Hiroyasu Tsuri, aka TWOONE, was born and raised in Japan. At the age of 18 he moved to Melbourne, Australia where he was awarded a Distinguished Talent Visa. He now lives in Berlin with his Australian wife and makes awesome art based around impressionist paintings of animals. His latest show opens alongside Reka’s at Stolenspace on Thursday 11th September. When VNA was in Berlin for the Urban Nation Project M series, we caught up with Hiro at his studio to talk about his journey so far.
VNA: Tell us about where you’re from, where you grew up and how that’s influenced your art.
TWOONE: I was born in a town called Yokohama in Japan, it’s forty minutes away from Tokyo. I say a town, but it’s really a city compared to any other places in the world. It has a big harbour, so traditionally it was known to be pretty international, whereas Japan itself was not so international. There’s a lot of people coming from overseas, but still, it’s not an international country. So that was where I’m from, and then I grew up in Tokyo. They made a stretch wall in Yokohama, all covered by graffiti, which is probably the biggest wall in Japan. I think it’s painted over now, but I skated around there and that was my first introduction to that side of creativity; painting on the walls and all those funky graff characters.
VNA: So you saw a lot of that around you when you were growing up?
TWOONE: Yeah, and like any teenager I was interested in copying the 3D and characters and stuff.
VNA: Was it quite different to other styles of graffiti or was it copying what was going on in the West?
TWOONE: I can’t really say that much about it, because I knew nothing then, but Japan, I’d say, was heavily influenced by Wildstyle, or any of the American graff scenes in the books and magazines.
VNA: And your early work, was that in that style as well?
TWOONE: Yeah it was much more influenced by that, much more line-drawing based characters.
VNA: So how did you develop to the style that you’ve got now?
TWOONE: I think I just get bored of doing the same things, basically, I like playing around with different materials, different ideas. Even at the moment I’m working on a Perspex painting. And because of the surface you can stretch the paint so much differently to on paper or canvas. And because you also see it from the other side, there’s totally different effects and stuff. So I’m always interested in playing along with new techniques just because it’s fun. When I work with different materials I try to emphasise the strengths of the material rather than trying to adapt my style into the medium. I like to study what I can do with that medium and that’s naturally changed my styles. That feeds back to painting, even for the walls and stuff as well.
VNA: How do you work with Perspex, you must have to work backwards?
TWOONE: I don’t really think about the backwards-ness, it’s just an image so it doesn’t really matter. And I think when you’re doing the image right, even if you flip it looks okay, then when something’s not finished or something’s wrong you can see it. You just work up to it and you’re comfortable with it.
VNA: How do you work colours into that? Your use of colours is quite minimal on the Perspex. Is that something that you have to think about as well?
TWOONE: Yes, at the moment I’m just playing with minimal colours like flouro pink and black when working on Perspex because I like the really sharp clearness about Perspex when you don’t have too much on it. I feel like minimizing the colours to emphasise the strengths of the Perspex’s clearness.
VNA: Tell us a little bit more about your sculptural work. Is this a new direction for you or is this something that you’ve always played around with?
TWOONE: Sculptural work is something I’ve always been playing a lot with, even when I did the 1000-can Show. I think it was in 2006 or 2008, where I just painted individual used-up spray paint cans. One thousand of them, well actually seven hundred and sixty something. But then I made a canvas of joined together cans, which counts to a thousand. From that show I actually made a clay sculpture and the canvas itself was not just a painting, it’s more like an object, so I’m always interested in using different stuff and my imagination in different forms. It’s natural for me, I’ve always liked making objects.
VNA: We talked before briefly about this almost child-like play with materials. Do you feel you have more of a natural direction with that, more of a playful feel?
TWOONE: Yeah, I guess it’s kind of instinctive. I work with it quite quickly and I’m not trying to make it super clean in a graffiti way of looking at things. That’s not the strength of the clay for me, I like the finger marks and the nail marks and where your hands move, you can see it, I quite like that. With clay I definitely try to leave that, but to balance it I do have some clean-cut bits. Especially with painting as well, with this series I’m doing for Stolenspace, I’m very much trying to leave body movements and rough lines rather than trying to polish everything.
VNA: Do you feel that displays more of your character in your work?
TWOONE: I think so, because it is more instinctive, my mark making, rather than trying to polish it. Because when you try to polish it, it becomes more of a process and you’re trying to work towards something that you know. But when you work instinctively in a short time, leaving all those rough edges, I think that’s when your pure character comes out.
VNA: Does that link back to your culture? The expression of self…?
TWOONE: Hmm, I don’t think that links back to Japanese-ness, I think it links back to the street culture that I was interested in and the skateboarding and graffiti. They’re both do-it-yourself, there’s no rules and whatever outcome you make you just leave it, whether you like it or not. When you see really skaters or graff writers you see the confidence in their lines or whatever they do.
VNA: Lines of skateboarding and lines of graffiti?
TWOONE: Exactly, and somebody does take time to do it but most of the time it’s quite instinctive and that makes them… awesome (laughs). And so that aspect of it is more linked back to my interest in going out skateboarding and all those things.
VNA: How did you go about developing your artwork in the studio? Is it quite different for you, bringing it into the studio from when you were first painting on the streets?
TWOONE: Not really because I didn’t really think about ‘I’m just painting on the streets and now I’m going to become a studio painter’. I always liked drawing and making stuff in the house and in teenage years I was just painting on the street as well. So there’s always links with similar techniques and stuff. I don’t really feel like it’s that much difference, but at the same time I don’t think it’s the same thing either.
VNA: What about your larger work on walls? In Berlin you’ve just done a huge wall fairly recently. It’s probably one of your biggest projects to date.
TWOONE: Yes, definitely.
VNA: So how does that develop, how do you push yourself to do something of that size and that scale?
TWOONE: I don’t know, I just did it (laughs).
VNA: Were you looking it and thinking, ‘how am I going to fill that whole wall?!’ or could you see where it was going to go.
TWOONE: Especially with that project, because it’s so big, it was organized by Urban Nation and they had a connection with all the people, so we had to present a rough idea of how it was going to go. I did all those things and had an idea before I got to the wall and when I got to the wall I just said, ‘okay, let’s start’ (laughs).
VNA: What did you do, just get to the wall, start painting and see how it went?
TWOONE: Yeah, basically (laughs), cos I didn’t have any projectors or anything – I never really work with projectors – so it was just, ‘okay let’s start from something and when you start you see something is not right then you keep working until it’s working.
VNA: Your work has that abstract element so it has that looseness to it, it doesn’t have to be so perfect.
TWOONE: Yeah, I think I’d have to be stressed if I had to do it that way, right (laughs)? That’s not my strength and I like to do it a little bit abstract. One concept I was conscious of when I was painting that big wall was I was trying to make my body movement as obvious as possible in the painting. So there was a lot of hatching lines, it’s almost like you’re dancing or something when you’re painting. I feel that when it’s so big, if you’re trying to be perfect, you can do it, but it’s probably not the strength you want to show on a big scale. So dancing around, if you can leave that mark, I believe people can see that.
VNA: What big projects do you have next? Of course you’ve got Stolenspace..
TWOONE: Yeah, Stolenspace will show a lot of super colourful paintings and some sculptural stuff I’m working on. Also I have another show at the Backwoods gallery in Melbourne, Australia starting 10th October and I get to paint some walls in Australia. I’d like to come to London before the show so I can set up because I like making installation stuff as well, so that people walk into the show and you feel like you’re going to some kind of ‘space’ rather than just coming to look at the pictures. So I’ll try to spend a little bit of time there but not too long due to my Visa restrictions; I can’t leave Germany for more than three months in one year. It will be a fun time so I’m pretty excited.