“Colors, like features, follow the changes of the emotions.” - Pablo Picasso
If Tokyo was painted as New York, and New York was painted as Tokyo, only Yuji Machida could visualize such a contrasting piece of art with the perfect, truthful dose of contradictions, yet analogous colors at the same time. What makes Yuji such a vibrant and powerfully unique individual as an artist is his enormous grasp of the scattered seeds of life, sprouting from boundless horizons—having lived in Osaka, Kyoto, Tokyo, New York, Shanghai, and elsewhere—and his innate ability to translate them into intense and chromatic visions. Oscillating from one aspiration to the other, but always with refined balance—painting and business management; video art and investments; photography and game software business; swimming and dancing; cycling and cyber interface; and more—Yuji identifies himself as a travelling “soul searcher,” driven by a compelling force to change and surprise himself.
Art and business are like water and oil, and no person can usually be equally skillful in both. Yet, for Yuji, surpassing that challenge had been his stepping-stone into finding his true self. And, it is through the sensitive strokes of his paintbrush that we capture the revealing Colors of his life.
Raised by two generations of art that deviated him from it
YM: I believe I acquired my artistic tendencies from my grandfather, Shigeo Machida, who was an oil painter and studied art at the Tokyo University of the Arts (Tokyo Geidai). While he was a labor prisoner in Russia during the Soviet-Japanese war, he drew portraits of the Russian officers, and that was how he was saved. I never learned about him, though, until I was in my 20s. But, I’m sure my sense in art when I was a kid was born from this instinct—a symbol I see in the color purple. My father is not an artist, but he collected a huge library of art books on all the famous artists—Picasso, Van Gogh…I always looked at those picture books when I was a child. When I was a child, at school my teacher quickly saw my skills in drawing. And when I met my grandfather, he often took me to museums. One of the most influential artists for me was Yukimasa Okumura, the art director of record album covers of Yellow Magic Orchestra. I was so captivated by his powerful style. Taro Okamoto also opened my eyes when he designed for the Osaka Expo in 1970. And since I was born in Osaka, witnessing his designs gave me a tremendous impact. Another artist I admired so much when I was in high school was Nam June Paik, the famous Korean video artist. He used magnets to alter or distort images, and I was just in awe by his creativity. However, in Osaka, it is not a very popular profession to be an artist. Osaka had always been a city of merchants. Business comes first. I was discouraged by my roots, in a way, and so I followed the path of business studies instead of art.
Educated in law, politics, business management and investments, yet, in search of a spark
YM: When I entered the university, I thought artists were dark and eccentric, and knowing that I couldn’t make a proper living with art, I focused on becoming a business consultant instead. I enjoyed history, politics, law, science and physics. I learned my way through management consultancy by joining McKinsey and Company, and also ventured into interface business with game software development, which was quite a new thing in the 80s. Then, I was sent to New York by my company, and there, I saw a different way of life that completely mesmerized me. I knew I had to go back, and I did. While living in New York, I worked in business during the day, and cultivated my art skills during the night and weekends at the School of Visual Arts. It was quite a perfect plan. I stayed and worked for as long as my visa allowed me to.
Inspired by energy, determination, hope, and a new circle of friends
YM: My life in New York was a catalyst for me. I made many new friends there who taught me how to survive. A friend told me to enter the dance school so I can get a student visa and stay longer in New York. I took lessons in Broadway and theatre dance. It was crazy, right? (laughs) Then, I painted in my spare time. I met an old woman who had no experience at all in art, but later turned out to be an excellent artist. She also took voice lessons from nothing, and developed such a beautiful voice like a professional! It was amazing. New York taught me this: that age doesn’t matter, and you can achieve your dream as long as you have the will. In Japan, if you fail an audition, it’s your responsibility; you either stop there or move to the next step. But, in New York, it’s just the beginning of an adventure. If you fail, the director encourages you to keep going, and to come back until you show your best form, or he would refer you to another place. You always feel hope. This was important for me to realize. Another interesting discovery for me was, when I went to parties, Americans would ask me, “What do you want to do?” Then, in the next encounter, they ask, “So, have you done what you wanted to do? Where have you gone so far?” In Japan, when you are asked, “What do you want to do?” it’s almost a rhetorical question that speaks of a time frame so far that you would be expected to achieve in five, ten years or so. But in New York, that question means NOW. The time capsule there is just good for a week or a month!
Drawn once more, like the burst of fire, to his first love—art—a passion for colors and moments
YM: After New York, I went to Shanghai for work, and that episode offered me a different impact. The experience was so different from New York and Japan. The people were so passionate about money, and everything seemed to move so fast. But, I never forgot my painting. Despite years of trying to earn a good income, I felt quite empty. Money wasn't everything. Something in my spirit was lacking. Finally, just a year and a half ago, I decided that I would give myself six months to total devotion to art. I wanted to prove myself, my ability, until I could show my best self fully. So, this is where I am now. I think my art shows a lot of energy and brightness, because of all the struggles and passion I experienced from one area of life to another, and from one city to another. I pay a lot of attention to gradation. I particularly like blue, purple, and red…but, in fact, I like all colors. People say my colors are so strong. But I just paint what I see.
Washed back to his true self by the tide of realization
YM: I don’t really like the color green so much, but you can see it in my paintings. I also didn’t like swimming, but I’m now part of a swimming team, and have been doing triathlon sometimes. I think I engage in things that I don’t like in order to challenge myself. Art is the same way for me. It’s a challenge. But mostly, art is Life. It’s the core of my being right now. And, I’m so relieved that after so many years of soul searching, I have returned to my true passion in life. I feel like a god has pushed me from behind, and answers fell from the heavens. I know that I can keep painting until I am 90 or more! But, right now, I want to complete 100 artworks, and see where my energy takes me.
And, finally, Yuji’s paintings glow benevolently with WHITE, his color for Light and Heart. For Yuji, it is the most important color in his artworks. It is manifested in the outlines between his forms and subjects, as it is the element that unites all entities in his masterpiece, just as it binds all his thoughts, fears, and aspirations into one picture frame. For Yuji, art is the sky, as much as the rain, the flower, as much as the sea, a man, as much as a woman. There is a notion of mystery that breathes in his works, like moving art—and, to be able to impart such depth, joy, excitement, solace, or even redemption through the kaleidoscope of his brilliant colors is Yuji’s ultimate mantra for Happiness and self-discovery. Perhaps, his creativity has injected a new generation of modern Ukiyo-e or Japonisme.
“I was surprised at myself by how much I could paint, but I know, Now is the time. I have found my place finally.”
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