Arts4All Blog

Get to Know Asami Akinaga

Posted July 10th, 2018  |  By A4A.admin

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CSMA is excited to welcome Asami Akinaga for her exhibition Strength: Drawings and Paintings on display in Mohr Gallery from July 13 through August 26. Join CSMA for the artist reception on Friday, July 13 at 6pm. Get to know Asami Akinaga as she discusses her background and gives advice to aspiring artists.

Asami Akinaga, Artist and CSMA Art Faculty

Give us a little background on yourself. How did you get into art?

I come from a very creative family, so I’ve been drawing since I can remember. My mother was very encouraging to my sister and I by always having art supplies on hand. When we came to America, we didn’t have a car, we didn’t know anyone and there wasn’t much we could do for fun. We didn’t have a lot of money, so my mother would make sketchbooks by stapling cheap newsprint papers and we would draw in them together. My sister is six years older and was always drawing amazing things, and I think that encouraged me to keep at it. All of my fondest childhood memories involve spending time with my family doing creative things.

Did you have access to art education in school?

I went to public school in Alameda County, and we had very limited access to art education. When we did have art classes, it was my absolute favorite time and I soaked up all the artistic knowledge I could. One of the lessons I remember most was learning about Wassily Kandinsky and creating a warm vs. cool oil pastel rendition of his art style. I absolutely loved working with the oil pastels and blending them into smooth transitions from warm reds to cool blues. In high school, I was able to take one year of art classes, which introduced me to many different artists. My favorite piece during that time was a Robert Motherwell painting I recreated, with thick, expressive brushstrokes.

A Kandinsky project done by the artist in elementary school

Tell us about a great art teacher that you had.

I had a lot of wonderful art teachers throughout college, most notably Jian (James) Wu who teaches at Ohlone Community College and SF Academy of Art and Barron Storey at San Jose State University. James Wu introduced me to oil painting, and taught me the basics of color theory and portrait painting. He is so skilled in all subjects, landscape, portrait, and figurative, and his ability to capture light is stunning. He was a great mentor and I am also proud to have modeled for him. Barron Storey is a notable illustrator and fine artist and he was a great relief to me from a very rigid program. His lessons and projects on process art taught me to fall in love with the process and to be true to myself. At a time when I was unsure of my career path and doubtful of my skills, he was extremely encouraging and this allowed me to accept a different path from the rest of my colleagues. More recently I would cite Linda Covello, our Art School director, as one of my greatest mentors. I have yet to meet anyone else who matches her dedication and passion for the arts. Her wealth of knowledge in both art and art education makes her an incredibly valuable resource.

How do you balance teaching art to others and creating art for yourself?

Finding the balance is difficult, as teaching requires a lot of time and effort outside of classes. I don’t want to present this illusion of being able to do it all, as I rarely have the time to work on my own art. However, other than an artist, I have always wanted to be a teacher. When I was 8 or 9 I would set up my stuffed animals and dolls and pretend to give lectures and grade papers. Teaching comes very naturally to me, and I think it makes me a better artist. Students can bring up very good questions, and they want to hear clear, logical, thorough responses or see exact demonstrations. It forces me to really study and master a concept, so that I can teach it to others. Ultimately, to be a great teacher you must be patient and encouraging, and believe in your students even more than they believe in themselves. This helps me to encourage myself, to accept my own shortcomings and continue to push through in my own art.

What inspired you to create the pieces for this show?

The idea for Strength came about from discussions I have had throughout my life on my bicultural upbringing, appropriation of Japanese culture, and Japanese femininity and stereotypes. I wanted to challenge the common stereotypes—from stick-straight hair to submissiveness—and provide more accurate, intimate, honest representations of Japanese women in art.

Your exhibition includes drawings and paintings, as well as block prints. Tell us more about how you like to use these mediums.

I have been using graphite the longest, and therefore I am most comfortable working with and creating detailed drawings with graphite. Oil painting is my top choice for color media, and I love the richness of the colors and textures. Block printing is a process I recently started exploring to connect with traditional Japanese art styles.

“Sunflower in Gold”, blockprint, 8 by 10 inches

Who are your favorite artists?

Although I work primarily in realism, a lot of my favorite artists are expressionists such as Kandinsky, Klee, and Motherwell, and impressionists and post-impressionists such as Monet, Matisse, and Van Gogh. My favorite traditional Japanese artists include Ito Jakuchu and Hokusai.

What are the influences in your art? Where do you find inspiration?

I am influenced and inspired by everything around me, including music, nature, people, social activism, environmentalism, and my life experiences. I work mainly with a specific project in mind, and now that Strength has come to fruition I will be moving on to a completely different project.

You teach a lot of adult students here at CSMA. Any advice for older students who might be interested in taking an art class but aren’t sure where to start?

I recommend starting with beginning drawing classes. Even if you really want to paint, having a strong foundation in drawing skills sets you up for whatever else you want to do in art, traditional or digital. However, everyone is different and learns differently, so the most important thing is to sign up for a class, any class, and just get started. Art is one of those therapeutic, rewarding things in life that nobody ever regretted trying. You will be glad you started sooner rather than later.

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