Edwin Ushiro: Don’t Look Away

“I’m not sure what to make of that,” Edwin Ushiro says when told that Sarah Jessica Parker has teamed up with Bravo to produce the reality series American Artist. “There’s no right or wrong way to make art, so I don’t know how that would work.” Born in Maui and currently living in Los Angeles, Ushiro has been sketching and illustrating his entire life. In fact, he says his mother traces his first artistic inclinations back to when he was just two years old.

From then on, it became apparent that art was his life’s calling. “It’s the only thing I really know how to do. I never considered any other kind of education.” Much of his work is inspired by Japanese manga art. “My grandmother is in Japan — I grew up reading manga instead of Marvel comic books.”

Utilizing T-shirt transfers, ink, digital illustration, watercolors, and acrylics, Ushiro’s art is stylized yet introspective. He reinterprets memories as hazy dreams and explores the intricacies of Hawaiian folklore. He says his art is about revisiting his childhood, but also wistfully alludes to a professor’s talent for telling ghost stories as part of his inspiration. In tandem with his contemporary aesthetic, it makes sense that Ushiro has parlayed his talents — commercially — into working on the sci-fi soap opera Battlestar Galactica as well as developing art for Linkin Park and a host of high-profile ad campaigns. Some of his other clients include Disney and the Olsen Twins.

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He finds that these efforts keep him grounded in a way. “It’s a very collaborative industry — you have to be more open-minded and accept other people’s ideas.” But despite artistic vision, everything always comes down to money. “A lot of the times, the things you want to do might not be in the budget.”

Although Ushiro has had previous exhibitions and finds his work currently on display at LA’s Project:Gallery, he continues to feel humbled whenever he steps inside a New York gallery. “When I go to galleries in New York — in Chelsea — they feel too big. I feel like I shouldn’t be there.” While Ushiro’s solo show at Project:Gallery closes August 9, his work will be featured as part of a group exhibition at the Galleries Johanssen in Berlin, Zurich, and Paris, and again in 2009 as part of another group show in Seoul, Korea in the aptly named “Erotic Show.”

But above all, there are his words of wisdom — as pertinent to artists as they are to museum patrons — about giving everything hanging on a museum wall a fair shot. “If you look at art, and you don’t like it, and then you walk away, you lose the experience it tries to bring to you.”

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