The Magical Worlds of Sean Chao

Sean Chao. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Sean Chao. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

Originally from Taipei, Taiwan, artist Sean Chao graduated from Art Center College of Design in 2007 and now makes his home in Los Angeles. In 2012, Chao was featured in JANM’s Giant Robot Biennale 3 exhibition. He is known for creating intricate miniature dioramas using polymer clay, basswood, and paper, with nature as a recurring theme; he often depicts dense forests or vast oceans filled with plants and wildlife.

This Saturday, January 16, Chao will be leading a workshop at JANM titled Water Memory. Participants will learn to create their own sculptural underwater scenes using polymer clay, acrylic paint, and paper. In advance of this workshop, Chao graciously agreed to answer a few questions via email regarding his process and his influences.

JANM: How did you become interested in making dioramas?

Sean Chao: Growing up, I was very intrigued and fascinated by the dioramas at various natural history museums I visited, both in Taiwan and here in the States. It amazed me, the many details that were put into the dioramas to recreate natural scenes. It’s a different dimension—frozen in time and locked in a clear display case. One day I just decided to create my own dioramas, filled with worlds that I create.

Sean Chao, Big Cat, 2015, bass wood, polymer clay, acrylic, and gouache paint on wood panel. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Sean Chao, Big Cat, 2015, basswood, polymer clay, acrylic, and gouache
paint on wood panel. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

JANM: Tell us about some of the inspirations that drive your work. Monkeys and country peasants seem to make frequent appearances.

SC: I grew up in Taiwan and my culture influenced my work tremendously. I grew up in the city, but I was always fascinated by the simplicity of peasant life in the country—so much closer to nature and so far away from the crowd.

My dioramas are fantasy worlds that I create. Anthropomorphic characters are very charming. They have their own personalities in my world, inspired by the people and animals around me. My brother was born in the Year of the Monkey and he is one of my best friends. My monkey character is based on his personality: smart and adventurous.

Sean Chao, Persimmon Picnic, 2015, bass wood, polymer clay, acrylic, and gouache paint on wood panel. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Sean Chao, Persimmon Picnic, 2015, basswood, polymer clay, acrylic,
and gouache paint on wood panel. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

JANM: You also have an interesting “creatures within creatures” theme going on, where robots are controlled from the inside by animals. Could you tell us more about this theme?

SC: Human beings create computers, robots, and artificial intelligence based on the likeness of ourselves. It’s in our nature to create. I simply created my own version of the robot. It’s based on an ideal human personality and controlled by characters that were inspired by my family and friends.

JANM: Who are some of your own favorite artists?

SC: Beatrix Potter—she was an illustrator, natural scientist, and conservationist, and one of my favorite children’s book illustrators. Hayao Miyazaki—I grew up watching his animations. The stories are very touching for both children and adults, and the way he captures the personality of each character is just fascinating. There is definitely more to learn from him for my own work.

Learn to make a piece like this in this weekend's Water Memory workshop. Sean Chao, Skull Koi 2, 2015, bass wood, polymer clay, acrylic, and gouache paint on wood panel. Photo courtesy of the artist.
Learn to make a piece like this in this weekend’s Water Memory workshop.
Sean Chao, Skull Koi 2, 2015, basswood, polymer clay, acrylic, and gouache paint
on wood panel. Photo courtesy of the artist.

 

JANM: What are you most excited about for your upcoming Water Memory workshop?

SC: Meeting people who share the same interest in sculpture and diorama, and of course I’m very excited to show them my techniques. It will be a real fun event.

Space is still available for Chao’s workshop. To register, click here.

Katsuya Terada Returns This Month to Complete His Live Drawing

Katsuya Terada at work in the JANM galleries. Photo by Carol Cheh.
Katsuya Terada at work in the JANM galleries. Photo by Carol Cheh.

 

Giant Robot Biennale 4 is a highly interactive show, with several features that invite viewer engagement on a more active level than usual. One of these features is the live, on-site creation of a major new work by Katsuya Terada.

Starting shortly before the exhibition opened in October, Terada spent several days working inside of a roped-off area in JANM’s lower-level galleries to create a new, two-part drawing from scratch. Visitors were able to watch him as he worked. The artist had to leave town before he could finish, but he plans to return later this month (after the 19th) to complete the piece in the gallery.

Katsuya Terada. Photo by Carol Cheh.
Katsuya Terada.
Photo by Carol Cheh.

The live drawing idea came from Eric Nakamura, curator of the show and founder of the Giant Robot empire. “Museums are typically filled with static objects,” he noted. “I wanted to present an interactive experience, where people could ask questions, and see what artists are like in person. It’s not everywhere that you can do this.” Nakamura gave Teraya no time limits, wanting him to produce a finished work that is suitable for framing.

So far the work is looking exquisitely finished right out of the gate. It does not yet have a title, but it does have a theme: masks. “I thought it would be interesting to draw a mask wearing a mask,” the artist says. Terada, who speaks very little English, spoke to me shortly before he left with the help of his friend and fellow exhibiting artist Yoskay Yamamoto, who served as translator.

I asked Terada to explain his process, which is organic rather than planned. “If I draw one line, that will tell me how to draw the next line,” he replied. “However, when I see the entire surface, and I start drawing one image, that will usually be the starting point, and from there I’m just trying to fill up the page without making mistakes—in composition, in choice of items to draw. I’m just making sure everything fits in the right way.”

Katsuya Terada. Photo by Carol Cheh.
Katsuya Terada. Photo by Carol Cheh.

 

Personally, I would find that process stressful. I asked him how he felt about that, and about having people watch him while he draws.

“It is stressful! But it’s like I’m challenging myself by being in that position,” Terada replied. “Having an audience can be a positive thing—it means that I have to work hard and I can’t slack off. But drawing itself is just enjoyable to me, with or without an audience.”

Terada will be back at JANM sometime after December 19th to complete his drawing. Keep your eyes on JANM’s Twitter feed and Facebook page to see when he’s in the gallery. Until then, you can come to the museum to view his progress to date.

Katsuya Terada's unfinished drawing, as he left it in October. The artist will return to JANM this month to complete the work. Photo by Carol Cheh.
Katsuya Terada’s unfinished drawing, as he left it in October. The artist will return to
JANM later this month to complete the work. Photo by Carol Cheh.

A Chat with GRB4 Artist Yoskay Yamamoto

Yoskay Yamamoto in front of his artwork, Wish You Were Here.
Yoskay Yamamoto in front of his artwork, Wish You Were Here.

 

Giant Robot Biennale 4 is filled with outstanding artworks. One of the most attention-grabbing is perhaps Yoskay Yamamoto’s Wish You Were Here, a complex, wall-mounted installation composed of numerous small paintings, photo-transfer panels, hand-carved wooden sculptures, and hanging objects. Displayed near the back of JANM’s upper-level galleries, Wish You Were Here stuns viewers with its exuberant presence.

Shortly before GRB4 opened, Yamamoto graciously answered a few questions about this work and the others he has in the show.

JANM: Did you custom-make Wish You Were Here for this exhibition?

Yoskay Yamamoto: Yes. This is a type of installation that I’ve been working on since 2012; I think that was the first time I did something with the panels and suspended sculptures together as one piece. From there, I gradually added more panels, and repainted more, adding different color palates and textures. The latest additions are the sunset hues and scenery, painted to fit into this particular kind of color palette.

Yoskay Yamamoto's Wish You Were Here.
Yoskay Yamamoto’s Wish You Were Here.

 

JANM: What were the inspirations behind this piece?

YY: The sunset is one of the main visual elements in the 100 panels I brought here. Ever since I started living in Los Angeles, I’ve been fascinated by how beautiful the sunset is in the city. At the same time, I’ve heard it’s due to the smog we have. I find this ironic. If I’m outside at the right time, I try to photograph the sunsets I see. Then I use a lot of them as reference.

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JANM: So you were born in Japan?

YY: Yes, in this small seaside town called Toba, which has a population of about 22,000. It’s decreasing every year because the younger generation ends up leaving to go to bigger cities.

Yoskay Yamamoto's California Dreamin' and Keep On Shining
Yoskay Yamamoto’s California Dreamin’ and Keep On Shining.

 

JANM: What brought you to California?

YY: Toba is a sister city to Santa Barbara, so I went to high school there and then studied graphic design at the community college. To pursue my art, I moved to San Francisco for about a year. Then, ironically, I got assigned to a gallery in LA. So I packed up my stuff and moved down here.

Yoskay Yamamoto's Cosmic Boy.
Yoskay Yamamoto’s Cosmic Boy.
JANM: Can you tell us about the other three pieces you have in the show?

YY: The smaller wall installation is called Cosmic Boy. I bought a bootleg Astro Boy figure from Hong Kong on eBay, and I just took the head off and re-sculpted it. Then I had my friend fabricate 25 of them for me.

I also have two paintings here called Keep on Shining and California Dreamin’. These are both based on the old Americana signage that I see around LA. I think this is something that’s dying in culture—I don’t think anybody is making these signs any more. I like seeing the craftsmanship in them—there’s something special and magical about it. I try to pick some titles or combinations of words that I like, to give a positive message to them.

Giant Robot Biennale 4 is on view at JANM through January 24, 2016.

Giant Robot Biennale 4 is now on view!

Having fun inside of kozyndan's custom vinyl mural, Heat Run Samadhi. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Having fun inside of kozyndan’s custom vinyl mural, Heat Run Samadhi.
Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.

 

Since 2007, JANM has partnered with Giant Robot founder Eric Nakamura to produce the Giant Robot Biennale, a recurring art exhibition dedicated to showcasing the diverse creative works brought together under the ethos of the popular brand. The latest edition, Giant Robot Biennale 4, examines the evolution of the Giant Robot aesthetic from its humble origins in drawing to its many celebrated manifestations in painting, installation, muralism, and photography.

This past Saturday night, GRB4 had its grand opening celebration. More than 2,000 guests gathered at the museum for a lively evening of art, music, food, and crafts. Enjoy the photos that follow!

Certificates of appreciation were given to curator Eric Nakamura and each of the GRB4 artists by Danielle Brazell of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. Photo by Steve Fujimoto.
Certificates of appreciation were given to curator Eric Nakamura and each of the GRB4 artists by Danielle Brazell of the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.
Photo by Steve Fujimoto.
Danielle Brazell of the Department of Cultural Affairs, right, presents curator Eric Nakamura with his certificate of appreciation. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Danielle Brazell of the Department of Cultural Affairs, right, presents curator Eric Nakamura with his certificate of appreciation. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
More than 2,000 people attended the opening night festivities. Photo by Richard Murakami.
More than 2,000 people attended the opening night festivities. Photo by Richard Murakami.
A popular activity of the evening was custom finishing a button using designs started by GRB4 artists. Photo by Ben Furuta.
A popular activity of the evening was custom finishing a button using
designs started by GRB4 artists. Photo by Ben Furuta.
A family makes buttons together. Photo by Ben Furuta.
A family makes buttons together. Photo by Ben Furuta.
Excited guests line up to have their designs pressed into buttons. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Excited guests line up to have their designs pressed into buttons. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Artist Audrey Kawasaki poses in front of her artwork. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Artist Audrey Kawasaki poses in front of her artwork. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Dublab spins some tunes to keep the party going. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Dublab spins some tunes to keep the party going. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Tasty bites were provided by Mama Musubi. Photo by Richard Murakami.
Tasty bites were provided by Mama Musubi. Photo by Richard Murakami.
Cafe Dulce also got in the spirit with special Giant Robot x JANM donuts. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Cafe Dulce also got in the spirit with special Giant Robot x JANM donuts.
Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Nerdbot's Photo Booth brought out the flair in everyone. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Nerdbot’s Photo Booth brought out the flair in everyone. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Eric Nakamura, right, and a few of the artists admire kozyndan's mural. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Eric Nakamura, right, and a few of the artists admire kozyndan’s mural.
Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Kozue and Dan Kitchens, aka kozyndan, pose in front of their work. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Kozue and Dan Kitchens, aka kozyndan, pose in front of their work.
Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
People couldn't get enough of kozyndan's mural! Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
People couldn’t get enough of kozyndan’s mural! Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
A guest tries his hand at drawing inside a replica of artist Edwin Ushiro's studio. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
A guest tries his hand at drawing inside a replica of artist Edwin Ushiro’s studio.
Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Curator Eric Nakamura, left, and artist Mike Lee check on a few last-minute details in the replica Giant Robot store. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Curator Eric Nakamura, left, and artist Mike Lee check on a few last-minute details
in the replica Giant Robot store. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Artist Mari Inukai in front of her painting. Photo by Richard Murakami.
Artist Mari Inukai in front of her painting. Photo by Richard Murakami.
Ray Potes of Hamburger Eyes poses in front of the collective's installation. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Ray Potes of Hamburger Eyes poses in front of the collective’s installation.
Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Katsuya Terada wows onlookers with his live drawing skills. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Katsuya Terada wows onlookers with his live drawing skills. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
A rapt crowd gathers to watch electronic musician Daedalus. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
A crowd gathers to watch electronic musician Daedalus. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Daedalus in action. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Daedalus in action. Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
No opening at JANM is complete without a visit from the reigning Nisei Week Court! Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
No opening at JANM is complete without a visit from the reigning
Nisei Week Court! Photo by Nobuyuki Okada.
Curator Eric Nakamura, JANM President and CEO Greg Kimura, and artist Esao Andrews. Photo by Steve Fujimoto.
Curator Eric Nakamura, JANM President and CEO Greg Kimura, and artist Esao Andrews. Photo by Steve Fujimoto.

5th Annual Kokoro Craft Boutique Highlights

Shoppers at the Kokoro Craft Boutique are busy hopping from one booth to another.
Shoppers at the Kokoro Craft Boutique are busy hopping from one booth to another.

 

On Saturday, October 5, 2013, the Friends of the Museum hosted the Kokoro Craft Boutique at JANM. The boutique showcased and sold a wide variety of unique, artisan-quality items.

Shoppers
Shoppers enjoy the wide variety of crafts at the 2013 Kokoro Craft Boutique.

The 2013 Kokoro Craft Boutique was a huge success. Over 1,300 shoppers visited the boutique! There were 50 Vendors with beautiful, creative, and unique crafts, including Giant Robot merchandise, cultural T-shirts, 3-D & bronze art, vendor-designed jewelry, handbags, tote bags, clothing, scarves, pottery, original artwork, and more!

All shoppers appreciated the perks as they shopped. By spending $10 or more at the Boutique, shoppers received free admission to the Museum’s exhibitions for that day, and a 10% discount during the month of October at participating Little Tokyo restaurants!

Taiko
Yuujou Taiko gave a powerful performance on the Plaza.

Yuujou Taiko’s performance on the Plaza drew a very large crowd. Their talent and enthusiasm captivated an audience who didn’t seem to mind standing in 93-degree weather!

Thank you to all who came to shop and support the Museum. The Friends of the Museum will be able to donate a generous amount to the Museum’s Educational programs.

Watch JANM’s Events Calendar next year for the date of the 2014 Kokoro Craft Boutique!

Check out these photos from the 5th Annual Kokoro Craft Boutique:

Photos by Tsuneo Takasugi, Richard Murakami, and Russell Kitagawa.

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Don’t miss exciting events like this at JANM! Stay updated on all our events by visiting janm.org/events or “liking” our JANM Facebook page!

Kokoro Craft Boutique coming to JANM!

Kokoro Craft Boutique 2013

On Saturday, October 5, 2013, the Friends of the Museum will host the Kokoro Craft Boutique at JANM from 10AM to 4PM. Proceeds will benefit JANM’s educational programs. Don’t miss this free showcase and sale of unique, artisan-quality items!

There will be 50 vendors in the craft boutique—including 3-D art, jewelry, kimono fabric fashions, woven & silk scarves, origami, handbags, cultural t-shirts, pottery, ceramics, bronze art, and more! This boutique will also feature crafts from Asian American pop culture juggernaut, Eric Nakamura of Giant Robot.

The Kokoro Craft Boutique will not only showcase and sell a wide variety of unique items, but there will also be taiko drumming by Yuujou Taiko at 1pm, and the Lomo Arigato Peruvian-Japanese Fusion Gourmet Truck will be selling their delicious food on the plaza.

A purchase of $10 or more at the boutique will provide you with free admission to the Museum’s exhibitions, and also with a 10% discount at participating Little Tokyo restaurants.

Check out these photos from last year’s Kokoro Craft Boutique held at JANM!

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Photos by Russel Kitagawa, Richard Murakami, and Richard Watanabe.

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For more information on the Kokoro Craft Boutique, email kokorocraft@gmail.com. For Museum hours, admission rates, and information, visit janm.org.

The Japanese American National Museum is located on the corner of 1st & Central. Public parking or transportation via the Metro Gold Line to “Little Tokyo/ Arts District” are available.

Comic-Con Mania!

Giant Robot's iPhone 4 and 5 cases! (Photo from: Giant Robot)
Stop by and grab one of these Giant Robot iPhone 4 and 5 cases! (Photo from: Giant Robot)

For all of our fans who headed down to Comic-Con today—once you’ve stopped by Stan Sakai’s booth (#4906) and gotten a sketch, we have a few more recommendations to check out:

Our longtime friends at Giant Robot are selling Tru Protection iPhone 4 and 5 phone cases featuring their robotic mascot! These fun cases are locally made and recyclable—and better yet, a portion of the proceeds are donated to JANM! Stop by booth #1729 and make your phone the envy of them all.

And for the first time ever, Hello Kitty is debuting at Comic-Con! Sanrio will offer a pop-up shop, nail art, and an interactive experience based on Alice in Wonderland, located at Comic-Con’s Interactive Zone.

Speaking of Hello Kitty and comic books, JANM has two upcoming pop culture exhibits that are sure to pique your interest:

Marvels & Monsters: Unmasking Asian Images in U.S. Comics, 1942-1986 officially opens on October 12—but we know you’ll join us for the opening party on Thursday, October 10 too! Marvels & Monsters illustrates how racist comic book archetypes affected the way Americans viewed Asians. For more information, pick up a postcard at Stan’s booth.

Hello! Exploring the Supercute World of Hello Kitty will open in October 2014, just in time for her 40th anniversary. As you’ve probably guessed, Hello! will look back on four decades of Hello Kitty’s influence on art and culture. Stay posted for more info!

Giant Robot Artists’ Entourage

Giant Robot Biennale 3 closed this past Sunday but not without some cool happenings.  As part of what we called Giant Robot Artists’ Entourage, some of the GRB3 artists came to teach their techniques and share a bit about their art making process.

Eric Nakamura, Albert Reyes, Saelee Oh, and Rob Sato, were super-generous with their creativity and led several great art making workshops and discussions.  On Saturday we concluded the GR Entourage program with a watercolor workshop by Rob Sato.

Rob Sato demonstrating a watercolor masking technique

 

In addition to the public workshops, a major part of Giant Robot Artists’ Entourage was a series of workshops for high school students.  The result was a display of work that was produced during the workshops AND as an added bonus, last Friday a group of students from our neighbors at Mendez Learning Center came by for a visit!  This great group of people included two of the Entourage participants who helped lead their teachers and fellow students through the GRB3 exhibition and the display of their work.  It was the perfect way to continue the learning and conversation.

Big thanks to all the artists who shared with us and to the students and teachers from Mendez Learning Center and The Los Angeles School of Global Studies.  We had a great time with you all!

Support for the Giant Robot Entourage program is provided by the National Endowment of the Arts.

Eric Nakamura and students viewing the custom figures in the Project Remix show
After going through the galleries with Eric, students had a chance to customize their own Big Boss Robot.

 

Looking at Saelee Oh's work in the galleries with Saelee
Saelee Oh demonstrating her cutout process

 

Albert Reyes teaching an image transfer technique

 

Students in the galleries discuss Ako Castuera's work.

 

Display of student artwork created during workshops with Eric Nakamura, Saelee Oh, and Albert Reyes.

Many thanks to Richard Murakami and Gary Ono for taking photographs to document the workshops!

 

 

Stan Sakai, JA Santa, & GRB3 artists workshop this Saturday!

This Saturday will be another busy day at JANM! We’ll have 3 great reasons to visit us with your friends & family.

  • 11am – 2pm: Take a Picture with Japanese American Santa
    Japanese American Santa is coming to town! Take home a special holiday photo.
Usagi Yojimbo books available at the Museum Store!
  • 12pm – 2pm: Stan Sakai Book Signing
    Stan Sakai returns to JANM! Signed Usagi Yojimbo books make great holiday gifts. The Museum Store will have copies of his two latest books for sale—Usagi Yojimbo #26: Traitors of the Earth & 47 Ronin (signing books only)
  • 2pm – 4pm: Giant Robot Artists’ Entourage Workshop with Albert Reyes & Saelee Oh
    Come make art with Albert Reyes and Saelee Oh from Giant Robot Biennale 3 in this hands-on workshop. Immerse yourself in a variety of techniques and styles.

Here’s a description of what Saelee Oh has planned:

Open Love Letter to the Universe: We will be creating lots of artwork together! You can make portraits of your spirit animals, make artwork as an amulet for healing and protection for yourself and to give out to others and to illustrate our wishes for our world to be a better place.

Saelee Oh installation in "Giant Robot Biennale 3"

 

All three events are free with Museum admission (if you’re a member, that means it’s all free!). While you’re here, be sure to check out the Giant Robot Biennale 3 exhibition (closes January 20, 2013).

If you haven’t finished your holiday shopping, find meaningful & fun cultural gifts at our award-winning Museum Store. We have many more items—including one-of-a-kind ceramics, jewelry, and art pieces—than what is available online at janmstore.com.

Giant Robot Biennale 3 exhibition site is online!

The opening of Giant Robot Biennale 3 is coming up next weekend!

And we just launched the special exhibition site with information about the upcoming Giant Robot Biennale 3!

Check it out for info about the exhibition, video, artist bios, related public programs, audio tour, and more:

janm.org/grb3

We’ll be adding more artist images and other goodies in the next few weeks.

We also have an interview with GRB3 curator Eric Nakamura on our Discover Nikkei website: Giant Robot Biennale 3: Behind the Scenes with GR’s Eric Nakamura

 

If you’re in the Los Angeles area (or will be next weekend), be sure to join us next Saturday night for the GRB3 Opening Party!

GRB3 Opening Party
Saturday, September 22
6PM – 10PM
FREE!

Celebrate the exhibition opening with curator Eric Nakamura, GRB3 artists, and a performance by Money Mark!

 


 

We also recently just added a few new Giant Robot items to our online store!

Check out the new Giant Robot /JANM logo t-shirt and the Giant Robot Big Boss Figures set on janmstore.com.