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Meet Rick Kitagawa

Today we’d like to introduce you to Rick Kitagawa.

Every artist has a unique story. Can you briefly walk us through yours?
I’m not sure why, but I’ve always loved monsters and art.

When I was young, my mom even got me white converse that she let me draw and paint on. I don’t remember very much about those shoes, but I definitely remember drawing vein-riddled eyeballs on them.

Since then, monsters have been a pervasive theme in my life. I literally build monsters out of my imagination and sculpting mediums, casting art toys in resin. I paint abstract figurative works in oil paint that focus on mixing otherworldly horrors with the horrors of modern patriarchy. I coach creatives, business leaders, and executives to deal with their inner monsters that, while lacking fangs or claws, are nonetheless terrifying.

Perhaps monsters fill my life because I relate to them – I remember watching the Creature From the Black Lagoon as a teen and being frustrated that the humans won when they were basically home invaders of the Creature’s.

Maybe it’s because horror films are usually analogies to the problems plaguing society. Godzilla was a warning and personification of the collective trauma of Japan’s relationship to nuclear power. 28 Days Later was only partially scary because of the fast zombies – the real terror was in the actions of uninfected human beings, and what we’re all capable of doing in order to survive. Often, monsters are really just all of us, only with extra appendages and tentacles and an appetite for human flesh.

As a homeschooled-kid with a speech impediment who dressed in hand-me-downs and preferred reading books to most other people, I often felt like an outsider. I could relate to the monster that was cornered, hunted, and just wanted to live in peace.

The most ironic thing is that now I know that we all feel the same way. Afraid of being found out. Afraid of rejection, needing to be loved but being scared that we won’t be loved back. We’re all afraid of death, the unknown, and want to belong somewhere. Whether you’re a rich or poor, old or young, male or female or nonbinary, a teacher or a CEO or a seventeen-eyed giant crocodile with armor plating, we all want the same things – to belong and live happily.

The thing is, we all see ourselves as both the monster, as well as the angry mob trying desperately to hide the fact that we might belong on the other end of the torches and pitchforks.

So, maybe I do know why I’ve always loved monsters and art. It’s because we’re all monsters in our own ways, and my art (whether that’s visual art, writing, or coaching people) allows me to explore and express that idea.

Please tell us about your art.
My visual art usually is created with reproduction in mind. I’m not a huge fan of Andy Warhol, but the idea of being able to reproduce copies and vary those copies is something that really resonates with me.

This means whether I’m making a silkscreen print that gets hand-painted embellishments, sculpting a monster out of clay to eventually be cast in resin, or designing creepy enamel pins for my Evil Pin Club project (www.evilpin.club), I find myself enjoying the fact that I can make multiples of a single piece of art to share with more people.

I do also enjoy painting paintings, especially with oil. Something about the textural nature of using a brush to move around buttery paint is really satisfying. I do suspect, however, now that I have more room (I used to live in a tiny spot in San Francisco) to paint larger, I’ll be getting down with some spraypaint action, which is also very physical and wonderful.

My inspiration for the visual work (as well as my short horror fiction writing) is usually the idea of those who have been traditionally disenfranchised rising up to give brutal, bloody justice to the powerful who abuse that power. I know that so often many people in power get away with abusing their privilege, so at least in my work, I like to give them the tools to make sure they can find justice. This probably (read: definitely) stems from my aunt’s murder by her husband when I was 8 years old. Ever since I’ve been outspoken about the need to eliminate domestic violence and toxic masculinity in general, and so I like to give the women I paint fangs, claws, and other esoteric means of protecting themselves.

The short horror fiction I write is usually an extension of that theme. Murderers being chopped to pieces, sexist professors being mauled by cat demons, that sort of fun and frivolity. I sometimes just write nihilistic stories where the giant monsters just destroy everything, but most of the time I like to have some sort of underlying social or political statement in my work.

What do you think is the biggest challenge facing artists today?
Being an artist is probably one of the toughest fields to be in mainly because there are no absolutes.

There are awards and certifications and courses and badges that say you might be a better artist than someone else, but these are all subjective. You might be financially successful and be selling work for millions, but then maybe the single person you want validation from doesn’t give it to you. Or you might be beloved online by millions but struggle to get any of them to buy your work.

We have all these metrics of followers, likes, sales, and views, but at the end of the day, these are all subjective. I think the biggest obstacle facings artists in understanding the concept of the value and how we see the work that we create.

Value is something that is both subjective and inherent, and we need to move away from looking at our work subjectively and more at the inherent qualities that our work has.

In business/the attention economy, our value is based on those metrics I talked about earlier. Value is always in the eye of the beholder, and if some random person decides they do or do not like what you created, they will or will not reward you with that dopamine hit of getting another like on Instagram or another sale on your website.

However, we as artists need to focus on the value that we’re bringing to the world that is inherently unique to us. Instead of focusing on the external validation, we should be focusing on really making sure that what we decide to say is something that we are proud of.

I’ve found that, ironically, the more we focus on our own voice and the value that we bring simply by saying something unique that is said in the way that only we can say it, the sales and external validation then follows along.

How or where can people see your work? How can people support your work?
The best way to see what I’m currently working on is on Instagram, where I live as @rickkitagawa. You can, of course, find my (slightly outdated) website at www.rickkitagawa.com if you’d like to see more of the illustration and design work I do.

Additionally, if you’d like to support my work, you can snag things I make online at www.evilpin.club/shop where I sell pins, and will soon be listing some of the designer resin toys I’m working on launching in time for DesignerCon in late November.

Speaking of DesignerCon, I usually vend at WonderCon (April) and DesignerCon (November) so look for me and say hi! For all the monster art I make, I’m actually pretty friendly.

I’ll also say that if YOU want help with your work, I also offer my coaching services (all conducted online through video calls) at www.kaijucoaching.com, where I can help you wrangle your inner monsters and make the change you’re looking to make in yourself, your work, or your community.

Contact Info:

Image Credit:
(c) 2019 Rick Kitagawa

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