Meet Yoh Nagao

Yoh Nagao is a Japanese collage artist based in Berlin. Alluring viewers with well-placed compositions of vibrantly colored images from high-end magazines, Nagao underlines society’s perception of luxury, beauty, and materialism; themes consistently found in the core of his art. He is currently in Mexico working on his project “Wonder Colors” which is inspired by the city’s colors.

Interview by Crist Espiritu.
Artworks by Yoh Nagao.
Feature Photo by Patricia Schicl.

“Being scared with risk is meaningless. If you made decision by your heart, that’s alright.”

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you end up doing what you love right now?

Hello DOZE Collective readers, I’m Yoh Nagao. I’m an artist from Japan, currently based in Berlin, Germany. My style is collage and painting, it’s layered and layered. People say it’s pop, pshycedelic or so.

I think this is related to my childhood play. Because I grew up with art, hand craft, nature and animal. Picking up stuff from exploring, building LEGO blocks and Gundam figure, making origami, they are physical artistic exercise for me at that time.

And visual inspirations are of course from animation and mangas as well as most of japanese people loves, such as works by Studio Ghibli, Osamu Tezuka, Akira Toriyama, Katsuhiro Otomo. But not just them, rather more unique influence was watching MTV music videos at kindergarten. I have watched Michael Jackson and Kraftwerk at the same time!

It was really mixed influence, but it was interesting experience. So now I appreciate my parents education style at that time, I even feel lucky with it nowadays.

Did you have anyone that you look up to?

Not particularly, I’m learning from anybody. Everybody could be my teacher.

“…beauty and luxury are symbol of materialism. so it’s sort of my antitheses that I’m using those materials to express how we are controlled by them, including me of course.”

When did you take a big risk in your life? Was it worth it?

I have done many of challenges in my life, but I don’t think there were many risks there. Because whatever happened, it will be my experience. Being scared with risk is meaningless. If you made decision by your heart, that’s alright. Oh, I actually love this quote by Bob Ross “We don’t make mistakes. We just have happy accidents.”

Why did you move to Berlin? What are the changes that happened when you moved? Do you think that living in Berlin has an impact with your art?

I have been a graphic designer like for 7-8 years after graduation of art school in Japan. Actually my major was graphic design. I was making art on spare of the time, after work and weekend. Unfortunately not much people didn’t care about my art that time in japan. Although luckily I was contacted by art festivals and galleries from abroad, then I got chance to show my works outside of japan when I was 27-28 years old.

I started to look at different countries as artist perspective. And I visited to Berlin when I was 29.

Since that time, I was seeing Berlin as pretty liberal city and open for artist, people is much more laid back than Japan. Japan is more conservative and difficult place to being artist, because artist is just so scarcity, almost everybody has fixed job in japan.

I don’t think the atmosphere would change the specific art itself in my style, but I can be more relax and focus on my art in here.

“Now as an artist, I’m pursuing the colors in order to make better art to make the world better.”

Do you have any project that you are currently working on? Tell us about it. How did that project come about?

I just finished an art project in Mexico. I have been curious about colors in Mexico since I visited there as one of the artists of SEA WALLS by PangeaSeed 2014 for first time. So many colors existed in Mexico and they are pretty pop and vibrant. And somehow most of people in Mexico is friendly and bright.

I actually started to assume that there is certain connection between colors and their personality in Mexico. It’s the beginning of the idea. Specifically I was traveling with taking photo to collect color materials during first 4 weeks in Mexico. I have visited more than 50 spots.

After traveling I came back to Cancun where my residence and art studio are. From the next month for one month, I started to make art work which is all influenced by my inspiration from the traveling. Even materials are from Mexico, for example, collage materials are photography which all taken by me on the traveling. Acrylic colors are sponsored by local paint company.

And I made color copy prints of 200 pictures at local copy shop who also sponsored me. I also asked local friends to bring some unused paint colors at home. So it was literally collaboration with me and Mexico.

I had solo exhibition in middle of April at the end. It was great experience. The main focus of this project is pursing the possibility of colors. If color can change this world brighter through the art, or as specific color effect, it would be great. Because color is universal language. In this globalization period, things are going on so fast, people is controlled by economy and ideology. Therefore we are missing important things around us.

I wanted to ask a question through my project, what is humanity? Because I felt more humanity and groove when I visited Mexico, where you can find lots of colors.

I was caught up with your art on instagram. The colors are lively and makes me feel happy. How do you choose these colors?

Thank you for checking my works. Yes, that is my color usage trying to. Not only the colors from the art project in Mexico, I’m originally fascinated by colors. I don’t know when it started but probably it’s from childhood.

I want to express the feeling of excitement when I was looking at those pop and uplifting colors. Because they are really powerful and very universal, touching to many of people and so peaceful. Now as an artist, I’m pursuing the colors in order to make better art to make the world better.

How do you separate yourself working between art and design?

Design is mainly just looking, client expects if it’s working as visual tool. You can try to do it more, but client won’t pay you the budget for that extra. haha. Art is sharing philosophy, identity and part of life of artist. As many of good arts made support or provoke, it must require power and message.

Describe to us how you hand-pick elements for your collage.

I normally pick them up from fashion magazine, because they have full of our desire, wish and long. Actually those images you can find in the magazine are driving us crazy as materialistic perspective, aren’t they? Everybody wants to become like models, wants to possess something in the magazine.

Excessing beauty and luxury are symbol of materialism. so it’s sort of my antitheses that I’m using those materials to express how we are controlled by them, including me of course.

Can you share one artwork that you made that you love the most?

It’s “Horse Cruising” which I made in 2014 as main work of my solo-exhibition in same year in Berlin. Because of I used that piece for background of my portrait picture, it got many exposure and good attention to my exhibition. And I love that piece so much as well. It’s still with me, not sold yet. But probably I will probably keep it as my private collection.

Do you have any future projects that you would like to share?

I have some in my mind, one is that I’m thinking to have another trip to other country, where I can find another powerful materials. It’s gonna be where indigenous people lives. Visiting several countries in Africa, Asia and Oceania might be very interesting.

As same as knowing ourselves in different places on the earth, I’m actually interested in to discovering my family root and studying buddhism in Japan(Mahayana Buddhism) as well. My father side of grand mother is from north part of japan, she seems has root of Ainu tribe as I heard from my mother, because her appearance is very similar to that tribe.

And regarding to buddhism background, it’s very common as custom of ours but not known specifically what it is in japan unfortunately. I luckily have some buddhist monk friends. I’d like to take some lesson at their temples.

It’s gonna be very meaningful inspiration source to my art. As I mentioned in previous answer, this world is moving on really so fast. We have to learn from past and background toward the future. Because non of us appeared to this world just now, we are descendants of our ancestors. I’m very interested in this topic at this moment.

What makes you fired up to work everyday?

Encountering good idea of new work. Most of time I’m pretty calm though.

What are the tunes that you have on repeat?

My favorite musical artists are Flying Lotus, Little Dragon, SBTRKT, Nosaj Thing, XXYYXX, knxwledge, Falcons, TA-KU are my favorite. Also I’m fan of mix by DJ LeFto, I’m always playing his new mix on Mixcloud every week.

I love japanese food. And, I love your fermented soybean Natto. Do you have any favorite foods that you’d like to share?

That’s amazing! I miss Natto so much! From Japan I want you to try Miso Nikomi Udon Noodle from Nagoya which is my home town. It’s stewed noodle in the pot with red miso soup. The best hot noodle in cold season. This Red Miso is longer aged miso paste. it’s a bit salty but tasty. In my home town, Red Miso is more common than white ones. We also use red miso for many different kind of dishes. You’d better try next time in Japan.

“And please don’t hesitate to be unique, stay away from boring people.”

Do you have any advice for our readers how to push forward with their passion?

Thank you for spending your time. As you may noticed, I’m sharing philosophy and asking a question through my art. They might be worth for many of people. Of course I’m spending biggest effort on the art piece physically, because the visual can not be boring, should be unique otherwise nobody cares.

As I found this artistic mission, please discover your own message to tell through your creative talent. It’s gonna be trigger towards your next step. And please don’t hesitate to be unique, stay away from boring people.

Thank you so much DOZE COLLECTIVE and readers! Arigato!

Follow Yoh Nagao on Instagram @yohnagao
Follow Mark Changco on Twitter and Instagram @markchangco