This year, the PUMA Suede celebrates its fiftieth anniversary—a singular achievement in the sneaker world. As PUMA looks forward, we’re inviting young artists thriving in their field to meet and celebrate the established artists they admire, paying respect to the idols who shaped their journey today. Face to face, they discuss Future History, their practise, and the ways in which they support one another.
Melissa Grisancich, an Archibald finalist painter, has spent the last few months curating her all-female group show called Springtime. It’s a brilliant Melbourne afternoon when she reveals the design of the show’s poster to Aki Yaguchi; a fellow painter with a similarly delightful style, at an inner-city café where we’ve joined the pair. Aki’s excitement bubbles over, and Mel says something about how long the design took her to hand-paint. Despite the difference in years (Mel is about nine years Aki’s senior) conversation flows easily, bouncing between their latest art projects, expensive baby gifts for friends, and their anticipation for Springtime. They’re intelligent but unpretentious, radiating mutual admiration.
They’re quite the dynamic pair, Aki and Mel. While their childhoods were different, their careers are unfolding at different intervals, and their work is inspired by different art-periods; their thinking intersects. Aki and Mel are two of the many the women re-shaping Melbourne’s art scene: they’re hyper-positive, deeply respectful, and unwaveringly supportive of each other and the artists in their field.
We sat down with the pair, who were equally as charged on caffeine, to talk growing up, the evolution of their art, the impact of social media, and how exciting the future is when treated with as much respect as the past and present.
Hello, we’re so pleased to be chatting to you both; and to actually have you in the same room! Let’s start by talking about where you’re both making work from at the moment, and where you are creatively.
Mel: I’m now based in Sandringham, but I’m from Mount Martha on the Mornington Peninsula. I’m a painter and I also like making sculptures and sewing.
Aki: I’m Aki Yaguchi, and my middle name is Suzanne—which is super Western because I’m half Australian and half Japanese. I’m currently based in Melbourne, for now at least! I’m one of three children. My mother raised me as a single mum from when I was about ten. My art is poppy and colourful. I don’t like to stick to one medium—I like to play around with different things like paint and illustration and big walls. I love knitting and crochet and textiles. Really, I just love whatever medium I can express my art through.
You’ve both touched on this, but I’d like to hear more about your childhoods. Where did you grow up? Do you have any fond memories connected to art?
Melissa: I started doing art-related things when I was really little, when my grandparents gave me those How-To books. Then that branched on to things like ‘show and tell’ at school, where you make something over the weekend to show your class on Monday. My Mum ran craft classes after school at our house too. I think I had trouble making friends when I was younger, my Mum set up the classes so I could meet people. We learnt how to do bread-dough decorations, we made things like bath salts and collage, and paper coiling. I found out I was really bad at maths in grade one or two, but art class was my happy place. I put everything into my art. I was really bad at sport, but my primary school billy cart tournament team let me be their designer.
Aki: I was born in Japan, but I grew up in Australia. My Mum and Dad raised me on the Gold Coast after we moved from Japan. I discovered that I loved drawing and illustrating through my father, who was an incredible illustrator. He also used to do sculpture work, he would make such incredible things from his hands. It inspired me so much when I was little. I really wanted to do that. Because I’m the oldest, my sister and brother were too young to play with me when I was younger, at that point drawing was a way for me to create my own world. I’d draw a castle with princesses and, from that scene, I would imagine stuff for hours. It definitely still works today as my escape, the same way I did when I was little.
Melissa: That’s exactly what I do as well.
Was there a point in either of your former years that made you realise that pursuing art was what you needed to do?
Melissa: When you go through high school, they really pressure you to know what kind of career you want to have. I did music, art, and studio arts—which is film photography. I kept gravitating towards more creative subjects. I said when I was seven years old that I wanted to be an artist when I grew up. I don’t think I knew what that meant when I was leaving school. I went to TAFE and uni did all of that, initially wanting to be a high school teacher. I did my Diploma of Education, I think because my parents were asking me how I was going to earn money. When I finished, I realised that I actually can’t deal with teenagers. I don’t think I’m gonna teach, ever. Those things definitely made me realise I should stick to art.
Aki: I think I knew I really wanted to pursue art from a young age. I loved magazines and things I could hold. I would always be looking in them, fawning over pictures that artists had done. I realised that people were living their life by creating images, travelling with it, making their income that way. I thought that was just a fantasy way to live, the dream basically. It wasn’t an unachievable idea for me. My mum was never really like ‘you need to get a stable, high-paying job and pay a mortgage.’ She was happy for me to follow my dream, I think she saw how happy it made me. I think she doesn’t want to make [my siblings and I] ever feel like we’re defined by our jobs.
Do you find your relationship with your art evolving or changing?
Melissa: It changes all the time for me. I go through phases where I don’t really know what I’m doing or why I’m doing it. Being in Melbourne, it’s hard not to compare yourself to other artists doing really well. That way of thinking can sometimes make me want to stop doing it and focus on other things, like working or sewing. So actually, you know what, I can’t even take a day off. I’m always doing something. I do think social media changes my art here and there. I’ve been managing the RVCA gallery in Collingwood for six years now and that has definitely shifted my view on art. I’m constantly thinking about this stuff all the time, but I’m at a good place now. The best way to ground yourself is to go to galleries and look at the actual work. It’s good to remember it’s not a race.
Aki: I’m the same. The rise in social has ruined the way we look at production. Because we see the work that other people are doing it becomes a constant comparison. It seems like everyone else is doing shit. Before social media became a thing, I think [creativity] was a much more carefree thing. I feel like I didn’t have such a negative relationship with creation like I do now.
Melissa: I was more motivated to create work before social media (laughs). How bad is that! I feel like no-one talks about it though—I know I haven’t until now.
Aki: I feel like no-one is going to tell you online that they’re feeling that way. No-one is going to bare their soul that way.
I definitely agree. Social media feels so strategised, there’s no room for the process or the ‘shit part of creativity’. In saying that, where do you love to create the most?
Melissa: Mine is the dining table in front of the TV. I have a studio and all the beautiful space I could possibly need in Sandringham but, for some reason, the dining table is my spot. I mean, the record player is in that room at the moment so that makes sense. It’s close to the snack area, it’s got noise. When my boyfriend comes home he’s happy to chill and chat while I work. He actually made our dining table!
Aki: That’s so cool! I actually relate to that. It’s a comfort thing. Nush, my boyfriend, bought me a desk. He facilitated my creativity through it. He would say, ‘You can create on this! Go wild! I want to see you do stuff!’ But I still work on the floor. I don’t know why but I feel like, to me, the desk is too structured. Each time I sit down at it, its like ‘You have to work! It’s working time!’ and it freaks me out a little bit.
Melissa: I think that’s why I don’t go near my desk.
Aki: It definitely feels like you’re clocking on.
Melissa: I painted the Archibald painting in the lounge room. It had a nice window with all the natural light. I didn’t even go into my studio once, something about the energy in that room was good. No one was allowed to look at that painting until it was finished. It literally faced the corner of the room until I was ready.
Aki: It is a really beautiful painting. Can I just add a side-note? Nush, if you’re reading this, I love my desk!
Melissa: Yeah, my boyfriend made my desk that I don’t even use! (Laughs) Sorry!
Ha! Ok, I’m dying to know—how did you first meet? What do you appreciate the most about each other’s work?
Aki: Mel, I haven’t told you this before but, our mutual friend, Tyson actually told me about you. He said ‘Mel is such an amazing artist, you’ll really dig her work!’ And I’m so glad I looked it up. It’s actually incredible that I’ve met you.
Melissa: He messaged me when he saw a photo of us together and was like ‘I’m so glad you guys got to meet!’ I think we [first] met at RVCA briefly—I’ve met some really incredible people through the gallery. Just from being at openings. I think I saw your artwork in a video someone posted of you painting your girls’s heads on a wall somewhere. It’s just nice that you have your own thing going on. A lot of people do and a lot of people don’t, and it’s really cool that you have it from such a young age.
Aki: To be fair, I think I probably properly met you at Mike’s Pho Night.
Melissa: Yeah, we had soup! It was just nice to just talk shit with someone, rather than try and think of impressive things to say.
Aki: Having to try and impress people sucks. It really does.
I feel that. Aki, what’ve you learned from Mel?
Aki: This is hard. The things I knew about Mel before I met her were based on things I’d seen online. Which is actually really funny because we talked about it so negatively before. But from what I did see, Mel was hustling. She was constantly creating. Whether it was your beautiful resin hands or your paintings. You seemed to have a drive and passion. Not only is your work incredible. There’s drive there and motive. There’s intention behind it. Anyway, I digress! Since meeting her, I’ve learnt that it’s important to be genuine as both a person and in your art. Putting a personality to Mel’s work has made me realise that it’s ok to be yourself. You can still create incredible work—it’s not about the front you put on. It’s about your work.
Melissa: I think that when you’re young and starting out with social media, I think it’s important that you realise that it’s about your work. It’s not about your online presence. If it is genuinely about your work, then what matters is that you remain true to it. And I think that goes with anything creative.
Aki: It’s not to please other people. If you’re doing it for you, then it will be an emotional release for you. It will be fulfilling.
Mel, how has the art scene changed since you first started in it?
Melissa: The art scene has changed for the better for women. There’s more awareness that we need more opportunities, more walls for us. I think there’s definitely more noise in that sense. Back then I didn’t really have any friends in the art scene. I was sort of doing things on my own and booking shows on my own. Over time, you start to hold a more positive view once you find more like-minded people. In that sense, social media has changed things for the better. People are coming to shows more and picking up a zine more often.
Aki: It definitely broadens your audience.
Melissa: I love the internet for promoting exhibitions and for group-shows.
Do you think it’s a good space for emerging artists, like Aki, to come into?
Melissa: Definitely! I don’t think there’s a wrong time or a bad time for it. But I definitely think that the art scene is in a good place. People are a bit more welcoming to different types of art. I guess there’s so much focus now on the female art scene. I just want girls to be reminded to look after each other. That’s something that I notice and it’s why I created Springtime, the all-women show. Aki’s invited! It’s my view on how I want the art scene to be. It’s a mixture of emerging, first-timers, well-established artists, mediums… It’s more a welcoming space rather than you have to be at a certain level to show your work.
Aki, what do you think is in your future? Where would you like to be in 5 years?
Aki: My clear view is that I’d like to be travelling and making social difference with my art. I feel like there’s a greater purpose for the things that we do. I watched this really cool video recently from the artists of Pow Wow. They went to Nepal and they painted this tiny school—it enriched the lives of these kids. I saw it as something that I could do. I’d like to think that I can utilise the things that I love to do, to help inspire different groups of people.
What a positive goal! Mel, where do you see Aki in 5 years?
Melissa: I mean she definitely has to travel during this time. I can see her doing more walls and shows and art. You’re (Aki) only 23—this is your growing time. These next 5 years will definitely be your growing points. Saturn returns will hit you! (laughs) The fact that you paint walls means you’ll get some amazing opportunities in Australia.
Do you believe that it’s important to respect the past and the artists that have come before you in order to create work that looks to the future and reaches out to the generations to come?
Aki: I think it’s important to respect everyone—past, present, and future. Of course you want to pay homage to people that inspire you.
Melissa: I would say the same. I think when I make my work, I’m not thinking about that. I’m inspired by a lot of traditional work. In terms of respect, I don’t try to replicate it or reference it. I’m really influenced by Alex Katz and Henry Rousseau, but I’ve got my own thing going on.
Aki: And it’s even important to respect the kids that you meet. I’ve met a few that are just realising that they love art. It’s easy for people to fob you off, and I’ve had that happen to me before. It’s so much more enriching to support each other.
Photography Assistant: Declan May
Styling: DOC G