an interview with Ai Natori

by Nat Ruiz
Blueness 006 by Ai Natori

Ai Natori is a Japanese artist based in Tokyo, Japan. Our paths first crossed when Ai contributed her ethereal artwork to Forever’s Daddy Issue, perfectly complementing Megan Nolan's poignant Shakespeare's Daughter. Since then, our virtual exchanges have evolved, transitioning us from mere collaborators to something akin to friends. Intrigued by the repeated motifs of blue characters in her art, I met with Ai to unravel the narratives and inspirations that color her world.

Nat Ruiz: I’ve been meaning to ask you about your Blueness series. What’s the story behind it?

Ai Natori: Well, it's not exactly a straightforward answer. There are layers to it.

NR: Alright, let’s start with the color. Why blue?

AN: Well, aside from loving the color, I guess you could say I was pretty much born into it. My name, “Ai (藍)”, actually means indigo blue in Japanese.

Photographs by Florent Gabbarini

NR: No way!

AN: Yes, and I think it’s a fascinating color because it represents both life and death. It is the color of the sea, which is the origin of life, and the sky, which is often associated with death. Life and death are two sides of the same coin, constantly changing and intertwining.

NR: So, you see blue as a color with a dual citizenship almost? Representing both the hustle and bustle of life and the ultimate quiet of death.

AN: I guess you could put it that way.

NR: Did anything in particular help shape this perspective?

AN: You may recall the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. It was devastating. I was definitely shook by nature's immense power and felt a profound sense of transience that I had vaguely held onto.

NR: I can’t even imagine... to witness such destruction must have been life-altering.

AN: It certainly was, but it also led to a more profound appreciation of the world and the people in it. The world’s ephemerality and constant state of flux inspired me to capture its fleeting beauty in my artwork, particularly through the use of the color blue.

NR: That’s a beautiful way to see the world. It almost makes you want to enjoy every second of it, knowing that it could all collapse at any moment.

AN: That's right, and I try not to overlook the beauty of the world around me. When I hit a creative block, I usually just need to look at things from a wider viewpoint.

NR: Is there anything in particular that helps?

Blueness 069, Blueness 070, Blueness 052 by Ai Natori

AN: Poetry has often been a refuge for me.

NR: Oh really? Are we talking modern poetry or classics?

AN: Well, since you mention classics, there’s this poem by William Blake that I loved as a teenager. It's called Auguries of Innocence.

NR: What about this poem struck you?

AN: Let me read you particular lines that resonate with me:

"To see a World in a Grain of Sand,
And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,
Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand,
And Eternity in an hour."

NR: "Eternity in an hour" really strikes a chord. Do you ever have intense creative bursts, where time seems to stretch and even the wildest ideas seem possible?

AN: Oh, definitely. In my case, these moments often occur late at night. I know it's not the healthiest habit for my art practice, but there's something about the tranquility of the midnight hours and the beauty of the dawn sky that keeps me awake. It's a space where ideas flow freely and time almost feels irrelevant.

Photograph by Florent Gabbarini

NR: Everyone’s asleep, no text messages, no expectations...  Do you see the quietness of these late night hours reflected in your work?

AN: Yes, for sure. In the last five years, I've developed a habit that has significantly improved my life. I've learned the importance of not only creating art but also taking the time to engage with my own work. It means stepping back and revisiting my paintings after some time.

NR: This sounds introspective. Is it like a dialogue with your paintings, where sometimes you need to listen more than speak?

AN: It is in a way, and it has allowed me to have deeper conversations about my art and meet wonderful people like you.

NR: I’m really grateful we got to connect.

AN: Cheers to the internet.

NR: It's fascinating how interconnected we are now. You’re in Japan, I’m in LA, and we’re having this conversation. Speaking of which, how has the internet affected the way your audience interacts with your work?

AN: The internet has had massive influence on the dynamics. It gives viewers the freedom to interact with my work at their own pace — a brief glance or a deep, prolonged examination. The interpretation is left entirely to them, which is something I truly appreciate.

NR: That's a very liberating perspective, allowing the viewer autonomy.

AN: Yes, my artwork has a quieter tone, it's not intended to loudly engage or excite everyone. This makes the intimate relationships I can form with viewers through the internet truly gratifying. However, I must admit, there's a certain richness in the original artwork that can't be fully conveyed online. I do hope people get the opportunity to experience my work in person.

NR: For those who would like to experience your art IRL, where can they currently see your work on display?

AN: I'm thrilled to share that my solo show is currently on display at the +
in Tokyo. It will be up until November 7th, 2023. For anyone interested in my other works or unable to make it to Tokyo, you can inquire through biscuit Gallery.

Blueness 071 & Blueness 069 by Ai Natori

Ai Natori is a Tokyo-based artist and painter. She graduated from the Department of Imaging Arts and Sciences at Musashino Art University. Her work has been exhibited at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, UYart Gallery in Taichung, Roppongi SuperDelux, ONZO, Humble House Taipei, The Pit Building in Singapore, and Carrousel Du Louvre in Paris. Natori's talent has been recognized with the Katharine Hamnett Lab Design Award and the New Face Award at Young Art Taipei. Her journey and artistic process have been captured in the new documentary film "Yūgen" by Roka Presents: Japanese Painter Ai Natori.

Nat Ruiz is an artist, illustrator, and designer living in Los Angeles, California. She is the creative director and designer of Forever Magazine.
© 2024 Forever Mag
All Rights Reserved