Whitehot Magazine

The Colorful World Of Keiko Nabila Yamazaki

Keiko Nabila Yamazaki, Some Wild Party, acrylic on canvas.

By NOAH BECKER, May 2018

I spoke with Keiko Nabila Yamazaki about her playful illustrative paintings. She creates fabrics and other items from her designs in addition to showing the paintings as paintings. This interview was conducted in the artist's New York studio. 

Noah Becker: Alright. This painting, what's it called?

Keiko Nabila Yamazaki: This is called Some Wild Party.

Becker: When you start a painting like that, what do you think about? Does it come from your imagination?

Yamazaki: Yes, I think it does come from my imagination - that is the beginning of how I do my art. I try to figure out the theme, the idea, and then I would decide on the composition afterward and then try to make sure that the ideas executed through the visuals.

Becker: Where do you come up with the colors?

Yamazaki: I think color palette wise, my work use a lot of complementary color. That's why it's so vibrant, because the blue obviously the blue beside the red, it looks bright and then with the yellow adds to that. For color palette, I'm very much inspired by Japanese cartoons that I watched growing up.

Becker: Which ones?

Yamazaki: I watched a cartoon called Cardcaptor Sakura, and it's basically about a kid who has a magical power and trying to save the whole world, basically.

  Keiko Nabila Yamazaki, Sexual Healing, acrylic on canvas.

Becker: I see. Your work is kind of fun and childlike, but then at the same time it has a lot of nudity or sex themed imagery. Can you tell me how the nudity and the kind of childlike quality of your work interacts?

Yamazaki: Well...

Becker: Because, usually it's one or the other.

Yamazaki: Yeah, yeah. I mean, people when they see my art they assume, oh, it's for children. It's so colorful, there's smiley faces, of course it's for children. But, I think with how I do my art, I use a lot of my childhood memories as an inspiration, so a lot of these things, the paintings that I've done, are inspired by that. That shows in the style too, that it's very loose, it's very shape based and not lines. The nudity is basically approaching our childhood memory as an adult - now that I am not a kid. Visually it might cater to a child, but it's not for children specifically. Of course, some of my work doesn't have nudity.

Becker: Are these painted in New York?

Yamazaki: Yes.

Becker: But, you paint a lot in Asia?

Yamazaki: Specifically, I've been living here now for five years so, so far I've been painting most of my work here, but I do go to Asia mostly to make products. Since I like putting my artwork on things, I like it as a silk scarf, as a tote bag. For silk scarf I did make it in Indonesia. Trying to find a supplier, things like that.

Keiko Nabila, My Stickerz, acrylic on canvas. 

Becker: Do you want to do a full fashion line, or would you rather collaborate with a brand? 

Yamazaki: I'd like to do both. For now, I've been making my own things. I silkscreen my own tote bags. I have a line of silk scarfs, but I would definitely love to collaborate with companies.

Becker: Is there a specific company that you had in mind that would be your dream company to collaborate with?

Yamazaki: I think, there's this company called Print All Over Me, and they make products. Artists put their artwork on their site and then you can make products with it. Artists like Julia Rothman works with them for a line of things, and it was sold at Target, which is amazing. I think I want to do something like that, because they really care.

Becker: You're interested in the merchandising of your art?

Yamazaki: Yeah, but I want to make sure they care about their craft and not just selling anything.

Becker: Right. There's a few other artists that kind of have that sort of way about them. I mean, Keith Haring comes to mind. His work is perfect for clothing designs, it works very easily. There's been a lot of Basquiat that's been put on clothing. Do you make sculpture? Anything like figurines? It looks like you do earrings...

Yamazaki: Yeah, I do figures. I haven't been making sculpture. I did learn how to do it, but I do jewelry and pins more as merchandise as I said, but a handmade item, because... I mean, my art in general I want them to be affordable for everyone. Making a pin or earrings, it's affordable for someone to have my art and wear it around.

Becker: What's the next show you're in? You're in a new show coming up? 

Keiko Nabila, Snake Ballsack and ladder. Acrylic on canvas. 

Yamazaki: Yeah, the next show that I have is in August, it's in Pleiades Gallery. It's called We Exhibition. It's held by Jcat, it's a foundation of Japanese artists. They're trying to give Japanese artists a platform to show their work in New York City, because not all of them are New York based.

Becker: Oh, some of them are still living in Japan?

Yamazaki: Yeah, Japan or around the world.

Becker: You're active in that art space.

Yamazaki: Yeah.

Becker: Where is that located?

Yamazaki: It's located in Chelsea.

Becker: Okay. Are you planning on doing any new monumental paintings, or are you focusing more on doing smaller paintings and clothing design?

Yamazaki: For that exhibition I'm doing everything new. It's a mixture of smaller painting and big paintings, but instead of doing what I've been doing, I'm trying to mix my sculpture into my paintings.

Becker: Oh, so you're sculpt, so you actually do sculpture beyond things like jewelry?

Yamazaki: Yeah.

Becker: What are the sculptures like?

Yamazaki: They're very similar with the work that I've done, they're obviously-

Becker: They're like a translation of painting into what material?

Yamazaki: Yeah, into, I use clay, so ...

Keiko Nabila

Becker: Okay. I notice you have a lot of plush toys around here.

Yamazaki: Yes.

Becker: Do you ever convert your paintings into things like plush toys, or?

Yamazaki: No, I've wanted-

Becker: Does that interest you?

Yamazaki: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Of course. That's why I said I'd like to collaborate with people or a company who can make my ideas into a reality.WM


Noah Becker

Noah Becker is an artist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine. He shows his paintings internationally at museums and galleries. Becker also plays jazz saxophone. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010). Becker's new album of original music "Mode For Noah" was released in 2023. 


Noah Becker on Instagram

Noah Becker Paintings

Noah Becker Music

Email: noah@whitehotmagazine.com

view all articles from this author