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NUTS ART WORKS is an artisan who not only works for various apparel brands such as Supreme, OLD JOE and Ralph Lauren, but also makes signs for restaurants. His solo exhibition "WORKS SPEAKS ELOQUENTLY THAN LIPS!!!" will be held at the SAI Gallery next to DAYZ. We talked to Naoto Hinai of NUTS ART WORKS, who makes signs for DAYZ as well.

―― What made you decide to hold a solo exhibition this time?

I usually do client work, so the wording and size are fixed, and I draw according to the desired vibe and return it. I had an exhibition at VACANT seven years ago, just in time to publish a collection of my work titled “SIGN PAINTERS AND TRAVELLERS HAVE LEAVE TO LIE”. Back then, I didn’t have any intention of selling, I was just trying to expand the scope of my work, and it was important to me for people to see it. This time, I was very determined from the beginning to try to sell it. I'm the kind of person who can make anything into a work of art, but when I thought about what I wanted most right now, I wanted to use a tattoo motif to draw people and [written] characters. I wanted to make them in the form of a sign. So, I made two or three to test it out, and I thought to myself, "This is so cool! " (laughs).

――When did you make these works?

It was before Corona. I originally created these in time for the 2020 Olympics. I thought it would be great to have a solo exhibition at a time when foreigners would be coming, and Japan would be in high spirits. So, I started working on it to make it just in time for 2020, but when I was more than halfway done, the Corona crisis started. Then there wasn’t anywhere to show it. Even if I had done a solo exhibition, people wouldn't have come, so I decided to wait. After that, I continued to work on it, so the work itself was completed two years ago. I thought about the location, the title, and who to ask about it. First, I went and spoke to Shin-chan (Shinsuke Takizawa) and said, "I think you'll like it, so take a look at it," and "give me your honest opinion". It's actually quite easy to rent a place like VACANT and promote an event by yourself. You get just the kind of response you’d expect. But this time, I wanted people to see something other than that, so I asked for advice, and that's how this project came about.

――So, since you have an interest in portraits and tattoos, is that why you made them the motifs for the 2020 Olympics?

Apart from my regular work, what is laid out here now is clearly different art in my mind as art. When I think about what interest me, I really love tattoos (laughs). So, I wanted to choose something I like as a motif, and it was a very natural process. I got into tattoos when I was in junior high and high school because of the coolness of the tattoos delinquents. But after that, I quickly started looking at them from an artistic point of view, and I've loved them ever since. I believe that there is something to be found in things that have taken root amongst the common people and have been handed down from generation to generation. Art, paintings, etc., are amazing, but there are many explanations. Tattoos have been around for a long time, even though they were historically banned. I feel the meaning and power of it, and I wonder what it is. All I can really say is that I really like it.

―― There is an American atmosphere to NUTS's work. Like the good old days in America. But some of the pieces, including the one I'm wearing today, have a strong Japanese flavor, and it feels different from usual.

When it comes to Japanese, I've always had the hobby as a handwritten sign maker. However, until about ten years ago, I was afraid that if I did kanji, my art would become too everyday and lose its flavor. But I always wanted to preserve the good old days. I didn't dare to show Japanese things or kanji in places where people would see them. But in the end, I loved them so much that they exploded out of me (laughs). Once I got the job, I really couldn’t stop myself (laughs). Nowadays, when I post something with a Japanese flavor on social media, it spreads really fast, and I used to get very few orders with a Japanese flavor, but now these requests are pretty regular.

―― Being a person myself who has been looking at the signs made by NUTS for a long time, I feel that the expressions in the work have increased. At the same time, have there been any changes in you?

In the end, when you look at it over a long span of time, it’s like everything looks completely different. When you discover something new, you are no longer the same person you were before, and what you were drawing for fun is now appreciated and becomes your work. For example, if I wanted to create something interesting and Japanese that foreigners misunderstood, or if I wanted to take a cultural approach to Japan, I would go into the world of calligraphy. However, do I really want to go in that direction? I don't think so. I like signs. That's why I like to make drafts in calligraphy and draw them on glass with a brush. I'm a sign maker at heart. I think [written] characters are interesting. I never get tired of them. In this work, it may remind you of tattoos and portraits, but in my mind, it's about half motifs and half letters.

―― Why did you choose to work with glass instead of canvas?

In Japan, there are fewer people who know how to work with glass than in other countries, and even though the Internet has developed so much, there is no information on how to do it. The general flow of the process can be found on YouTube, but there is no information on important specifics such as the actual temperature at which to melt the material, or the humidity. In the past, I used to do something like a science and math experiment every day. Each experiment would take roughly 24 hours, and I would change the numbers little by little every day to quantify the experiment (laughs). Moreover, I draw on the back, so the surface is intact; the pictures and letters are drawn backwards. I couldn't add a little light here or there, or make the cheeks a little brighter, as I would with a normal sign or painting. That's why I'm almost 100% sure of what I'm going to do in the rough sketch stage. The rest is just work. There’s almost nobody who can do this technique, so it’s like a traditional craft. It’s the same as the technique used to make pub mirrors, but those people just make pub mirrors and that’s it. That’s a great technique, and very cool, but it's not something I would do in a solo exhibition in Tokyo. It was one of the many techniques of signage that I just couldn't figure out. I thought for a moment that my work might sell or be popular, but then I thought that was pretty selfish. Of course, signboards are fun, but making art is a different kind of fun. I'm very happy when I can contribute to the final sales of a client's work, or when a souvenir I design for a package wins first place in a ranking. When it comes to creating artworks, I can decide on the elements of the words myself, I can use whatever I want, from colors to everything. I also like the fact that there are no price limits (laughs). In a store, there is always a fixed budget, but this time there was no such limit, so I was able to focus on the pure enjoyment of making the work.

Interview & Text : Yu Yamaki
Photo : Ryutaro Izaki