Oh it’s March, it’s Sakura Celebration time.” I think my work got much primary color and brighter when I first moved to America because I was really excited to see those colors. I felt like America used a lot of primary colors, even on packaging and things like that. So my work became much brighter in one point when I moved to the states but recently I’m going back to more muted and darker color. Like a Japanese Buddhist color, so I feel like moving is nice because I get to learn new culture and new way of seeing things. But I feel like I always go back to my roots. But I think it was really nice for me to come to America for education. Because Japanese school is still very classical way of teaching. So they would have one or two years of classical art form. In American art school it felt like it was very free. People at American schools are curious and interested in general in “weird” ideas. They could be very supportive which I thought it was nice.
Where did you go to school and where did you develop your style?
I had a really hard time coming up with a style. When I was looking for my voice I kind of thought about how it’s my own voice, I should already have it inside. So I looked inside of me and tried to come up with what interested me growing up. I started out from actualizing imaginary worlds. So that was kind of how I started to have my style. Because I was combining what I already ad inside of me with a new interest with influences around me. And my grad school had a huge impact on me but skill wise I feel like I learned as I went. From grad school I joined an art collective, it was very unique at that time. The group had not just artist, maybe a third of the people were artists. But there were academics, philosophers, historians, writers. Some many different kinds of people were in that group. So we were trying to do a project together and that was one of the experiences that I felt like it really helped develop me as an adult and me as an artist.
So what is your current occupations and do you have any job related stories?
Starting out I graduated and I had a few jobs. I was working for a gallery and I also was working doing caterings and I liked them both. I mean catering as interesting because I would be able to see the world that I usually never see in New York. Like we would go to an event with models or different kind of parties. I did a lot of wedding catering where I get to see a Jewish wedding or Indian wedding, it was so interesting. And gallery, it was kind of hard because I was working under a hard director. Right now I do my art and also I teach. So teaching became my secondary income. I teach at FIT and SVA and I also do like a workshop. This weekend I went to a children’s museum in Manhattan to do a workshop. So educational things is now my part-time job.
Do you like cooking a lot?
I like cooking a lot. When I was in the art collective, flux factory(?), every thursday we had a big dinner that few people cook for maybe 20 guests. E would cook then show each other’s new progress on artwork. I don’t work with them anymore but I still like cooking for big (groups). And it’s really interesting because I read that bento box is like one whole universe because you could create your own world in in with different things. So after I heard about that I’m trying to balance them and decorate them. So that’s been my fascination these days.
What’re your friends like?
That’s a hard question. Because I live in New York a lot of people come and go. So some of my really good friends are no longer here but it kind of makes the world a closer place for me. Because I have friends in different places all over the world so I can visit them. It’s kind of nice, it’s sad that I can’t interact with them on a daily basis. But if I see the whole world as one neighborhood then that’s nice. I still have a lot of good friends in New York too. Mostly they’re creatives and they’re usually artists from different media. I have close friends in illustration and fine art and film. For me it’s so interesting to be able to share stories with them. They’re cool, they’re amazing people.
Have you ever had a penpal?
Yeah. Sometimes my friends and me will send each other little presents or something. And then we’ll write funny messages. But I’m always impressed, some of my friends will write me seasonal letters. Like I tend to just run to email. I really want to get into mailing because it’s fun to get physical mail.
What’s your family like? Do they still live in Japan?
They’re all in Japan now, they used to live in Florida for a short time. We have pretty small families because my grandparents were only children and my mom is only child and my dad has a sister but that’s it. Now my grandparents passed away our family is super small. But we have a cat!
Do you stay close with them?
Yeah, I go visit them and they come visit me often too.
How do you feel about American people’s fascination with Japanese culture?
I think it is nice that people are interested in different culture for sure. Sometimes it’s really nice like people will be ready Haruki Murakami or something and it seems like there’s a lot of similarity. People take it as it’s happening in their country, it’s really nice to share that kind of conversation because it’s so global now. Yeah sometimes it’s funny to me, sometimes I see Japanese letters that is written wrong or I see like a funny tattoo. It’s like “Why is your tattoo saying ‘feet’ or something?” I’m sure there’s many miswriting, like a Tshirt in Japan with English that doesn’t mean anything is so funny.
What’s your daily schedule like? What do you do most days?
So my week kind of runs around my classes that I teach, a set place I need to be. I have that as like my routine or I have ceramic sculpture studio so I would go. I also cook my bentos. (I have) many friends that live in the neighborhood so weekdays usually I get to hang out maybe after work or something to catch up. On the weekends I try to go to gallery at least once in two weeks, so I’ve been doing that. I started to go to the MET often the past few months and it’s amazing. So I feel like it’s world travelling without travelling anywhere; culture-wise, period-wise. I feel like by the end of this year I probably know all the rooms by heart. Museum going it part of routine and I’m learning Italian! I would like to visit (Italy) and I’m really excited about learning new language. It’s really different parts of the brain than I’m usually using. I can’t believe I can’t memorize anything!
How do you feel about technology? Do you worry about things like online museums?
I’m interested in technology as well I want to take class for designing in 3D so I can use 3D printer… things like that I’m very interested in. I feel like when online book came out people were worried about actual book industry was gonna die out. But I still like reading books and it seems like a lot of people are still that way. So I hope museums wouldn’t die out either.
All Photos From Ayakakeda.com