Tokyo is a city not short on youth-driven creative energy. It’s almost infinitely populated by a steady influx of supremely talented creatives who roll in, see what all the fuss is, make their mark and continue on their journey, leaving behind footprints that in the future will become a marker inspiring those who follow in their wake.
One such creative is Tatyana Jinto Rutherston, a young painter and photographer who has spent the best part of a year in Tokyo exploring her Japanese roots, working at NYLON magazine, painting, taking photos and adding to the cultural evolution of the city.
Her work, which is predominantly shared on Instagram at the moment (with a promised website in the works), is a fascinating reflection of creative development, personal evolution, everyday beauty and contemporary western-Japanese culture in 2018’s Tokyo. We spoke with Tatyana about her creative endeavours, growing up in London, and the influence of ukiyo-e on her work.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
My name is Tatyana Jinto Rutherston. I am half Japanese, half British and I grew up in London. I have completed two years of study at Leeds University, majoring in Fine Art with History of Art. I am about to complete my nine-month stay in Tokyo where I have been working for NYLON Japan magazine. It has been an incredible experience, but I now need to return to the UK to complete my final year of education.
In a recent article for Girl Dem, you wrote, “I have just embarked on my nine-month stay in Tokyo in order to discover more about my Japanese heritage.” Can you tell us a little about your experience, what inspired it, and what you’ve learned about yourself living in Tokyo?
London is a multicultural city, so I never felt too ostracised whilst growing up. It was only when I moved to Leeds that I became more conscious of how out-of-touch I felt to my Japanese heritage. I have been going to Japan twice a year since I was born, and speak the language fluently (with poor writing and reading skills) but it wasn’t enough for me.
Creatively, in the studio, I wanted to focus on Japanese themes, but it felt false making work about things I had never experienced. I also experienced micro-aggression towards my Japanese identity and it was this bizarre sensation of being discriminated against for being Japanese whilst not knowing the ‘other’ that they were attacking. It was then that I decided it was time to take a year out and move to Tokyo.
I needed to connect to Japan; I owed it to myself and my mother. It’s sort of difficult to put in writing all the things I have learned about myself and this country because it’s extremely personal and probably only relevant to myself. Generally speaking, I would say that Japan is beautiful, sad, exciting and lonely at the same time, but I think this goes for most big cities in the world.
A lot of the work you share on your Instagram explores femininity and symbols of Japanese culture. How much has your heritage influenced your work? Is it something that’s come to light since living in Japan or has it been an ongoing motif prior to your time here?
The first time I made a work of art that was inspired by Japanese culture was for my second-year art show. I made an installation inspired by Sadako Sasaki and her attempts to make a thousand paper cranes. I had been to Hiroshima with my mother and was so moved by her story so decided to make work about it.
It felt good to make work that allowed me to utilise my creative skills, whilst also connecting me to a historically critical moment in Japanese history. Furthermore, the exhibition allowed me to share part of Japanese culture to my peers. I sat with people and spoke with them about Hiroshima and the atomic bomb, while also teaching them how to make origami paper cranes. Since coming to Japan, I am connecting to these themes and motifs that surround me every day.
By utilising Japanese motifs in my artwork, I have to research their context, which lets me learn more about Japan whilst also sharing them with my audience. But my work is not just a copy of Japanese themes, my work is personal, and I want to depict anxieties or narratives that I experience.
Your style is so strangely unique but familiar (semi ukiyo-e vibe but still super modern); how did you learn to paint? Do you have any specific inspirations? What materials do you typically use?
My father deals in Japanese antiques, in particular, netsuke. His good friend and my godfather, Israel Goldman, is one of the great dealers in Japanese prints. Add into that equation a Japanese mother who is a fashion designer, I have grown up surrounded by Japanese imagery and aesthetic.
I spend a lot of time with my father and godfather going to galleries and auctions. Most recently, I went to Ota Memorial Museum with my godfather. The museum houses many beautiful ukiyo-e prints and undoubtedly this is such a huge source of inspiration for my style of painting. I love the linearity of woodblock prints, which is probably why my paintings look similar in aesthetic style. Another inspiration is my mother – her sense of style in her designs but in particular the colours that she uses, I constantly utilise. Since coming to Japan, seeing the work of Toshio Saeki has also motivated me to explore Japanese themes.
With regards to learning how to paint, it has been a weird journey. At school I painted female nudes constantly in oil, in a semi-realistic manner. I found it hard at university because although I enjoyed the female nudes, it wasn’t expressing anything personal to me. I felt a lot of anxiety because I felt I couldn’t make anything ‘good’ unless if looked ‘real’. It is only since coming to Japan that I have started painting again, but this time in a much more illustrative style in acrylic/gouache. I hate acrylic but in my tiny Tokyo apartment, I don’t have the time or money to be using oil. I am excited to return to the UK so I can start using oils again, and see what way my work will develop.
Where you do paint?
Currently I paint in the flat I share with my mother. I paint either sitting on the floor with the paper taped to wall or the kitchen table. It’s very frustrating to work in such a small space but I have to make do with what I have.
Do you have a favourite piece of work you’ve done?
I don’t have a favourite piece because I don’t see my paintings as individual pieces. For me, my paintings are all pieces that come together to make a body of work. They are stepping stones in helping me to understand myself and my identity.
Beyond painting, what other artistic mediums have you explored?
Apart from making artwork, I am also an aspiring photographer. I have taken thousands of photos whilst being in Japan. When I have a camera in my hand I am honestly so content.
It was looking at my photos that inspired me to start painting. I do a lot of street photography, which requires capturing a fleeting moment in everyday life. I love that in the second that you press the shutter, you can capture a mundane subject and make it an interesting image.
The thing I love and hate about film photography is not knowing how the images will turn out. It is definitely a blessing and a curse, more often than not you make mistakes but sometimes these are happy mistakes that are actually super interesting images.
You’ve been working at NYLON for a while; what was your role? What have you learned?
I started out as an intern but was then promoted to assistant editor. I have done a number of different jobs including, interviewing, prop making, photographing, modelling and just in general, advising creatively. I have learnt so much about the magazine industry and will forever be grateful for this opportunity. I loved assisting shoots as I learnt a lot about the shooting process, which is something that I might be interested in pursuing in the future.
What’s next for you?
I have to go back to finish university, but as soon as that’s done I am planning to move to Melbourne, September 2019. Apart from this, I have absolutely no idea where life will take me. I have no set plan for my career, but one thing I am certain of is that it must be fulfilling and allow me to actively invest my creative direction and visions.
Where can we check out your stuff?
I am currently planning on making a website, but until, then my Instagram will be the best place to view my work/ hear of any exhibitions or events I am taking part in. I also have a photography Instagram account. I am also currently in the process of making prints of my paintings so I will keep you posted on when these are done!