From Pop Star to Pop Artist: KAORUKO Talks to Noah Becker

New York City based Japanese painter KAORUKO with one of her colorful paintings.

By NOAH BECKER March, 2020

I met up with Japanese Pop artist KAORUKO in Manhattan. Over coffee we discussed her ideas about art, her paintings and her history. I've been a fan of her work for a while and was excited to meet with her and ask her some questions about her current solo show at Lyons Wier Gallery in New York City's Chelsea art district. 

Noah Becker: Hi KAORUKO, Where were you born? 

KAORUKO: I was born in Nagoya, Japan

Becker: And you currently live in New York City?

KAORUKO: Yes, I live on the Upper Eastside of Manhattan.

Becker: You are a former teen pop star. How has this influenced your art?

KAORUKO: I was a pop star woman in Japanese culture - a very unique star. The expression to "Kawaii” or to “be pretty” played a key role in this persona. The producer I was working with idealized it in that way - I was the ideal woman for general audiences. I express it in my pictures in this way as well. What I did as pop singer, I’m still doing with my art.

KAORUKO, Carp Climbing Up a Waterfall 60 x 54

Becker: What do you feel is the modern identity of Japan?

KAORUKO: There is a paternal traditional social society in Japan that also has a maternal principle and thinks that it's different from modern Japan – a more traditional way. In the United States there also is a culture of the modern USA and the old USA.

Becker: In traditional Japanese art are there specific artists that you are influenced by?

KAORUKO: Yes, Ito Jakuchu, the patterns in his paintings were designed one by one. And I discovered when I saw the original painting, that it was not only described as a Japanese painting but more. His work also had a realistic aspect but also his painting made a pattern and an abstract design. Within the design it described a painting, and I was influenced by this interaction.

KAORUKO, Teddy Bear 60x54 Acrylic. Gold leaf 


KAORUKO, Antitle 36x30.Acrylic and silver leaf, gold leaf

Becker: What is the identity of the modern Japanese woman?

KAORUKO: I think American modern women are very close to the paternal society, but Japanese women have an element, which is about mother earth, and historically it’s still motherly and social. As you see, in the #MeToo movement, Japanese women may have a way of the modern Japanese female all their own. Modern Japanese women’s ideas are common to the world of women – but also very unique.

Artist and Whitehot publisher Noah Becker and KAORUKO, March 2020, New York, NY.

Becker: What do you want people who look at your paintings to experience?

KAORUKO: I want people to feel happy. For example, I express happiness using a lucky charm that protects the house - it's a guardian dog (Koma Inu), which means advancement in life and success in life. A carp, which has to swim up a waterfall, will grow horns and become a dragon - an auspicious creature.

Becker: What is Animism?

KAORUKO: I'm doing an exhibition with the title Animism this time. Animism has been a trend for a long time in Japan, and a soul dwells in it for all creatures and inanimate objects.

Kawaii, acrylic, 150 x 61inches

KAORUKO, Antitle, Acrylic ,gold leaf, silver leaf

Becker: Did you go to art school?


Becker: What is your favorite color? I see a lot of red in your work?

KAORUKO: My favorite color is red.

Koma dog Acrylic, silver Leaf, Gold Leaf 12 x12 inches


KAORUKO, Carp climbing up a waterfall 28 x 16 . Acrylic 

KAORUKO, Teggy Bear, 22 x 22 Acrylic, gold leaf

Becker: The women in your paintings have a very direct stare at the viewer, can you explain why?

KAORUKO: They are staring at the person who sees it - the women in my paintings express a concept in this way. In addition, the eyebrows are not there on the figure’s faces in my pictures. In this way the figure’s expressions are not about the position of the eyebrows but more about the essence of a woman.

Becker: Do you feel that art is important in our society?

KAORUKO: Yes, I live for art; it is the one thing that is very important to our society, it influences people to be better human beings.

Becker: Do you find that being a woman artist changes the way Japanese people think of you?

KAORUKO: My theme of Animism is now being recognized once again in Japan through my paintings, I am also using silkscreened kimono patterns on canvas. I love Japanese culture even more since I’ve moved here to NYC.

Becker: What are your plans for the future?

KAORUKO: I won’t make a plan. I will concentrate in things that I have in front of me. WM

KAORUKO “Animism”

Noah Becker

Noah Becker shows his paintings internationally. A visual artist, saxophonist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine, Becker has also written freelance articles for many other major magazines. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has also written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010) viewable on Youtube. 

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