On Form and Undulation with ONEQ October 05 2021

ONEQ is an Okinawa-based artist who creates modern pin-up illustrations influenced by her youth spent on a very secluded Japanese island where she would spend her days dreaming of aquatic adventures and reading countless comics at a neighbor's home. Completely self taught as an artist her work has taken the world by storm over the past two years as her aesthetic is altruistic in beauty and form, appealing to all those who pass by. 

Interview by Viet-My Bui. Photos supplied by ONEQ.

What was your childhood like? Was your family creative?

I was born and raised on an island called Kyushu in Japan. Like other children, I spent my childhood reading a lot of manga, playing and drawing with my friends, and relaxing in the countryside. My family wasn't very creative –  but we ate a lot of fish.

As a teenager, you were a fan of the night life in Japan. How did this influence your art?

At the time, I was a teenager with a hurricane of conflicting emotions. I had a lot of energy and curiosity, and I gradually became fascinated by the mysterious world of the night. It was like Alice in Wonderland, knocking on the door to another world that was thrilling to me. It was a place to become someone else. And communicating with someone from a totally unfamiliar place was so interesting; there was a theatre to it all. It was totally the opposite of the predictability of school. The unsettling events and odd encounters I witnessed during that time really shook my values, and have a lasting influence on my creativity. I feel that the unique strangeness of that world has given me many perspectives, both good and bad.

How did you teach yourself to draw? How did you begin to create artwork full time? Have you had any other jobs?

As a child, I naturally started to draw and play like most children. I dabbled in various other things as I grew up, but for me, drawing and expressing myself was a much more comfortable way to play. I am a self-taught artist and have always created at my own pace. It was my favorite artists and their works that taught me the beauty and fun of painting. Strangely enough, I started painting traditionally about five years ago. Before that, I was mainly working as an illustrator, creating digital art for commissions. Before becoming a full-time artist, I worked at a bar while experimentally making original works on the side.

You are going to have a solo show at Outré Gallery! Can you tell us about the concept behind your show? 

Uneri means undulation, the swell of a wave – and having your own groove. My works can be described as something akin to gyotaku (traditional Japanese fish print which fishermen took as records of their catch): I dive deep into the bottom of my psyche to find and capture the hidden monstrous ancient fish like creatures and lift them up to the surface to be seen.

When I create new work, I bring the surging waves of my soul and body into play to take a gyotaku of this creature. This process feels strangely similar to some sort of primitive prayer. The mind, body and the world move together constantly, billowing. Form and undulation. Style, beauty and rhythm.

Can you take us through your process of making a painting?

Once I have a vague idea of what I want to do, I start making rough sketches.
In the case of black-and-white sketches, the rough sketches are continually refined and polished. When planning a painting, I loosely decide a colour scheme at the rough stage. I tend to have a rough color scheme in mind before I start working on the canvas. In the middle part of the painting, I always let the groove carry me along, and I usually dance and have fun while painting.
On the other hand, the second half of the painting is a process of refinement, so I concentrate on it and finish it slowly.

Tell us about your workspace.

I use the second floor of my house as a workspace. I usually spend time with two cats in my studio.

How do you stay inspired? What do you like to do outside of making art?

I often go for late night drives by myself. I have a large cup of iced coffee, and as I'm driving along a deserted road, I tend to get ideas. I find that I am most relaxed and inspired when I am doing something physical and familiar. I also like to travel to learn about different cultures, so I would like to go back to different countries once the pandemic is over. And, of course, Melbourne!

Your women seem to have a dramatic noir influence, as well as elements of horror. Are you inspired by any movies or authors?

Yes, I get a lot of inspiration from horror and mystery. When I am particularly inspired by someone else's work, I am passionately motivated to create – as if I were writing a response to a love letter. I've always been attracted to things that are a little dark and mysterious, but on the other hand I also love POP things that are refreshing and approachable. Of course, I enjoy high-quality and profound masterpieces, but personally I am most fascinated by controversial B-class masterpieces. It's like the Joker in a deck of cards. I find an atmosphere of strangeness and mystery to be inspiring.

Your characters look otherworldly. What inspires your colourful palette and aesthetic?

Since childhood, most of the characters I have drawn have not been human. They were mermaids, or monsters, or goddesses, or some other creature. Perhaps it's because my self-consciousness makes me feel that I don't quite fit what it means to be 'human'. Once I began painting, I wanted to focus on a sense of uneri in my women – which is more a spiritual representation, rather than a physical dynamism. I am still working on this. It takes time to paint the hair in such a way that the flow and undulation is to my satisfaction. It's akin to a cat's fur that is dynamically bristling.

You draw powerful and sensual pin-ups of women. Are they inspired by real people? 

It's not often that I start a project with someone as a clear model. Contrary to the very regimented and serious Japanese society, the sense of unique sisterhood I have witnessed since my teen years in the world of nightlife has intrigued me. I've drawn from the energy and inspiration of many of these women. I've always been drawn to the intense wildness and energy that they possess, that may lie dormant within. I have always felt a strong attraction to women. This is, of course, something that I find in myself as well.

Who are your greatest art inspirations?

It's basically myself. I think that if you are not a fan of yourself first and foremost, you will not be able to create works for a long time. After all, I feel that I am most interested in what I feel, think, and express in reality. It is my own biased filter. 

You create small paintings as well as large murals. What do you want to try next?

I would like to make 3D work at some point, but for now I am enjoying making large murals and hope to enjoy making murals again once the pandemic is over. Painting a mural is not the same as painting in the comfort of your own room, but it is a lot of work and a lot of fun, and I realized once again that painting is also a sport. The fun of using my own body to express my own "undulation/groove" is like an act of prayer before language, in which I secretly try to communicate with God.

What is the best piece of advice you've received?

There is beauty in the ridiculous.

Thank you for chatting to us, ONEQ. We look forward to your show!