We recently had the pleasure of having a hand painted mural installed by talented artist BUKAU. The mural spans the ceiling and part of the walls of the entrance to our studio in downtown Los Angeles. Upon completion of the project, we interviewed the man himself on his process, his mindset, and what he learned from the experience.
First off, can you tell us what BUKAU means?
BUKAU doesn’t mean anything persé… it is a name I came up with when I was very young, 10 or so.
I wasn’t sure what it was for yet, but I really liked the letters and the sound of the word. It sounds like something very rare..
Tell us about your history with KERISMA and how you came to do a mural in their studio.
Actually, I was previously an employee at KERISMA. Prior to moving to their downtown studio, I worked as their graphic designer/photographer catering to their overall aesthetics and social media needs. Some examples being lookbook design, implementation of marketing strategies and aid in the photography of collections. When Lihui proposed I paint something in the new studio, I jumped for the opportunity.
You come from a multi-talented & multi-ethnic background, how has it affected your work?
Hmm.. I can’t really say how it affects my work directly. The things I do and my heritage IS what I am if that makes sense. When I started making art though I was living in Kanazawa, Japan, my birthplace. At that point I was just experimenting and trying to go in A direction. It was really important for me to connect with people though, it has always been about them, not me.
Previously, my art alias used words that are already in the English language. When I decided to leave that name alone I was also going through a drastic change internally. Remembering that childhood name I thought, instead of having a name that ‘translates’ what I am doing into words, I should use a name that has no prior reference. That way the work I create IS the definition of BUKAU. A language of sorts.
Tell us about the design of this particular piece, what was the inspiration?
The name of this piece is "Maybe Forever". As I said before, my artwork is more about well.. not me. I see the pattern as a reflection of the people surrounding it, or the beings I have encountered prior. It is all about the each of us being a different vibe, frequency.. or shape, and how we form around each other to make up something larger. This piece is the culmination of my recent observations, people I have come in contact with and surroundings. Then maybe sprinkle in a little Michaelangelo..?
Being that this is your very first mural, how did the scale shift affect your design & execution process?
Luckily in how we executed the design, it turned out exactly as imagined. The size and it being on the ceiling definitely complicated things though. I might second guess hand painting such a large piece laying down 12 feet above a stairwell next time…
This piece is ambitiously partially located on the ceiling. Tell us how you managed that and your thoughts on the location of the piece as a whole.
Well.. it was a doozy. I used a special type of scaffolding for stairwells and built a platform for me to lay on. It took maaaany many hours of readjusting the platform, disassembling and rebuilding the scaffolding multiple times.. all while not spilling any paint and taking regular breaks to go wash my brush every hour or so. I am blessed to have started on such a challenging mural to paint. Considering the medium I used, most would consider it to be a fools errand. From this though, I have gained an extreme amount of experience and wisdom.
What are some of the key lessons you've learned specifically about painting murals, and what would you do differently in the future?
Hmmm.. I will definitely make sure to assess the different possible mediums. Honestly, the biggest thing is to work smarter and not harder. That was a huge lesson. Granted though, this was the only way to execute this mural. I am a perfectionist, and it being indoors made it crucial for it to be perfect.
You've mentioned to us previously that you experience synesthesia. Can you explain what that is and how it relates to your art?
Yes! Synesthesia is a neurological phenomenon where the observer experiences visual changes triggered by what they are seeing, hearing, and more. It is different in most cases, types varying from seeing colors when hearing sounds to letters and numbers appearing to have a colored tinge. While painting this mural, I happened upon a podcast that explained it more thoroughly. Having known about the color-based synesthesia I was surprised to hear that there is a shape based variation.
Since I was a child I described tastes and feelings as shapes. There have been many instances where I explained the vibe of a person I had just met to a friend as, “Not quite a triangle, but not quite a circle. More sharp.” for example. Since I had already developed the concept behind my pattern a year or so ago, I was startled at the coincidence. Maybe it was more-so the cause of the pattern..? Who knows.
This entire mural was meticulously hand painted and we often saw you with your headphones on while working. What were some of the things you listened to while you painted?
Many many many many podcasts! I definitely do love listening to music when painting, but as this was such a painstaking and detailed effort, I deferred to educating myself while I do it! Some podcasts I recommend are Stuff You Should Know, Stuff They Don’t Want You To Know, Planet Money and Freakanomics. I have to say.. in the duration of painting this mural I have learned SO MUCH. Being a human in future earth is truly a blessed thing.
It seems like painting these precise lines would be very zen. Any reoccurring thoughts as you painted?
Hmm.. no, none in particular. As you said, it is very zen, so I tend to zone out and not think about much at all, unless I’m listening Planet Money or something. hehe.
What have you learned from this experience?
Wow.. truly so much. I have learned to NEVER UNDERESTIMATE a project. To play out each step in my mind and look for all possible problems that could occur. Humans tend to be very hopeful, so I make sure to keep myself sharp and confront potential insecurities. Also I have learned the worth of time. Thanks to this mural and it taking 5 times longer than anticipated, I now have a crucial understanding of how quickly every second, minute and hour passes. Don’t waste time, spend it.. and spend it wisely.
What do you have planned next?
Heheh, the list is endless. But in particular I will be concentrating on my current body of work. My previous solo exhibition was in Japan in 2013, so it is long overdue. The time I have taken these past months has allowed me to flesh out what exactly I want BUKAU to be. Stay tuned..
Where can people go to view more of your work?
You can find my work at bukau.com! Also @bukaustudio on instagram + twitter. Oh and I have just unveiled my blog, where I post my inspiration and other vibes. Find it at feel.bukau.com. Lastly but not least, to anyone reading.. Follow through is everything. Be it.