Born in Kanagawa and living in what seems like in near-constant travel between Los Angeles and Japan, Kio Griffith is an interdisciplinary artist working across graphic design, print-making, sculpture, sound, video, assemblage, writings, and installation. As he relishes the materiality of found and appropriated objects and images infused with the cross-cultural history in which he perpetually dwells, he often mines his own richly complex family history for personal experiences which create insights into a broader geopolitical context even as they touch on modern-day issues of immigration and hyphenate identities. His current exhibition in the art gallery on board the USS Iowa Museum examines both his family’s history with the Pacific War.
L.A. WEEKLY: When did you first know you were an artist?
KIO GRIFFITH: It was during a gradual and assuring process in which my father’s earliest friend, Yoshiki, a struggling graduate art student of Tokyo University of the Arts (Geidai), babysat and taught me what a brush, ink and pencil could do as a return favor for free boarding at our modest home in Kamakura. No words were exchanged. Just a simple ‘call and response’ by mark-making layer over layer on washi.
What is your short answer to people who ask what your work is about?
If it exists — a single encapsulating word amid eclipsing sights and sounds. A word that is conveniently out of reach which I look for interpretations, translations, transcriptions and nuance.
What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist?
In elementary school, I fantasized about being a bus driver; in junior high, a manga writer; in high school, a cyclist journalist; and in college, a CIA agent or aging punk rocker. What now? An interstellar ferry boatman. Lol.
Did you go to art school? Why/Why not?
My undergrad was at Otis Parsons School of Design, which was in MacArthur Park in the ‘80s. I couldn’t have picked a better time to have begun my L.A. experience in the quagmire of Reaganomics, dystopian pre-1984 Olympics, hardcore street-smart culture, and a formidable faculty under the supervision of chair Sheila de Bretteville. Incidentally, I am currently halfway through my graduate degree at UC Santa Barbara. This was an opportunity that came from Jane Mulfinger, contemporary artist and professor at the university. Three decades later, I’m finding myself involved in another timely situation working and learning alongside a new generation of emerging artists.
Why do you live and work in L.A., and not elsewhere?
While I primarily live and work in L.A. a fraction of the year is spent in Japan. L.A. is a malleable, amorphous and exceptionally modular city. Having L.A. as home base has opened up numerous chance operations, and involvement in the long tradition of the West Coast leadership integration with socially aware arts support communities. The view from here is real.
When was your first show?
Although I’ve had been fortunate to participate in many group shows, my first ever L.A. solo exhibition just happened recently in January 2018 at the legendary L.A. Artcore, organized by the late Lydia Takeshita. She was extraordinarily generous and kind, and her efforts went beyond and above expectations, always looking ahead for her artists.
When is/was your current/most recent/next show?
My current exhibition is Coral Sea: The Unsung Battle of the South Pacific on the battleship USS Iowa’s gallery, Alfa Romeo Tango (A.R.T.) founded by artist and friend, Ben Jackel. This show’s concept is based on the bi-national heritage of my Japanese grandfather who was an admiral of the Imperial Japanese Navy and the U.S. family involvement in the Pacific War. The theme’s focus expounds on the counterpoint of enemy/family, bi-cultural nuances, and the double narrative that coexists in my familial history. The show is on view until November 6.
There are a few shows coming up this fall; “Centennial: 100 Years of Otis Alumni” which opens September 7; De Saisset Museum’s “Unbound: The Art Of Deterioration” opening October 3; and a Fluxus-infused performance at Aichi Triennale 2019 on October 4.
What artist living or dead would you most like to show with?
I’ve been thinking a lot about the half-Japanese representation in the artworld and history and it seems that most roads lead to Isamu Noguchi. It would have been an honor to have met and spent time with him.
Alternatively, this is a funny question because I have made a piece titled, “I have nothing to make and I am making it” (2017), thought up as an imaginary séance collaboration with John Cage, Jack Kerouac, Edmund Burke and Jack Kennedy as the Fab Four. If the nation asks what the people could do for their country and in return bite away opportunities at the slightest sign of scarcity when there are no grains to make bread, but lies to forge bullets, the land to lay on yanked from beneath and time-crunched into a vice, then where is the new sanctuary.
Do you listen to music while you work? If so what?
Part of my practice is incorporating music, either composing or performing in improvisational form, or using sound as a medium in installation work that investigates its physical properties and emotional quotient. Music for work sometimes does not work for me as it could be distracting or have an unintended influence, for better or otherwise. I prefer silence.
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