“Odd feelings, maybe you call it bizarre. But I’ve been doing this for a while now, and these days I tend to think that it’s better not to make it too grotesque when hiding faces.” Gokita has been asked countless times: why do you hide your subject’s faces?
“Well, I can say that I’m certainly attracted to wrestling masks and African masks,” explains Gokita. Following this introductory remark, he nonchalantly continues onto the story of an American girl who lost her face by her unsuccessful suicide attempt with a gun; that when he read this news article, he had to give this method a thought. It is one of the artwork exhibited since November of last year at a newly opened SHOP Taka Ishii Gallery in Hong Kong. It is a brand new spot where both a gallery and a shop co-exist.
As the very first artist to be featured, Gokita’s works are being shown there until March 16, 2019. Nowadays, he exhibits his artworks all over the world, including Europe – which all started with his book “Lingerie Wrestling” published in 2000. “I was getting sick of graphic design at the time. I actually wasn’t drawing those images with the intension of publishing a book at all. I didn’t have enough money although I wanted to continue drawing, so I decided to only use pencil and paper. So it was out of necessity which resulted in black and white. Then someone came up with an idea of making a book, and I was asked if I wanted to do an exhibition abroad. The project theme for it was drawings on paper, so I made all in monochrome in the end”.
Many of Gokita’s artworks are done in monochrome. “When asked why I only use black and white in interviews and such, I sometimes answered: there are too many colours in this world. But that’s just a facade. It just happened to continue that way. Whenever I feel I can’t continue expressing in monochrome anymore, there’s a new discovery which convinces to me to continue in black and white. Part of myself thinks it’s cool to go with black and white all the way.”
As a part of his roots, Gokita was copying manga drawings in elementary school. He was more attracted to the drawings rather than stories, which made him just draw and draw.”Shonen Jump” was a popular manga back then. At the same time, he encountered the artworks of Tadanori Yokoo and other graphic designers through his brother. After working as a designer/illustrator, he published “Lingerie Wrestling”. His workspace, filled with records, canvases and gouaches, looks chaotic but feels dignified and austere. When asked about artists who inspired him, he answers, “The first thing I do when traveling abroad is look for record stores, so there are countless artists. But I’d say YMO overall, culturally. Discovering them as a child left a big impact on me. I was so excited to design their record cover(*). Being influenced by YMO, I like contemporary classical music and noise/avant-garde.”
During our conversation, I catch a whiff of oil. Oh right, I need to ask him about using gouache: why does Gokita prefer this paint? “That’s also by chance. Gouache is generally not suitable for canvas. When you paint it thick, it cracks… but it fits me better that it dries easily. When I was in art school, I majored in oil painting. So about 10 years ago I tried oil painting, but it just took way too long to dry and I couldn’t deal. So I decided to call it quits,” he laughs. Gokita draws fast. Only when it goes well, though. When not, he thinks. When it stills doesn’t work, he brings the canvas back to white. “And when that doesn’t work, I cut the canvas into pieces with a razor blade, but it’s such a waste I try not to do it.”
Albeit his large scope of activity, Gokita has no assistants. ”Everybody is shocked to hear that, especially outside of Japan. It’s just faster and better to stretch a canvas on my own. Some ask if that isn’t too much, but I just do it! To me it’s not cool to work surrounded by many assistants, like factory style. I like doing things by myself like Raymond Pettibon. I was impressed that his atelier was even more messy than mine. I saw it in a book, and thought: He’s the same as me! What a mess! Full of papers! I definitely prefer that.” While interviewing he receives another offer for an exhibition. “I think of taking a break sometimes, but in the end I like to keep myself busy. If not, I might start drinking a beer at noon. So I continue drawing,” says Gokita. Regarding how to determine the moment an artwork is finished, he explains: “When an artwork is completed, it tells me that it’s time to finish. I feel that way sometimes. Yep, alright, it’s finished. It’s funny but it happens.” He moves on to the next one, and he continues to draw.
Born 1969 in Tokyo. His drawings using pencil, coal and ink received attention in the late 90s. He continues to work and live in Tokyo. Currently exhibiting and selling his work at SHOP Taka Ishii Gallery in Hong Kong. tomoogokita.com
* Artwork for YMO’s 40th anniversary album “NEUE TANZ”. Selected and compiled by Towa Tei.