New York-based artist, Ayumi Takahashi, has a remarkable talent for creating bold images that positively brim with colour, character and depth. Born in China, raised in Japan and educated in the US and London, Ayumi is, perhaps unsurprisingly, a keen traveller with a passion for history, language, culture and people. Her distinctive portraits of women subtly transcend traditional stereotypes and, in her own words, Ayumi’s work is “visually and conceptually borderless” with an uncanny ability to speak to people from different cultural backgrounds. Floral-inspired patterns feature prominently throughout her work and, among others, her distinctive, graphic style has been commissioned by the likes of The New York Times, UNICEF and Paramount Pictures. We caught up with Ayumi to find out more about her inspirations and what she has in store for the future.
Ayumi, how would you describe your art to someone who’s not seen it before?
Unlike traditional paintings, there is no source of light, perspective, or rendering. My work is in between childlike and sophistication. It is in between perfection and wabi-sabi. I love colours, not too contrasty, not too subtle, it’s a balance between blacks, neutrals and accent colours. Infected by my cross-cultural upbringing, my work is borderless, it’s a mixture between the West and the East.
What inspires you?
Life inspires me. It mostly comes from reading— philosophy, culture, history are things I am mostly interested in. Filtering out the bitterness, sadness and the unknown fear toward this future we are heading to, I want peace and beauty to remain in my work.
We noticed that flowers and foliage are also a prominent feature in your paintings. Do they hold a special significance for you?
Because I like patterns – but not the repetitive or geometrical ones – flowers and foliage are my favourite shapes on this planet, not only because they are decorative but they also give me very peaceful feelings. They make perfect patterns! I like to make them up, turn them into graphic, organic and abstract shapes. Since it’s a perfect representation of nature and life, so it automatically adds a layer of calming and grateful mood to the piece.
We especially adore you striking series of portraits. Who are these intriguing women who have captured your attention?
These women are some kind of metaphor or flashbacks. They are symbols of specific moments in life, distance memories, someone I might have met or a feeling that I remember.
Do you have a favourite flower?
I don’t have a favourite flower. In fact, I can only name a few. Most of the flowers I paint are not real, I don’t want to get too specific or too realistic. After all, they are just joyful things that I like to paint. Just like how much I love to paint women, but not any specific kind or race.
You were born China and lived in Japan and Thailand before moving to the US and spending time studying here in UK. Do you find that your experience of living in different continents reflects in your work?
It absolutely does. Each language is a key to a new wisdom, a new door. I read books in different languages and I often realise how impossible it is to explain things or understand each other when you come from different cultural backgrounds. But art is universal. It doesn’t need much explanation. Because the mutual knowledge or feelings we share as human beings is beyond the capability one language can explain.
Tell us about New York, where you currently live. What do you love about it?
I love the diversity and the energy of New York. It’s not just a city, it’s the world. It might be the closest idea to what I think the utopian world is to me— no border, no race. We just live, interact, love, support, suffer, and just in this together. Each of us is trying to do our best to thrive, and together we exist.
With an impressive list of clients including The New York Times, Refinery 29, Coca-Cola China, Paramount Pictures and UNICEF, to name a few, what would you say your proudest professional achievement is to date?
My proudest achievement is to be able to survive as an artist full time. Art is my ultimate soulmate in life, and I am just really glad and grateful that my job and my career is the same!
What does a day in the life of Ayumi Takahashi look like at the moment?
I like to wake up early, make myself a cup of coffee, and sit in front of my window for a bit, read a bit, write a bit. And then I go to my studio and start working. I am sharing a studio with some of the most talented people in the field, how lucky! We talk, tell jokes and make art in the same space for a day until I go home and cook some western-inspired eastern food! Sometimes I will go to a movie or a show during the day because that’s the luxury of being an artist — time is yours.
What do you have in store for the future?
I just finished illustrating a fashion book with Alyson Walsh, and about to start working on a new fashion related book soon. And because my dad is a fantastic scholar and writer, one of my most respected persons, we are talking about working on a light-hearted philosophical coffee table book together. Meantime, I am creating a new series of paintings of personal work for shows. And after all that, I’ll be launching my textile brand Are You Me!