ARYS Tokyo Talks: Will Robinson – An Artist in Tokyo
ARYS Tokyo Talks is a monthly series that shines the spotlight on our Tokyo network of creatives, artists, friends and family. Next to our base Berlin, we proudly call Tokyo our second home since the early days of our brand. You can find ARYS in renowned shops in and outside of the Tokyo concrete jungle and with this series we want to represent the people that help us, inspire us, and create their own story and legacy. In this interview, we are not introducing you to the next James Bond, although it may certainly seem that way. Rather, we are introducing you to Australian-born, Tokyo-based artist Will Robinson who is at least as talented at creating art as 007 is at taking down bad guys.Having moved to Japan 12 years ago, Will offers us an intimate glimpse into his Tokyo journey, detailing how the city has influenced his work and sharing some low-key local spots for your next Tokyo itinerary.
Hi Will, can you please tell us more about yourself, your work and life in Tokyo?
Born in Perth Australia, I have lived and practiced in Tokyo for 12 years. Initially I planned to live in Japan for a short time but fell in love with the culture and its traditions and since then have studied the traditional arts and crafts and integrated them into my work. I am a multidisciplinary artist that explores the relationships and similarities between different cultures, in an attempt to draw attention to the inherent qualities of humanity and what binds us.
What is it about art that fascinates you and how would you describe your art style? Are there any projects that you’re particularly proud of that best describe your style?
For me art is about the stories they teach and messages they convey. They have an emotional connection that you can get from a single glance and a hypnotizing quality that draws you into its world. You can really feel the energy and emotion that the artist is feeling from subtle differences like the speed of a brush stroke, the amount of paint that's applied, the colors and emptiness. It is an intimate conversation you have with the creator, the work and your own experience. Everyone has a different interpretation based on their own experience and I think that is what is beautiful about art. There is no right or wrong, something just moves you about a work and I find that moment an innocent experience in a complicated world. My favorite work would have to be an exhibition that I did after graduation at an experimental gallery called Model room which I believe is closed now. The curator gave 4 artists their own room and told us we could literally do whatever we wanted. It was amazing to have the freedom with no boundaries to create. In the end I created an immersive installation combining all my disciplines. I painted a room salmon pink, made the floor into a lake and filled it with salmon pink colored water, built a wooden walkway above the water so you could walk through it and then placed sculptures around the installation. It was meant to represent the fragmented way in which we create our own realities and remember our histories. I like it the most as it was never about money so it could just be purely created just for the love of it.
What made you move to Tokyo in the first place and how has the city impacted your creative process?
I moved to Tokyo on a bit of whim. I planned to come for one year then return to my studies in Australia. When I arrived I became consumed by Japan and I wanted to learn more about it. Tokyo was constantly inspiring and every year found myself deeper and deeper into the society. Japan never stopped to inspire me as there is always something new to find. So 1 year turned into 12 but it definitely doesn’t feel like it. Feels like just the other day I arrived in Narita. The city impacted my work most of all by making me reconsider space and how we define it. All of my work I feel is about taking the space we have and recreating to fit a more specific function. Whether it be painting, installation or furniture it is all created to alter the spaces we exist in and hopefully make them a bit nicer.
Where do you go to unwind and find inspiration for your next projects?
Anywhere that I can detach myself from my mind and thoughts. The countryside for me is never a mistake. It helps to relieve any built up tension like a tap. As soon as I see the ocean or a river everything just melts away. Nature would have to be the biggest source of inspiration for me, whether it be mossy rocks, dewy ferns or the still twilight oceans. I find you can always observe something new depending on the perspective and mood you're in. A stormy sea is just as beautiful as a still one. Nature serves both as my biggest inspiration and where I go to unwind.
Looking at your portfolio, you’re quite the multidisciplinary artist, painter, illustrator, 3D artist, furniture creator and cook. What is it about creating something with your hands that drives you and interests you?
The act of creation is really what drives me artistically. It is like a game, I love to see an object and break it down to figure out how to make it, going to museums and galleries I love to stare at the work to understand how the artist made it. I learn through activity so it is important for me to actually touch and feel an object to get an understanding of what it is that I am trying to create and how best to approach it. With some crafts you have to feel an object to figure out its faults as sometimes the eye can not see certain things. It is also in some ways a kind of spiritual ritual as you form a relationship with an object and through touch you communicate with it and become bound.
A common theme across your recent works is the exploration of space. Where does your fascination for this rather abstract topic come from and how has Tokyo altered your perception and interpretation of space? How has it changed since living in Australia?
Tokyo has impacted me dramatically. Coming from Australia, the spaces are wide, the houses are large and the landscapes are vast and flat. I really just took space for granted as I had no point of comparison when I was living there. When I moved to Tokyo, I was certainly surprised by how small the spaces were and how you are really forced to be conscious of every movement and every object that exists within that space. If you even add one small object to it you can completely throw off the balance. In Australia I never took notice of that. If I left my socks on the ground after coming home it didn't feel like it impaired the space, if I leave something on the ground in my apartment in Tokyo it makes it feel so tiny all of a sudden. This made me hyper aware and fascinated with how people navigate through the world based on the environment and spaces around us. I believe it does very much shape our emotions and personalities so it is one of the most important things to recognize not just with art but our lives as well.
You recently also dived deeper into furniture making. What made you want to pivot is this something that you want to pursue further? If so, what are you aspiring towards?
It came down to luck and good timing. I was coming to a period in my life in which I felt I needed to make a change, I felt it was the time to just jump all in and see where it will lead me. Then I found this third generation wood store called Kyowa Mokuzai and after a while of going there to buy the materials for projects, I started to develop a relationship with them. They let me start using their wood studio facilities and Daisuke, the son of the owner who makes all the furniture, started teaching me bit by bit. He taught me about the wood industry in Japan, the reasons for certain techniques, how to do these techniques, which woods are for what purpose etc. He and the whole family were so kind and inviting that I just really grew more and more fascinated with furniture making and the wood industry. So I owe a lot of it to them, it was just the right timing.
What do fashion and functionality mean to you? What do you expect from your outfit and its design?
Design should always be functional for me. I am a big fan of the daily uniform concept. Whatever you plan for the day you have that uniform for it that makes you feel like you're ready, whether it be your painting overalls, steel capped boots for carpentry, suit for a wedding, or just jeans and a bomber jacket for casual times. It should always fit the context of the activity you set out to do.
Do you see parallels in your fashion taste and preferred art styles?
Absolutely, everything is connected aesthetically. There is a similar concept that runs through all the decisions I make. I feel that you should be a representation of your art. When people see your work and look at the clothes you wear it should make sense. I am definitely a lot more into simplicity and the classics and it shows I believe in the work I make, the clothes I wear and the life I live.
If our readers want to enjoy a Will Robinson day in Tokyo, which places would they need to visit?
Jimbocho is a must to check out the second hand book, record and ukiyoe stores. Then a little trip to downtown Tokyo to Ueno to see the markets and galleries surrounding that. Get some lunch at a standing local soba store. Have a few drinks in a park then meet up with some friends at a little local izakaya restaurant, eat and drink till your heart's content, get the bill and be surprised about how reasonable it is. With the money saved go to a bar either Beat cafe, Coda or Berry get a martini to start then finish it all off with one or maybe a few good whiskeys.
What's next for Will Robinson in Tokyo? What are your plans for the future?
Currently I am working on starting up a furniture brand so I have been designing and making a collection that I hope to release next year. At the same time I am working on some paintings and prints that I will release soon also. I am investing my time into these 2 practices and have ideas to combine them at some point. With the furniture brand I would love to expand and set up studios overseas to expose the traditions of Japanese craftsmanship to a larger audience in a way to counteract the modern instantaneous demand for goods that has become the norm. Good products should take time and thought then they will last you a long time, even outlive me at least.
What advice would you give to aspiring artists contemplating a move to Japan?
I think now more than ever before is a great time to make a move to Japan for international artists. When I came here 12 years ago, there wasn't much of a foreign community or opportunities for international artists. Recently there has become so much more interest in international exchange and artist in residence programs. The society has definitely become a lot more inclusive of the international community and it is incredibly welcoming. I would say one thing though, learn Japanese! Without it there is no way I would have had the same opportunities that I have today.
Thank you a lot for your time!
Check out some of Will's projects in the photo gallery: