Interview with LUISE ONO: The Painter Who Colors Japan With Her Flora-Motif Murals
Artist Luise Ono is most known for her use of bright colors when creating her flora-based paintings. She has recently done numerous live paintings at various events and festivals, and we were lucky enough to interview her at the group exhibition “FLOWER” (now closed). She openly talked about her beginnings as a painter and even some incidents she has experienced during production, all with a smile on her face.
Atelier 506: So we’ve heard you’re from Hiratsuka, Japan. What kind of child were you growing up? When did you start painting?
Luise Ono: I was born in Saitama, Japan, but moved to Hiratsuka when I was in elementary school. I grew up surround by the mountains and sea. I was very shy as a child, so shy that I would cry whenever the teacher called my name during class. I loved art and I would always doodle in my textbooks. I’d also collect clippings of my favorite manga scenes and create books out of them.
A506: Did your parents also paint or go to art exhibits/museums often?
L.O.: My mother is a bit eccentric, given the fact that she named me Luise which isn’t a Japanese name… she can be a bit of an otaku (nerd) but she loves Chanel and has a bubbly personality. She loves games and would often play Dragon Quest and Final Fantasy, and even scoring 999,999 on Tetris. She was the really focused type. Which is also why my older brother is an otaku as well. My mother also paints, and in my memory she was constantly painting.
A506: When did you start painting professionally?
L.O.: The university I attended had an artistic expression major, so I made an art group and was very active in it. I also knew some DJs and special effects artists so I would produce art events. At the time, I was in charge of decorations.
A506: So you were actually pretty outgoing then? (laughs)
L.O.: Yeah, definitely as I started getting older. I really wanted to be more outgoing, and the first part-time job I had as a college student was at a Japanese-style “snack” bar (laughs). And I used to hate karaoke, too. The bar was in Sangen-jaya, and only customers with strong personalities would come, so in a way it forced me to be a more outgoing person. One time, a designer for album covers came as a customer, and since I was a fan of the artist that person designed for, I asked if I could work as an assistant. The designer ended up inviting me to the studio sometimes, and I had a really great time. As the designer’s assistant, I learned how to use a computer while I attended university, and I also participated in art events hosted at clubs. Thats when I started doing live events.
A506: Did you already establish your current style as an artist? What kind of materials were you using?
L.O.: No, I was still searching for my style as I took on these projects. I was definitely leaning towards flora, but in black & white and kind of edgy in a way. The artists I was meeting at the time were all using POSCA pens, and I was very much influenced by that and started using them myself. This was probably 6 or 7 years ago.
A506: Where did you do the decorations for the clubs?
L.O.: When we were doing the decorations as a team, we mainly did it at WOMB in Shibuya. We usually did it for house/techno events. Then, we started doing more live painting at these clubbing events and the very first one we did was at Club Axxcis. Also, there used to be a paint space at FICTION in Sendagaya, and I was once asked to do more live paintings there. Thats when the offers came rolling in.
A506: What triggered you to do so many live paintings as part of your career?
L.O.: In 2013, I was in a McDonald’s commercial. Thanks to the support of artist group Rinpa-Eshidan, I was painting a lot more then. When the commercial aired on New Year’s, so many people saw it. Then I received more offers to do wall art and live painting.
A506: Were you nervous at all during the filming of the commercial?
L.O.: I was so nervous, especially because it was my first client-based job. But because everyone in Rinpa was older than I was and were very responsible people, we finished filming with no problems.
A506: You also participated in the very first POW WOW in Japan 3 years ago, correct?
L.O.: The coordinator for POW WOW contacted me directly. I painted in Shibuya first, then I was asked to paint in Tennozu Isle as well.
A506: Some renowned artists like USUGROW and HITOTZUKI also participated in the first POW WOW. Did you have any communcation with them during the event?
L.O.: I was familiar with the artists’ works, but it was my first time actually talking to many of them. Shizentomotel and HITOTZUKI both have their pieces in my neighborhood in Hiratsuka, so I grew up seeing these paintings up close. I was so excited to meet them in person! HITOTZUKI’s wall was next to mine so I was pretty nervous.
A506: How long was production for POW WOW?
L.O.: We had one week to prepare. Since everyone else around me had a much longer career than I did, I knew I had to work extra hard in preparation for the event.
A506: How big was your art piece for the event? What’s the biggest painting you’ve ever done?
L.O.: The piece I did for POW WOW was the size of a small box. The largest piece I’ve done was over 100 square meters, about 3 stories high with a width of 12, maybe 13 meters. I’ve recently done a painting that was about 75 meters – that was actually pretty difficult to be honest.
A506: How do you plan or prepare for such large-scale pieces?
L.O.: When I painting on a large wall in Taiwan, I had to get on an aerial vehicle and use a piece of string starting at the center to create the circle.
A506: What were your thoughts when you finished this particular painting?
L.O.: As a completed piece, there were many areas I knew I needed to work on. But I also needed to factor in that I only had one week to prepare, and it was also partly raining. Towards the end, even though there’s a 2-person limit on the aerial vehicle, there were three people on it because I was standing painting in the middle while one person was holding the umbrella and the other was using a dryer so the paint would dry quickly. Also, on one of the days it rained, I was frantically running around and accidently fell and hit my head on the vehicle, resulting in 5 stitches (laughs). So I actually lost a day because of the accident… It was my first time working overseas and everyone who took care of me didn’t speak English, so even though I was able to communicate with them in my broken English, I had a breakdown. Of course the injury was painful, but it was emotionally draining, too (laughs). But all the other artists were so kind, and when they were finished with their pieces, they came over and helped me with mine, and instead of reassuring me, they asked me questions like, “Who’s your favorite artist?” so that was nice. They treated me as an artist and helped me finish my painting.
A506: You recently did a painting on a public restroom in Toyoshima. How did you end up being involved in this project? It’s not easy for some women to use outdoor public restrooms, but because of your beautiful painting, it must be easier for women to use it.
L.O.: TURNER COLOR WORKS LTD. of Toyoshima were in talks of this project, and I was recommended as one of the artists. I’m honored to have been involved in a community project like that.
A506: It’s definitely a new generation now, with captivating murals on public facilities. Compared to other countries, do you think Japan has less recognition for murals?
L.O.: I actually think there are more and more murals done in Japan these days. With the popularity of Instagram continually rising, I think more cities and companies are actively creating photogenic spots for people to take photos in front of.
A506: So you’re currently doing this group exhibition at Guernica (now closed). What plans do you have when it’s over?
L.O.: I’ll be creating a couple of murals for hair salons and eateries.
A506: The painting inside Marine & Walk Hawaiian Restaurant at Minato-Mirai is gorgeous!
L.O.: Yes, it’s the one I did with DRAGON76.
A506: Do you work with DRAGON76 often?
L.O.: Not that frequently, but we’ve both asked the same person to do our management and have ran into each other quite a few times. It’s always so fun when I do get to work with him though, and he always inspires me. Apart from that, I formed a unit with Miki Tomioka, who mainly creates artwork with animals.
A506: You’re known for painting flora, but do you ever paint anything else? Especially when you’re requested to paint something specific?
L.O.: There’s a limit to what I can paint. Maybe animals. But mainly flora. There was one time I did a painting for a building, but the angles were too sharp and perfect for me. I get a bit naseous just looking at checkered print, too (laughs).
A506: If there are any other exhibitions coming up, please let us know.
L.O.: I’ll be doing an exhibition at solfa Tokyo in Nakameguro from June 12th, and also an exhibition at AERU COFFEE STOP in Akabane from July 11th.
【Luise Ono Profile】
Born in 1989, Luise Ono is from Kanagawa (Hiratsuka), Japan.
Using the concept of “maturation” as her theme, her artwork’s organic lines reflect nature’s abundant energy such as teaming plant life and the waves. In 2010, Luise launched her career as a live painter at music events. Her projects are currently focused on mural painting for share houses, offices, restaurants, bars, and shops. She also draws for digital campaigns and commercials.
Translated by Samantha Mariko
writer： Atsuko Matsuda