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Interview With Enfu: An Exercise In Simplification

I had the lovely opportunity of meeting Ken Taya, aka artist Enfu at a festival hosted by the University of Washington’s Japanese Student Association. He had a booth next to me, and naturally, I was quickly drawn into Enfu’s colorful, bold, and adorable characters, which later I discovered each had carefully thought-out, cute and perky stories behind their birth. When I visited Enfu’s booth, he was very friendly and gave me a tour of his artwork, many of which I had seen in locations around Seattle, as well as in a gallery in Los Angeles I had randomly encountered only a week before. I fell in love with Enfu’s vibrant and iconic artwork, and more in love with Enfu’s kind-hearted, generous, and easygoing personality.

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ENFU NIHONTOWN LARGE POSTER

Artworks by Japanese contemporary artists have rippled throughout the international world- Takashi Murakami, Yayoi Kusama, Yoshitomo Nara- you name it. I distinctly remember when I visited The Broad in Los Angeles and meandered to the second floor, Murakami’s landscape piece, “In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow”, was the first thing that caught my eye- it was impossible not to. From afar, it looked like a psychedelic version of hell with skulls, demons, and dragons swimming in a pool of color. But as I walked closer to the artwork, I noticed the intricate details within the bold outline of the curious creatures- the patterns, lines, and shapes all came together to form one unified piece of artwork.

I first saw Enfu’s artwork in a gallery in LA, a piece consisting of ‘chibi’ or little Ghibli characters. I was instantly overcome by a similar sensation to when I encountered Murakami’s artwork. Enfu’s art embraced splashes of different colors and careful detail but nonetheless, it all merged into one piece unified by bold lines and shapes. Enfu’s art was an art of contradiction- colorful and unified, bold and fragile, chaotic and simple, flat and deep, high and low, cute and grit.

Enfu grew up in the US and Japan and is currently an indie artist based in Seattle. He works on a myriad of creative projects making art, games, stickers, and comics, which can be seen across the Pacific Northwest and growing in popularity all around in the world. I had the opportunity to interview Enfu about his art inspiration, forging of his art style, and his future vision of Japanese art.

ENFU CHIBI GHIBLITS POSTER

Q: Why did you decide to pursue art?

E: "I've always loved it since I was a child. I'd draw in class, make flipbook animations in thick textbooks, doodle during lectures, and doodle at home. Creating my own world, making something out of nothing, is fun. Often times, that ‘something’ is a lot of better than reality."

Q: At the event where I met you, you showed me your new character, Jeff. I distinctly remember how adorably cute but at the same time, how sad Jeff looked with his pointy upper-lip and pet lollipop. What is the inspiration for your ideas?

E: "Say you're waiting for a friend to arrive at a cafe, and your mind wanders. And you start thinking 'what if this was like this', and your inner conscious just wanders down a deep rabbit hole pursuing that idea along a weird line of thought. Normally, you would stop yourself and slap yourself on the wrist for thinking weird thoughts. I just say to myself: ‘let's see where this takes me’. Usually it takes me into another exercise in futility, but sometimes it leads me to some gems."

Q: What about your art do you think is influenced by Japan?

E: "I grew up surrounded by Japanese things. I watched Dragon Ball, Doraemon, collected Bikkuriman stickers, and played Dragon Quest. A lot of Japanese art and merchandise exudes cuteness and innocence, and doesn't take things seriously. Also a lot of manga is very line heavy and prioritizes line over shapes first. So I pull from those influences, and took it a step further and made my lines extra heavy. This is an exercise in simplification. If your lines are thick, you can't add much detail. There is an art to reduction and simplification."

Q: Where did your art style emerge from, and how do you think your art form appeals to this particular age?

E: "We are products of our environment, our influences, and our consumption. I don't think Murakami or Kusama's colors are surprising, knowing the landscape of Japan. Japan is not afraid of color, busyness, and lines. Japan also reveres repetition, patterns, and simplicity. Some of those things I've just mentioned also feel like contradictions. But they aren't. Japan's culture holds certain things of value, and those values are just retransmitted visually from those who have consumed it.

If you grew up in a forest, and have never been to Tokyo, those colors and content would be jarring. If you spend a minute on a bullet train with the field of high rises and neon signs buzzing by you, it isn't surprising.

I see Japan as a blade runner environment. It is in the future. And the look of the future is appealing in its own way. No way conceptual artists for movies are looking at the landscape of Bellevue to come up with their new 'in the near future' environment. They're going to Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, and Tokyo.

Another artist I like is Mister from Kaikai Kiki. He doesn't give a f*ck."

“Sub-culture” kicked off in Japan most prominently during the 1980s: the economy was booming, and anime and manga forms of entertainment as well as video games grew in popularity. The Japanese government introduced measures in the 1970s to relax the primary and secondary educational system, and to put onus on individualism over hierarchy and structure. As a result, the Yutori generation, a product of the government’s educational restructuring, had space to delve into his or her personal interests in the field of sub-culture, and to embrace the “me” in a society that tended to value group identity and conformity.

Japanese art by artists like Takashi Murakami or Yayoi Kusama’s have grown in popularity internationally because a similar phenomenon to that of Japan is happening globally. Neo-liberalism, globalization, and the impact of consumer capitalism has created a world of complete chaos- an over abundance of information, constant infiltrations of advertisements in our daily life, and the ability to travel the world at the speed at light with the swipe of a finger. In a world too complex to comprehend, individuals are thirsty for a way to escape reality and to embrace their own identity- to stop thinking for once, and to just feel. The colorful, surreal, and chaotic nature of contemporary Japanese artists may be gaining a fan base at this time and age exactly because people live with the overwhelming feeling of drowning in search of their own identity amidst the façade of a chaotic, fast-changing modernized world.

Looking at Enfu’s art brings you to another realm similar to the one we live in now, only speaking in colors rather than words. He allows us to see our world in colors and shapes, and to appreciate the beauty of it all despite its turmoil.

Finally, I asked Enfu about his current projects and future endeavors, to which he replied:

“I'm making sticker sheets, comics, and patterns.

I'm looking for Korok seeds in Zelda.

I'm letting my mind wander while waiting in a cafe.”

Big, big thank you to Ken for answering all these questions!

If you would like to know more about Enfu or purchase his work, you can visit his website here: https://enfu.com

You can also find his stickers here: https://enfu.myshopify.com

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