If you haven’t seen Kris Goto’s work around town yet, you probably could stand to get out more. The 28-year-old artist’s work has exploded onto the scene in recent years with appearances at Pow! Wow! Hawaii, Manifest, The ARTS at Marks Garage, and in retail shops around the state, including our own museum shop. Goto was also featured in the museum’s Local Artist Spotlight in May. In November she will participate in our regular A Think & A Drink event for Collectors-level members on the 17th, and on the 19th she will be one of the artists in the museum’s holiday edition of Local Artist Spotlight along with Carol Collette, Ryan Higa, Wayne Levin, Lauren Okano, and Surebets.
Born and raised in Japan, Goto developed an early fascination with manga before spending her much of her adolescence traveling between New Zealand, Hong Kong, and finally, in 2006, Hawai‘i, where she settled. Goto’s artwork is all about the details. In many of the works in her surf series, for example, dozens of thin flowing white lines curve around the black face of a wave, leading the viewer’s eye to bubbly bunches of white and blue circles that form the wave’s break. You only need to see one of the artist’s pieces before being able to immediately recognize a “Goto.” We sat down with the artist in the museum shop—surrounded by “Gotos”—to talk about the role traveling has played in her life, and where she finds inspiration.
How has traveling influenced your work?
I always wanted to be a manga artist. As far back as I can remember all the way up until high school all I did was manga art, but traveling really helped me go a step further. I grew up in the countryside of Kagoshima, Japan; there was nothing around my house for miles. Then I moved to Hong Kong, which is the complete opposite of where I grew up, and then New Zealand, where there is a culture that was completely different than what I was used to. The whole experience opened my eyes and helped me to realize that there’s more out there than what I had known in the past.
Moving around also meant that I had the opportunity to meet lots of people, and different teachers who forced me to do different types of art than I was used to, like oil painting, for example.
How has your art evolved from the manga-style art you did in your youth to the ultra-detailed surf style of today?
About six years ago I kind of moved on from drawing manga. I felt confident in my ability to draw really detailed works, so one day I just tried drawing something super tiny, and something about it just stuck. A lot of my works since have incorporated a lot of detail. At the same time my lines were becoming more stable, and my figures were becoming more original. Now a lot of my work is surf-themed, which is just something that sprang out of a desire to explore what I enjoy in life. It’s been fun so far.
How was working with Pow! Wow!?
Pow! Wow! invited me to do a mural in 2013, which I had never done before, so I thought “Are you sure you want me doing this?” A lot of my friends were doing Pow! Wow! at the time, people who are very creative graffiti artists who were able to finish their walls in just two or three days. After three days I wasn’t even halfway done with mine. It definitely threw me well out of my comfort zone, but it was a really positive experience.
Now, in the last two years I’ve started getting into doing murals more. I never thought they were my style of art, but I wanted to challenge myself. As I’ve done more I find myself getting better and better at them, and they’ve become kind of fun now.
Now that you’re getting comfortable with murals, are you thinking about the next challenge?
I’m really bad at 3D installations, so maybe I’ll do that! I’ve always been able to do well in art classes with most things, but two things I could never understand how to do are 3D installation art and oil painting. I still find murals challenging, so I’m going to keep doing that for a while, but maybe 3D art is next.
Your work has popped up all around town in shows, galleries, and shops in the last couple of years. What do you think it is about your work that’s making it so successful commercially?
I’ve never drawn anything thinking about what its commercial success might be. It would be really hard for me to finish anything if I were thinking about it. When I work I just draw in the moment. Sometimes people will give me advice on how to make it more commercial, like, “You should put that on a bag!” It’s funny because of all the pieces, the ones that I love the most are the ones that never sell. I really admire people who are able to tune in to what the market is demanding at a given time, but it’s not something I can do. I’m lucky enough that it seems like a lot of people like my artwork.
Your work incorporates a lot of Hawai‘i-centric themes, but manages not to fall into the trap of becoming cliché. How do you keep it fresh?
Honestly, I have no idea. This is why I’ll never be a good teacher, because to me so much of what I do comes naturally. It’s like trying to explain to aliens how breathing works. When it comes to getting ideas I literally just sit down and stare into nothing sometimes, and every once in a while an idea pops out of nowhere.
Regarding my surf art: I’m coming from a very playful perspective. The inspiration comes from fun or funny experiences I have doing things I enjoy in life. Sometimes people ask me if I have a strong emotional attachment to the pieces, but it’s not that deep, it’s playful.