Graffiti Japan Author Remo Camerota Interview
GraffHead interviews Remo Camerota, author of Graffiti Japan.
1. Why did you decide to write a graffiti book about Japan?
I had never seen a Japanese graffiti book at that point. There was no books available outside of Japan on Japanese graffiti. And these were in Japanese and not very good.
So being from the West I was not aware that graffiti even existed in Japan. In the end I am being thanked for exposing the west to Japanese graffiti- even though it has been documented in other books - Graffiti Japan is quite comprehensive.
2. What did you enjoy most about creating the project?
Traveling all over Japan - and painting over Japan and making friends with some included artists.
3. Making the book, what was the worst and most memorable challenge you faced?
I had to meet the artists one by one. Some of them became friends and I even lived with a couple.
Some of the others however were quite difficult to work with. We would choose images for the book and once showing the artist the layout - some would want some of our images taken out of the book. They said that they would not want to be in the same book as some other artists work. This I felt was unreasonable as I was trying to document Japanese graffiti - as a whole - when some artists just focused on themselves.
The other issue I had was that I included early works by some of the artists and they wanted to change this at the last minute being worried that their early work didn't stand up. Well of course it did stand up and it gave a sense of progression. Dealing with some of the artists was probably the most challenging part of the book.
4. In Los Angeles, new anti-graffiti laws are being put in place to severely punish those caught doing graffiti. What are the laws like in Japan?
They are the same - if caught the guys would spend a night - week or month in prison. They seem to be the same everywhere.
5. I traveled all over Japan and barely saw any graffiti outside of some parts of Shinjuku and Harajuku. Are graffiti places only known to the in-crowd? Is it more underground that the public does not usually see?
Yes that is right - a lot of the spots in the book will never be seen by travelers - they are on farm walls or under tunnels or bridges - way out from anywhere. That being said though - there are a lot of big commissioned walls popping up over Tokyo, Hiroshima and Osaka- but not a great deal.
The best place to see graffiti quickly in Japan is on the Yamanote line - this takes you around Tokyo and you can spot many works along the train line. In fact all train lines have much graffiti on them - but these are usually large throw ups. Not so elaborate.
The other place to visit is Yokohama - Sakuragicho station - there is a 3 kilometer wall covered by graffiti - also featured in my book - this wall goes on and on and it takes all day to really study it. All artists from Japan get to paint on this wall legally at some point.
6. In the U.S., graffiti artists use Krylon, Rustoleum and European brands like Belton Molotow and Montana. What brands of paint are used in Japan?
Same brands in Japan - its all imported - there are graffiti shops that sell these brands - Alien and Krink are also popular here. There are however just normal Japanese hardware brands similar to Krylon that are used in cases of budget.
7. Are there legal places to paint in Japan?
Yes. The Ghetto is a building that kids can paint at in Shinjuku. And the Yokohama wall is legal.
8. I noticed that many well known American artists like Shepard Fairey (Obey), Twist and Cope paint in Japan. Do you think that the graffiti styles are influenced by American artists?
Yes definitely. Although the Japanese have their own style now using Kanji characters and Manga type character design.
All of the major influences came directly from NY and LA in the early 1990s. The Japanese began to copy these influences in the early 90s slowly forming their own style.
9. In Los Angeles, a graffiti artist has to worry about gangs, police and rival crews. What is the scene like in Japan? Are writers focused more on competition like getting up or is the focus more on art?
The focus here is more on art. I found that most crews seem to get along with other crews. But there are exceptions of course and yes there are forms of battle where they will have paint wars. One crew paints an insult and the other crew paints a response. And this goes on for a while. This can go on here but I don't think it is as dangerous as the USA.
There are fights here if people paint over someone else's tag or work.
And yes you have to worry about the police here in Japan too.
10. In Los Angeles, walls get buffed very often. To stay relevant, a graffiti writer has to regularly bomb. How often do the walls get buffed in Japan?
Not very often, maybe once a year from what I have seen. Although, if it is in a prominent high class shopping area, it will get buffed quite quickly there.
11. In the book, Esow is quoted saying: “…but drawing in the street in other countries is more scary than doing here.” Is it really safe for a graffiti artist in Japan?
Yes, it is pretty safe. I have painted in Japan, New York and Los Angeles.
In LA I had to adhere to rules and we had to get out of downtown before dark.
In New York it was easier to paint. You could paint early into the night.
In Japan you can paint all day all night. There is no gang threat or real danger except for police.
12. What are the consequences for getting caught by the law?
As I said, depends on how big the piece. Anything from a warning through to getting locked up for a day, week.
13. How did you decide which artists to interview and showcase their work?
To begin with, I contacted some initial guys through the internet. Suiko being the first. (check out Suiko's work at the Disney Bloc 28 show)
Most of the well known guys are all over the net. From there they introduced me to artists that they knew. All of the guys know each other in Japan. So it was easy to meet a lot of good artists.
I got to live with Suiko and Emar and that was fun. While there I would see works painted and if I liked it I would find out who it was and include them into the book as a featured artist.
All of the guys in the book I love their work so I decided to feature in the final copy. These guys also happen to be the most prominent Japanese graffiti artists today.
14. Do you still keep in touch with the artists featured in the book?
Yes most of them. I have working relationships with several of the artists from the book.
15. There are unwritten rules of graffiti that artists follow in the U.S. Are there "rules" or politics that are present in Japan?
Yes of course. Even some of those rules I broke myself and got in trouble for. It's all about respect here, and the artists are big on respect.
16. In the book you mention that you joined the Nanashi crew. Tell us more about that.
Well that just means that I was accepted by these guys and was able to travel and paint and live with them. Nanashi are 3 of the guys that I stayed with for over a month. In that time we bonded as artists do and we got up to a lot of art, drinking, and painting.
17. For those that do not know you are from Melbourne, Australia. How does the graffiti scene in Melbourne compare to Japan?
As you may know the scene in Melbourne is quite strong. We have a lot of great artists in Melbourne and a whole book by MBP dedicated to Melbourne.
But I find Melbourne artists are more stencil orientated. There is a lot of stencil art through out Melbourne. It's everywhere. The large graff pieces are hard to find or hard to find good ones anyway.
So the main difference is stencils versus character/color driven graff pieces. Japanese artists are also much more detail driven. The work in Japan has immense detail where Melbourne works are a bit more simple.
18. What are your future plans?
Well, I plan to have some more shows in the states hopefully. Launching new works that are graffiti based titled Tokyo trash. There are examples on my website under artwork. (www.whitewallstudios.net) These are exhibition pieces.
I also have 2 new contracts to do 2 more books on pop culture in Japan/Tokyo by MBP. These books are both on 2 certain type of art/painting based in Tokyo.