J-Beauty & Beyond An Interview with Mari Ito, Japanese Artist in Barcelona
June 11th, 2021
“I am delighted to share a new occasional series we at Nino Beauty are calling “J-Beauty & Beyond,” showcasing Japanese style and beauty in the arts. The first in our series takes a look at the paintings and sculpture of Mari Ito, a Japanese artist living in Barcelona.
I find Mari’s work beautiful, captivating, and complex, and I was thrilled to have the chance to interview her when she was recently in Tokyo for an exhibition. I am sure you will be as enchanted and impressed with her work as I am.
Rikki Ninomiya, CEO of Nino Beauty
Rikki: Good morning, Mari. What a pleasure to meet you!
Let me start by asking how you came to be living in Spain.
Mari: Initially, I went to Austria because I liked the work of the Vienna School of Fantastic Realism, but I couldn’t see myself living there so I returned to Japan. A friend suggested Spain. First, I went as a tourist, but after 5 days I returned to Japan and packed to move to Barcelona.
I loved the colors there. The sky was so blue and the sun was so bright.
Rikki: How has Spain influenced your painting?
Mari: In Spain, I felt the sun was so much brighter, making the sky more blue. And, the colors were so much brighter than in Japan so my paintings became so much more colorful.
Spanish people express themselves much more openly and freely than in Japan, and that may be reflected in my art. However, I always keep my art in harmony with my Japanese self.
Rikki: Yes. Your paintings seem much brighter than when you were in Japan.
Mari: I was only 24 when I left Japan, and I’m now 40 so I have become more confident in my expression. Spain has opened me up and contributed to what my art has become.
My style has evolved and is evolving, but the theme of my art is the same. It’s all about human ‘desire.’
Rikki: As early as 2004, we see little faces in your art, and now we are seeing it more.
Mari: The faces represent ‘desire.’ The flowers represent people. In Japanese, we have a saying “hana ga aru.” In everyone is a flower.
Rikki: And the ‘desire’ part?
Mari: So from each flower is a little face which I see as the person’s ‘desire.’
Like when you are hungry, I imagine a little image popping from your head saying something like “I’m hungry.” I want . . . sushi!”
I’ve represented it like this little head piece that I sometimes wear to represent how ‘desire’ manifests itself. You see, it’s coming from my head.
Rikki: In Zen Buddhism, desire is bad or you must try to meditate to overcome your desires, but your paintings are all about desire.
Mari: Everyone has ‘desires.’ It’s a commonality. It’s what we do with the desire that I think is important. You can choose to use it for a good cause or in a good way or in an evil or bad way.
Rikki: All of your desires are happy or cute and so funny. You have no mean or bad desires.
Mari: I have the desire to make the world a better place and hope in humanity to do good, so my art is optimistic.
Rikki: You use dots like the famous artist Yayoi Kusama. Is there any relationship?
Mari: Kusama-san is someone I respect and admire a lot, but the dots are not the same, I don’t think. My dots are all about the things we can’t see.
Rikki: You also use a lot of repeated patterns.
Mari: I started with flat images, Japanese style, and then wanted to see the images in 3-dimension so I started to make sculptures like this one.
Now my art shows some perspective or depth.
Rikki: I love your sculptures.
Mari: Please go ahead and hold it.
Rikki: Whoa, it’s so light.
Mari: My sculptures are made from Styrofoam and washi (Japanese rice paper). I use white pigments from oyster shells to make the white base, like the paint for Japanese ningyo dolls.
Rikki: And for your paintings, what do you use to paint with? Not acrylic or oil paints or water colors.
Mari: I’m using traditional Japanese paints. Pigments made from nature and stones. I paint on washi.
Rikki: I love that you have blended a traditional Japanese artistic style with a distinctive Spanish influence that is garnering international attention. It was an honor to meet you. Thank you!
Mari: Thank you!
Mari Ito was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1980. She majored in Nihonga, Japanese-style painting made with traditional practices, techniques, and materials. She moved to Barcelona, Spain in 2006. Since then she has taken up residence in Barcelona and with Nihonga as her base, she has developed various 2-D and sculptural works.
With her motif centered upon her childhood experiences, loud colors and sensitive but sophisticated lines create unique works beyond traditional Japanese painting, opening up a unique image of the world.
In pursuing the universal theme of the seeds of human desire, with its mix of happiness, sorrow and wrath, and in particular through the recurring image of flowers with faces, she reveals her distinctive approach, which is also filled with humor.