In honor of Japan’s Culture Day 2020 on Tuesday, November 3rd, Japanese artist, Yuko Shimizu, is a cross-cultural artist you should know. Shimizu encapsulates all things beautiful in Japanese culture and tradition through her alluring illustrations.
Shimizu’s Captivating TCK Background
Shimizu is a New York City based artist. She was born in 1965 in her home country of Japan in the capital city of Tokyo. Growing up, Shimizu bounced between Japan and New York during her adolescence due to her father’s job. She eventually returned back to Japan after her middle school years.
This background makes Shimizu an Adult Third Culture Kid, or ATCK. Shimizu experienced both Japanese as well as American culture during four of her formative years. She cites her experience in New York City during her adolescence as contributing to much of her individuality. She believes she has utilized this originality throughout her artwork and her lifestyle as a whole.
Shimizu’s Education & Persistent Attitude
Shimizu graduated from Waseda University in Tokyo. Upon graduating, she unwillingly started a job in public relations in the city, while still holding on to her dream of being an artist. She explains in an interview with AI-AP that her parents expressed to her they were “totally opposed to their daughter pursuing art.” They did not believe it was a sustainable living. However, Shimizu is someone who does not give up on her dreams that easily. She decided to pack up with hardly any sense of a plan or financial security. Shimizu planned to move back to New York City, a place she once called home. She then pursued a Master’s of Fine Arts (MFA) in illustration at the School of Visual Arts in NYC.
Shortly after this completion, Shimizu began to professionally illustrate in 2003. Her success almost immediately began to skyrocket. In a matter of years her art became a feature in top-selling magazines and newspapers across the country such as The New Yorker, The New York Times, as well as the Financial Times.
Japanese Inspiration in her Artwork
Although Shimizu returned to the United States and gained success there, she continues to keep her Japanese roots at the center of her beautiful artwork. Her artwork generally features Japanese women, landmarks, and her rendition on traditionally Japanese artwork. Her art incorporates finely detailed texture and soft colors.
These detailed paintings take an extended amount of time to complete. Yuko explains in an interview with a journalist for Adobe Create, Kristi Highum, that she has to take breaks in between working on her art. For breaks, She recommends reading, watching movies or just taking a walk. Shimizu values striking this balance between work and home life. Highum also reflects on the interview, “a freelance illustrator doesn’t get sick days—so you have to take care of yourself, know your limits and make time for inspiration and relaxation.”
Cross-Cultural Interpretations of Her Work
Shimizu is an illustrator and is hired by clients to create work representing their request for an image or subject. However, she is still able to incorporate her own style and preferences in her work in order to maintain her individuality and uniqueness as an artist.
Shimizu explains in the same interview that her artwork and the style of it is extremely difficult for her to describe. She compares this task to asking her to describe what she sees when she looks in the mirror — almost impossible.
However, one journalist from The Atlantic, Grace Bello, attempts to describe Shimizu’s style of art. Bello sums up Shimizu’s work as “surreal and sexy, combining the language of Japanese woodblock prints with the grammar of graphic novels.”
Shimizu believes that her work is interpreted differently between Japanese individuals compared to those from New York. She explains that people from the U.S. generally interpret her work to be heavily influenced by Japanese culture. However, those from Japan view her work as “a Japanese person who’s extremely Americanized.”
This difference of the interpretation of Shimizu’s work demonstrates her cross-cultural background and influences. With Shimizu’s cross-cultural TCK background growing up straddling Tokyo, her birth city, as well as NYC and moving back and forth, her experiences have been deeply globally and culturally mobile. These life experiences undoubtably shape the incredible art Shimizu composes to this day.