Painter, Illustrator: Los Angeles
Tell me a story from your childhood. A vivid one. A startling one. Are you willing to recount all the details?
One afternoon in his studio, Edwin Ushiro did. He brought to life each child that appeared in a large, unfinished piece of work—pointing them out to me, clearly remembering all of them by name. And they each had a story.
Let him tell you a story.
“Storytelling is so much part of society, you know? Like with the drawings in the dark cave. When a young child comes of age, where he becomes a man, they would take him into the cave and look at the drawings and you would kind of realize where your place is, you know?”
Edwin’s expressions came slowly, deliberately. As if only a few very particular words or phrases were the ones to spur his incredible imagination, and then conversation. Such a vivid mind. Focused. Thoughts deep in folklore and myth.
“In intermediate school my friends would say there’s this lonely stretch of road near our school that if you drive around like midnight or two o’clock you’d see a jogger running down the street. And the thing about it is…at first you think of it as a normal jogger, but then you realize that he’s holding his own head.”
“I never saw him, but I remember as we got older, when we could drive, we tested it. We drove to the site. You’re supposed to shut off your engine and turn off your lights, and then he should appear. And I am not quite sure why I say ‘he’ because I don't really remember exactly if it was male or female, but steady yourself with patience and it will appear.”
“I have recently completed that piece, and both friends who shared that tale with me many years ago are positioned beside me in the car. I have it set up so it’s the moment when we just turn off the lights, and boom! He’s right there. Because I never saw it, so I feel like creating this image is the opportunity where you get to see it.”
|Since Time Only Meant That We Were Growing Up and Falling Apart Together|
“There’s something that fascinates me about all these mythologies and ghost stories and stuff like that, because I guess it makes the world a little more interesting than it is. If it’s possible.”
“I know it’s not my story, but it’s related to a specific time in my life, and that’s how I can link it together. So in a way it kind of becomes my own, but in a way it’s not.”
Years ago Edwin rode the creative waves from his home in Maui to the Art Center College of Design in California to study illustration. He stayed on the West coast after graduating, and has resided there for more than 10 years now. But it’s only recently that he’s truly focused on his personal work.
“I think I got fed up with doing a lot of commercial stuff. Because you put so much effort into somebody else’s ideas and concepts and I always thought, ‘whoa, what if I put that kind of effort into my own work?’”
“I always had ideas that I wanted to do, but I wasn’t sure if it would be something that would be acceptable in the art world because I’d never seen people talk about it or approach things this way. So it was very uneasy ground at the time. But in the end, you kind of say ‘well, screw it then’, you know? ‘If this is what you want to do, then go for it.’”
|After It's Given All You Wanted|
He’s got so much to tell through his art. Some of his works are large: five feet tall, or more. And the process involves many steps and media. Transfer paper, printers, paints, sheets of vinyl, and more—all necessary to capture the depth of his memories.
“It makes me think. Maybe the stories that I do remember kind of help me remember other things. It’s almost like a chronological timeline for me. I can follow it. Then it starts unlocking all these other parts of my childhood. It’s like a game, in a way. Finding those holes.”
It’s gotten to the point where he sleeps next to a sketchbook. If an image comes in the middle of the night, he’ll be ready to capture it on paper. If he doesn’t, that entire scene, filled with color and symbolism as it might be, could easily be gone by morning.
“I was listening to a doctor on Radiolab. He was talking about how a person with amnesia will remember things a lot more vividly than you do. And more correctly. Because the longer you remember something, the more time will be able to distort the reality. I thought that was really fascinating.”
More than once, Edwin mentioned the struggles of the people in his work—victims of crimes, wandering spirits, ancient gods marching in the time between nightfall and dawn—and how maybe it relates to his struggles as an artist. He’s still searching for those memories. Those pieces that are missing, but never completely lost. Those memories that can reappear as quickly and brightly as a flash of lightning. How he’s captivated by it.
“That’s what I like about the work that I’m doing, because when I’m working on a piece that’s very specific to time I can remember every little detail about it. I guess maybe that’s why I try to get almost too detailed about it. Because I can see everything so clearly and it’s so fun. That’s why sometimes when I’m working I’m like, ‘wow, I must be on the right track because this is bringing back a lot of things that I really love about life.’”
“And it’s a great feeling too, to be able to wake up and be so inspired. Once I get up I’m like, ‘I got to get to my table and start drawing this stuff.’”
(images c/o Edwin Ushiro)
All stories are copyright of Gregory Koutrouby and A Thousand Stories unless otherwise noted.