Aki Yaguchi strikes me as someone who makes difficult things—like painting large scale murals—look effortless. When we meet at a Collingwood cafe to chat about her practice and her latest work for Puma, her warm, relaxed energy sets me at ease almost immediately. Aki has good reason to feel self-assured. The painter and illustrator is only 24-years-old, but in the last year, her work has been splashed across clothing and decorated walls around Sydney and Melbourne.
The Puma Cali—the shoe she recently created the aforementioned large scale mural of—evokes a similarly laid back vibe. The shoe’s silhouette is an evolution of the classic Californian design that was originally released in the early 1980s. Earlier this year, Puma commissioned Aki to create a bespoke mural of the Cali sneaker in Redfern, Sydney, and the work she produced is a testament to her vision as an artist.
It’s full of life, with vibrant pinks and oranges and her signature floating girl illustrations. It’s not hard to imagine it acting as the eye-catching backdrop for an array of impromptu Instagram photo shoots, or as a welcome burst of colour for a commuter on their otherwise drab morning walk to work. Over a coffee and a peppermint tea, Aki and I got to talking about her childhood, why she doesn’t like to restrict herself to one medium, and the cheeky Japanese cartoon she can’t get enough of.
What were you like when you were a kid? Were you always interested in art?
Yeah, for sure. For me, I used my imagination a lot, and we weren’t allowed to watch that much TV and my mum read books to us a lot as children. For me, especially because I was an only child up until the age of like four, that was like peak time for me to use my imagination. I sort of became best friends with myself and my brain, basically. So drawing was like a way for me to put my ideas onto paper I guess and I would sort of draw my imagination as it would go along, so stories would sort of come out onto the paper and that’s how I played I guess as a kid. So yeah, it was always a thing that I did, constantly.
Were you parents creative?
My mum was not per say, like she always encouraged creativity and whatever, but my father was always very artistic. He was sort of able to dip into lots of different realms and do well at them, so he’d illustrate or he’d paper craft, and he even understood music to an extent, you know… For me growing up, I always idolised him as a person and what he was doing and I think from watching him do that I decided early on that I wanted to be like that and draw.
Do you think that influenced your decision to work in a lot of different mediums?
I feel like it probably helped with me knowing that I could do that, but I’ve always been relatively ADHD with what I do with my work, I get very bored. For me that was good in the way that I understood that there was a possibility to stray from doing similar things all the time. I’ve always been very here and there with everything.
Tell me about the process of putting together your Puma Cali mural.
I guess they sent me the concept—they wanted something that wasn’t an advertisement but looked a bit more street art and it sort of fit into a cityscape and it looked good. I know that the Cali shoe is centred around California and it’s very summery and it’s a clean shoe and I just wanted to compliment that and also bring a fun vibe to it and make sure it’s eye catching. The shoe itself is quite simple, it’s a white shoe, so colour was important. So yeah, I incorporated my floating girls and I feel like they fit really well with that imagery, because the shoe is inanimate and the girls float so it gave movement to it. It was a pretty simple brief and I feel like it was easy to interpret and shoes are a great canvas in a way because you can do whatever you want with them.
When do you know that a piece you’re working on is finished?
I’m pretty good. Once I get to a certain point I might get a second opinion from my boyfriend or another creative, but generally I just get to a point where I’m like, “No, if I add anything else it’s gonna be too much.” I feel ready—it’s just a feeling.
What are you reading/watching/looking at that’s inspiring your art lately?
At the moment I’ve been watching a lot of this particular Japanese cartoon, it’s not obscure in Japan, but over here it is. It’s called Crayon Shin-chun and it’s just about this cheeky little Japanese boy and he’s always exposing his bum and mooning people and stuff like that. [Laughs] But I love the cartoon, like the way the cartoon was made, so I’ve just been watching that… I think I’m just really inspired by people doing their thing at the moment. Like I’ve seen online—online I follow so many artists and my saved folder is just full of colours and stuff.
Do you listen to music while you create?
I do. I’ve actually been obsessed recently with like, on SoundCloud you know how people put up and mixes stuff like that? I find that to concentrate, it’s good to listen to a really long mix that gets you in the zone and you don’t really notice time passing. There’s this particular station called Bone Soda and they have like mixes and stuff like that. I don’t know if you know NTS Radio, but they do stuff on there too.
To keep up with Aki’s work, follow her here. The Puma Cali is available to purchase now at au.puma.com.