A Hard World for Little Things with Makoto Chi October 05 2021

Makoto Chi is a Canadian visual artist and tattooist of mixed Japanese and Jewish heritage, now based in Western Massachusetts, United States. Graduating from Emily Carr University with a Bachelor's Degree in Illustration in 2015, their image-making practice engages with the use of folkloric and fantastical figures to evoke emotive drama. Makoto takes interest in power relations and ontological distinctions between individuals, and explores the tension between the individual and their environment. While their flourishing tattoo practice was put on hold during the pandemic, they have returned to mark-making as a way to burrow into other worlds and revivify their process with magic, action and revolutionary thinking.

Interview by Joseph Estorninho. Photos supplied by Makoto Chi.

This is your first time exhibiting with us, so as an introduction to our audience what are three words or phrases that describe you and your work you'd like everyone to know?

Oh no… I’m terrible at being descriptive and succinct. I don’t know how to whittle my approach down to three items, but I'm interested in different types of intimacy, sharp things and soft things, gay stuff, horniness, and bright colours! :)

From what I've learnt of your online presence, you come across as quite politically active and observant. How does this translate into your artwork, if at all?

Not intentionally: I don’t think of my artwork as particularly didactic or even politically useful. For me, making art is mostly a self-indulgent activity, a way to digest experiences to hone my perception.

Your artwork is also very surreal. Do you get ideas from your dreams?

I cannot for the life of me remember most dreams! Most of my ideas come from things I’m reading, or listening to people, and having feelings.

What are you reading now or what have you read that has inspired you?

I've been reading and listening to a lot of Ocean Vuong, Mary Oliver and Cameron Awkward-Rich :)

The figures in your work are reminiscent of ancient Egyptian deities. How do you imagine them?

That’s an interesting interpretation. I like flat, iconic, ornamental art because it communicates clearly with strong silhouettes, so that’s often how I approach figuration. My influences there have been Greco Roman pottery, and Japanese block prints.

You've been tattooing as a main source of income for many years now. Obviously COVID has meant a lot of us have had to change and adapt where we can. What did you find yourself doing during this difficult period of time?

It’s funny, I think 'what do you do?' can be such a charged question. I feel like I do a lot, and have full, busy days, but on paper it doesn’t look like much. I haven’t been thinking much about being an artist as a career – to be honest it's been bringing up a lot of discomfort. While I’m still technically working because I need an income and have a love for the craft and social aspects of art and tattooing, lately I’ve been being with my loved ones and being with the land. This looks like a lot of hanging out at the river, and looking at bugs and plants.

What were some unique considerations when creating these works for a gallery exhibition?

I had to make most of this work while in the middle of assembling a work visa, and then moving countries, and, you know, everything else going on. It’s been a welcome toe-dip back into painting, and lit a little fire in me to explore some of this imagery further.

What is something you're really excited about for the future?

The upheaval of the colonized west. And trying to find mutual footing with people to those ends.