It doesn’t take long for the paintings of Japanese artist Tomohiro Todoroki to capture your attention. The myriad number of colours he uses and the beautiful shapes of his vehicles—whether cars, buses, trains—draw you in. And it’s when you get in for that closer look, that you’ll see the details that make his images so unique.
The appeal of Tomohiro’s paintings really is in the colours. The images are presented on white cotton canvases that contrast with the colors of his works. There also tend to be many different colours presented together that you’d have thought would never work—but they do. How could orange, blue, purple and green sit side-by-side and not look like they are competing for attention? But somehow it all works. And it’s no accident.
The artist’s process actually involves trying out many different combinations in order to get the image right. The works look very simple and contemporary, but they’re actually based on traditional Japanese techniques. Each colour has three different applications of acrylic paint and gouache that are layered until he comes up with the colours he wants. One reason I prefer his larger works to his small ones is that he uses many more colour combinations.
Tomohiro’s works are also rooted in a very important tragedy. The artist studied traditional Japanese painting techniques at the Kobe University of Design, but switched to this more contemporary imagery after the Kobe earthquake of 1995 that resulted in thousands of deaths. He’s not alone among artists in using a tragedy for inspiration in his art, but his shift was a very big one, as a result of the quake. Before it, his works were very traditional Japanese works on paper.
The earthquake was such a tragic event that, according to the artist, from then on he wanted to create works that would make people happier. And they’ve succeeded in achieving this goal. Tomohiro’s works never fail to make people smile.
So when you look closely at his vehicles, you’ll notice that they appear to be shaking. I thought this feature might have its origins in the earthquake, but they’re in fact based on the artist’s own childhood memories of cars, trucks and buses moving up and down as they travel along the road.
It’s just this boyish wonder from the past that contributes to the works’ appeal and makes them appear so innocent and cheerful. These works have the power to transport us to our own childhood memories—happy memories of family trips, trips to the beach, going to the mountains and dreaming of doing it all over again.
Tomohiro just came back from an exhibition in France where the reaction to his work was very positive. It turns out that this exhibition wasn’t in a gallery, but at an auto show. And it was actually auto enthusiasts from all over Europe that scooped up his works. Most popular were custom paintings of themselves in their cars. Tomohiro was also kind enough to paint a picture of myself and my partner Hitoshi with our dog Momo and we were able to experience firsthand why it was such a unique and rewarding experience to be part of one of his original creations.
I often tell artists to ‘show your work where you can,’ or ‘get the work out there,’ and let people see it. A restaurant? An airport? A home gallery show? An auto show? Why not? Before Tomohiro started working with our gallery, he exhibited in department stores and at a car dealership.
In art, as in life, it’s not so important where you start—it’s more important to just start in the first place.