I want to introduce to you a long time friend and fellow hapa brother, Jun-Pierre Shiozawa. He’s half Japanese, half French, born and raised in Minnesota. We met in Paris when I lived there in ‘05 and have become close friends since. It’s been a pleasure to see his artwork grow since we met. He’s now living in paradise on an island in the Aegean Sea, called Paros. This last week was the first time I’ve been able to get down for a visit since he’s lived there. Not only is Jun a brilliant artist, but he also teaches on the side amidst his artist life for the Aegean Center. If you ever want to take an art class in paradise, this is the place to do it.
I write this as I am on the ferry back to Athens. Right before I left, we did a little photoshoot, and he did a 5 minute india ink portrait of me shooting him, as you’ll see in the gallery above. You can see his art at http://junpierre.net. I just got him on the instagram game, so follow him at http://www.instagram.com/junpierre to see his latest work and behind the scenes processes.
Lets get to know Jun a little bit more here:
Where did you grow up?
I was born in New Jersey and moved to Minnesota when I was ten.
When did you discover you wanted to be an artist?
Very early on. I’d watch art programs on tv and read comics as a kid just for the drawings. Drawing has been a past-time of mine for almost as long as I can remember, I think it has always been a way for me to meditate and express myself.
Where have you lived and how did each city influence your art?
My paintings have always reflected the places I live and how I spend my time in those places. I went to the University of Minnesota and lived in Minneapolis over my college years. My paintings from Minneapolis show a lot of night paintings, coffeeshops and bars. I lived in Paris after university. In Paris I discovered an appreciation for painting that I hadn’t felt before and it affected my output tremendously. I did a series called “Portable” — paintings of people wandering and talking on their mobile phones around the streets in different neighborhoods that I liked. Also although I was learning a lot about my French side in Paris, I became very influenced by Japanese art, especially Ukiyo-e woodblock prints. That led to my next move to Tokyo where I found that the pace and activity of the city was intoxicating and swept me up in everything I did, including my paintings. By contrast where I live now in Paros, it is almost the complete opposite. I am able to go out in to nature and develop my paintings slowly and less deliberately. I make more landscapes and seascapes now because it’s what I see every day. It’s so beautiful here, but also the richness of the culture and history of Greece has affected my work tremendously and I think it plays a part in ways that I’m not fully aware.
What are your favorite mediums?
Right now it’s water based materials like India ink and watercolor. I have more experience with oil painting and I still love to paint in oils, but I tend to paint too tight at times. There’s a looseness and lack of control when mixing water with pigments that leads to really cool surprises and total disasters as well which I think is good for me and my work. I like that element of surprise and risk that comes with working with ink.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My surrounding environments, stories, faces, old things with lots of texture, contrasts of all kinds–be it busy vs. empty spaces, hard vs soft edges, darks and lights, movement and stillness and on and on. I love animals too, so they are usually walking, swimming or flying through a lot of work.
What has been your biggest struggle as an artist?
To balance the incredible amount of time and energy that it takes to really grow as an artist with everything else one does in the day to day. Of course there is my role in the school where I teach which becomes a top priority of mine over the course of the school year. Along with that, having a personal life, seeing friends, going out, doing errands, traveling–everything that one does in life–how to maintain an active life without completely keeping me away from making art is something I’m always trying to figure out.
What drew you to Paros?
I first came here as a student at the Aegean Center for Fine Arts. The school has a philosophy that is based on small group learning based on a study of the classics and working from nature. The school is perfectly placed here in Paros because of the beauty of the surroundings, the slower pace which allows for personal reflection and of course the history of the place. Also my education at the school deeply affected the way I painted and was the real foundation for the way I paint now. Seven years later when I was asked to come back to teach I fell in love with the place again but in new ways. The longer I stay in Paros the more I realize how well it fits my creative interests and habits: there are thousands of years of art, culture and history to draw from, it’s a crossroads where fascinating people from all over the world come and meet, the landscape in and around the island is absolutely stunning and most of all it is peaceful, and distraction-free if one really wants to get some work done.
What do you love about art?
How it can express the human condition. There’s a great quote from Henry James: “It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance…and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.” That sums it up pretty well for me.
What’s your vision as an artist?
Making art is more important than my artworks. That is to say it’s less about the final result than the process itself. When I’m out sketching outside somewhere, I feel a very strong connection to that place and moment. The sketch that results from that experience is a record of that moment in time, but it’s not as if the sketch is necessarily going to be all that good. I’m fine with that, it’s more about the activity than the sketch itself. When I was a kid drawing relaxed me, stimulated my brain and helped me pay attention more. It’s the same for me today. I hope on some level my drawings and paintings reflect that aspect of myself, and express the notion of who I am as much as anything else I do.
Where do you get your ideas for your collections?
From just about anywhere. It could be something that pops up during a conversation, or a dream on a plane ride or while I’m painting something totally different. If the idea lingers long enough and I can’t shake it out of my head, I realize, ok this is my body telling me I need to start working on it further.
What’s your dream?
To continue to make art and learn from it as long as I live.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into art?
To encourage yourself. Others can and will encourage you but more importantly you have to do so for yourself as well. It may take time, it may be very difficult, but if you find it in yourself that art (or whatever else) is something you want to do, that you have to do, then you have to be the one to push yourself. No one else will do that for you and it won’t mean as much no matter how hard they try. If you have an idea, cultivate it, nurture it and develop it through your own will and self motivation–it’s the best feeling, there’s nothing like it. Once you do that, your work will always be genuine, from the heart and you’ll embrace every struggle you had along the way.
Right now I’m about to start my workshop The Craft of Watercolor at the Aegean Center. I’ll be having an exhibition later this summer in Paros featuring ink and watercolor sketches from all around the island, from old wind mills to rocky seashores. Then the fall semester of the Aegean Center starts in September and we head to Italy for an extended tour of art history through Tuscany, Venice and Rome. Upon returning I’ll have another exhibition of portraits of individuals who, like me, have come to Paros and now call it home.