5.Yoshioka Rina

An artist’s physical appearance is often very different from how we visualise that person based on their work. I was completely wrong-footed in 2016 when I first met Yoshioka Rina, a modest, modern young woman who handed me a copy of her zine-like collection, Night of Women. Flipping through the pages, I couldn’t help asking, “Did you really paint these?” The images showed curvy, mature ladies oozing Showa-era sexuality, posing with lascivious men old enough to be their fathers. Yoshioka was not the sort of girl you would picture dreaming up such scenarios.

Born in 1977, Yoshioka grew up in Nakahara-ku, Kawasaki City, across the Tama River from Tokyo’s Ota-ku. Until recently, she lived with her grandmother, mother and three other women, upstairs in the family home, which served as her studio and bedroom.

Ever since I can remember, I would draw pictures all over the walls, as if in a trance. At school, I was very shy. Drawing was probably all I had going for me. The other kids would gather around my desk in art class, wanting to look. Once I won a prize in a drawing competition, and I remember thinking the one teacher who praised me was the only person who saw my qualities, so I set my sights on Tama Art University — from the third grade of primary school!

But when I got into art college, I didn’t try very hard — maybe I figured I had already made it. And I felt worn down from what I had come to believe was my mediocrity and lack of talent, and the difficulty of my graduation project. I took on various part-time jobs and continued with those after I graduated. I hardly painted at all. Maybe I used the jobs as an excuse to escape art. When I was around 30, I decided to give painting another shot. I felt if I didn’t do it then, I’d never achieve anything. I signed up for an illustration course at Aoyama Juku, run by the Aoyama Book Centre.

I still had to work part-time jobs to survive, but in 2009, while I was attending drawing classes, a friend asked me to make a poster for a summer festival at Meguro Gajoen Hotel, with the concept, ‘Singing in the Showa Dragon’s Palace! Dance!’ I drew a Showa-esque picture and it was surprisingly well received. My raw touch, or rather my dramatised style, may have suited the Showa sensibility — at least that’s what some people said. Until then, I had drawn all sorts of contemporary-style pictures, and I knew they didn’t suit me, but in that moment I felt finally I had hit on something that was uniquely me.

I never expected to get so deeply into Showa culture, but seeing my artwork praised, I suddenly realised how much I liked it. I love the grainy colours and textures of old movie stills, for example, and I started collecting all sorts of Showa material and watching period films at old-school cinemas. You don’t see women like those characters anymore, women who are at the same time wanton, strong and gentle, such as the characters in Kumashiro Tatsumi’s The Woman with Red Hair.

I’ve always been interested in depicting women. I remember when I was about 5, I was secretly drawing young women in bikinis. I also drew girls wearing only underpants. I hid those pictures because I thought I’d get into trouble if my mother found them. Even now, I want to keep drawing women. I am not interested in making subjects of men. I do draw old men, but they are a garnish, like the parsley on fried prawns. I’m even less interested in young men, and I can’t draw them at all. Womens faces alone can take me up to three days, but I can draw an old guy in about two hours. I like the greedy looks of the old lechers, and their sallow, Showa-era faces. But that doesn’t mean I want to become their companion, like one of the women in my paintings, or that I want to date some old geezer!My pictures are not based on real life, they are all from my imagination. Maybe my erotic fantasies are my way of escaping the influence of my parents (because I’m really a mummy’s girl), and I know I’m no genius and can never be an outsider artist. Recently I think a lot about what I can do as an ordinary person, in an ordinary way, to repay the people who like my work. I am very grateful to be able to draw and get paid for it, and I wonder what I can give back to those who see and buy my work, and how I can help them enjoy it more. That’s all I’m concerned with. I hope my pictures give some people a break from their daily grind, even for a moment.