13.Rockin’ Jellybean  The Great Thunder God, The Great Wind God  2022

Rockin’ Jellybean is a painter, illustrator, shop owner and bassist with the 60s-style surf-rock trio Jackie and the Cedrics. He says since he was a child growing up in his birthplace of Kyoto, his tastes have been a little different from those around him.

Somehow, I’ve always loved American culture. I was never particularly influenced by my friends, I was just this weird guy who didn’t want to be like them. I bought the soundtrack to Saturday Night Fever in fifth grade, when everyone was listening toteen idols. Maybe that’s the roots of my love for American culture. After seeing Saturday Night Fever I got into Grease, and it was like…I never knew those American high school kids were so much fun!

So even back then, I liked the old things. I still have the feeling that “new stuff is lame.” It’s not because I love austerity, I wore second-hand clothes for their style, and even as a kid I used to go to the retro movie theatre Kyoichi Kaikan. Thinking about it now, my feeling for the past may have been partly because I was in Kyoto.

I’ve been drawing since childhood. I used to imitate Tezuka Osamu [Astro Boy] and Matsumoto Leiji [Space Battleship Yamato], then in junior high I discovered the world of illustration. That was when Yumura Teruhiko [aka Terry Johnson, of the heta-uma ‘bad-but-good’ movement] and the Parco store and gallery were peaking. They showed me how a story could be told in a single picture. For me, this was it!

After graduating from high school, I didn’t really want to study, but I thought an art college would attract a quirky crowd, and if I had to continue with school, I wanted to go to one in Tokyo. My parents were very serious people who were vehemently against this. They said painting was completely out of the question! So I ran away from home. During my time preparing to apply for art school, my father died. It’s a bad way to put it, but this liberated me to paint how I wanted.

I started illustrating before I graduated from college. One of my seniors was a freelancer, so I decided to try it as well. I continued illustrating after graduation, while working part-time jobs. Someone said I should try a full-time graphic design job and I joined an office for about six months, to get an idea of the work, but I have remained freelance ever since. My first jobs were flyers for bands, album jackets and so on. I would only take on the kinds of commissions I wanted, and I thought I could earn the rest by doing manual labour.

When Jackie and the Cedrics first toured the US around ’92, it was right at the time lowbrow art was emerging. That world connects with the garage music scene, especially in California. I could smell something interesting about to happen, and I wanted to live there as soon as possible. I finally moved to America in 1995, but it turned out to be the car people, not the fine art people, who helped me survive as a painter.

It wasn’t that I wanted to be a famous artist in America. I simply wanted to be in that environment. But as I discovered, the America in my mind was the America of 20 years ago! So I had many disappointments at first. My work didn’t appeal to the art scene, but I did car-related paintings, lowbrow art, album jackets and so on. At least I was able to live in the world of hot rod/custom culture pioneer Ed Roth, and this was a huge thing for me.

Southern Californian lowbrow art/custom culture in the 1990s started as an underground movement. Since then, it has achieved global influence and is expanding the boundaries of so-called outsider art created by disabled people and minorities. For many aspiring young artists today, lowbrow art is more exciting than intellectual contemporary art; it is simply more ‘cool.’

When I think of the Californian scene in the 1990s, the arrival of the young Japanese artist Jellybean must have been highly disruptive, brandishing his extremely anachronistic style echoing the golden age of 1960s Ed Roth, or 1970s Harvey Kurtzman and his work for Playboy and MAD magazine.

And not forgetting Jackie and the Cedrics, who took Jellybean to the US, along with their musical allies including Osaka-based girl garage band The 5, 6, 7, 8saka Goroppachi, who featured in the Quentin Tarantino film Kill Bill. These performers who cultivated their own retro-Americana in Japan in the early 1990s ironically became a sort of ‘reverse import’ to the US music scene.

Jellybean is also an outsider of sorts, an artist you could say is free of American cultural baggage, who projects his uninhibited cultural fantasies in straightforward pictorial narratives.