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I remember the first time I ever saw a Yoshitomo Nara drawing. It was 1998 and it was the cover of the new Shonen Knife Album ‘Happy Hour’.

A few years later in 2001 I was in Japan for the first time. While browsing in a shop I locked eyes with a furious cutie glaring at me from the cover of a book. There was something magnetic in this image that drew me in. An exuberant freedom of rebellion mixed with a sense of longing. As I flipped through the book of portraits, each painting provoked and delighted, projecting a powerful personality, attitude and emotion.

It was official, I was hooked.

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Nara talks about how growing up in an isolated rural area of Japan called Aomori led him to make friends with the nature surrounding him and to explore his imagination. Fine art was not readily accessible and instead he immersed himself in music, mail ordering records from overseas. He was intuitively drawn to LP album art, connecting with artist’s work without being conscious of who created the images, and often listening to albums in which he did not understand the language, but that he connected with in a more abstract way. Eventually he began to identify with English words and phrases through his personal interpretation of the music. Years later, when he chose to study art in Dusseldorf Germany he experienced the same sense of isolation he had felt as a child, and it was this recognition of feeling at two different points in his life that led to the creation of the iconic style of drawing we associate him with today.

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(Image courtesy of The Japan Times)

Growing up in Saskatchewan and coming to fine art in my own way, I identify with many of Nara’s experiences as many of us in Canada probably can. Being far apart and somewhat isolated, not quite fitting in, seeking the out of the ordinary because it moves you. We all connect to art and creativity in our own way and it’s amazing to see how these things can evolve when we nurture them. Funny Canadian fact: Yoshitomo Nara’s favourite singer is Neil Young :)

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You can imagine how excited was I to hear that Nara had an exhibition up while we were visiting Tokyo. It’s a rare and special experience to see Nara’s work in person and we decided to make a Nara themed day in Tokyo.

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Lunch at the A to Z Nara Cafe

A to Z cafe is the joint project between Nara and Osaka based design studio Graf who have collaborated on Nara’s exhibitions in the past. Tucked away on a 5th floor in a nondescript building in Tokyo’s Omotesando neighbourhood, you take an unassuming elevator up and arrive at Nara’s cozy cottage cafe. For those of you familiar with Nara’s installation works, the cafe greatly resembles the playhouses and environments he is known for. Barn boards and found wood are collaged together to make mismatched chairs and tables and the floor is made up of wooden platforms creating different levels of seating.

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In the centre of the cafe is a tiny cottage filled with Nara’s artwork. As a human, the perspective of the cafe is very funny. At times you feel normal sized and at other times a bit like a giant. Arched doorways, little Nara knick knacks, drawings and other fun surprises dot the shelves and walls. Each day the cafe offers a delicious lunch set for around $10 along with a selection of desserts and teas. Our lunch sets included rice and miso, a veggie and meat stir fry, pickled delicacies, fresh sashimi and our choice of coffee or tea. Perfection.

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A to Z CAFE
Address // 5F, 5-8-3, MinamiAoyama, Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan (map)
Phone Number // 03-5464-0281
Website // http://atozcafe.exblog.jp

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Shallow Puddles:
Yoshitomo Nara exhibition at Blum and Poe

Located off a busy street in Harajuku, we took another elevator up to the Blum and Poe gallery and into a bright white room. As we entered the exhibition space a melancholy creature immersed in a pool of water greeted us. Her likeness painted on a large shallow circular disc that has been covered by small square patches of canvas, giving texture and depth to the flat surface. We moved through the room and eleven more large round canvases hung in the gallery at various heights, each with a solitary face staring out at us. Their large eyes were awash in pale colours and rippled backgrounds reflecting light and colour, like drops of water themselves, as if floating through the space. As the sun came through the gallery windows, casting warmth on the subtle pastel hues and widened eyes, we took a moment to exist in this tranquil room of reflection before returning to the hyper intensity of the Tokyo streets.

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(All gallery images credited to Yoshitomo Nara, Blum & Poe)

Blum and Poe Tokyo
1-14-34 JINGUMAE
SHIBUYA, TOKYO 150-0001
View Map
T: +81.3.3475.1631
F: +81.3.3475.1632
TUESDAY – SATURDAY, 11 AM – 7 PM

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It’s fun to remember that a simple moment in a bookshop on the other side of the world many years ago was a key to unlocking one of the portals that helped create Magic Pony. Since the day we began Magic Pony, Yoshitomo Nara’s art has been a part of what we do. His classic figures The Little Wanderer and Pup Cup have been staples throughout Magic Pony’s existence and we continue to carry a range of publications and multiples through magic-pony.com.

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We are excited to bring you a selection of speciality items as part of our Tokyo Pony pop up shop. Browse our Yoshitomo Nara selection of items here.