Charlotte Street Foundation identifies the needs and fuels the evolution of an ever-changing multidisciplinary arts ecosystem, acting as its primary provocateur. We cultivate the contemporary, the exceptional, and the unexpected in the practice of artists working in and engaging with the Kansas City Art Community
By Autumn Sauer
One look into the world of Fuko Ito‘s art will provide an ethereal and colorful thrill, but look longer and look closer. While Fuko’s art may feel unfamiliar at first, it warms up, becoming comforting and close. Her Plushscapes, filled with Fumblys and Shruggles, examine human relationships through a fresh and original lens.
Fuko graduated from the University of Kansas with a Master of Fine Arts last May and has rooted herself across the area since. Between her residency at Charlotte Street, teaching at Washburn University, working at the Lawrence Arts Center, and matting and framing works on paper at the Spencer Museum of Art, Fuko is constantly surrounded by artistic inspiration and community.
[Autumn]: How has your Charlotte Street residency been different from your master’s program at KU?[Fuko]: I think with grad school you have this smaller bubble, whereas Charlotte Street is more about the expansion from the residency. So you actually get to connect with people outside of the program, which was one thing that I found really hard to do in grad school. With Charlotte Street you’re opened up to not just visual artists, but also writers and performers—and that’s within the residency and beyond into the greater Kansas City area too. I really like that about being out of school.[Autumn]: Have you gotten to work on any collaborations yet?
[Fuko]: Not exactly. I worked with Front Space, it wasn’t a full collaboration, but I worked with them on the branding of Hot Hands. Also, I’ve been fortunate enough to connect with people on Instagram. I’m working on a collaborative publication with comic artists from Portugal, China, and the US, so that’s been kind of interesting. I’m interested in books as well. It’s a nice opportunity where I get to make larger works at the studio and at home and then I make smaller publications at the Lawrence Arts Center and with other people. I want to do more collaborative works for sure… I met a lot of people through the Kansas City Zine Fest and then me and my partner Eugene, who’s in the KU grad program, we’ve formed a drawing club with people from Lawrence and Kansas City. Some of them are students, some are not and they work creatively and non-creatively in their day jobs. So that’s been kind of nice reaching out to people.[Autumn]: Is there anything new you’ve been working on this year?[Fuko]: I’m trying to make a larger body of work. I have this series called Plushscapesthat have small or larger figures placed within the plushy environment, so I want to expand on that. I’m creating a larger drawing series for those. It’s more expansive in its scale and then also more explanatory of the ecosystem that my characters are in.
[Autumn]: What is that being inspired by?
[Fuko]: I’ve kind of left some things unfinished between exhibitions and little projects coming up. So now I’m going back and forth with things I’ve already worked on and wanting to expand those because they are still pretty new. I like looking at all sorts of images, like art, streaming, and news imagery. It’s really important—I call it a “visual diet.” If you have a good visual diet, then you see positive representations of affection, kindness, your community, and such. So I try to go off of that and try to create environments where those things are represented. In my work, I want to show affection and kindness, as well as dependency between individual creatures. I work with a very broad framework in terms of my ideas and then I try to embody them in different scenes with each drawing. I have a larger idea that is more articulated in each singular drawing.
[Autumn]: Where did this concept of the “visual diet” come from?
[Fuko]: A lot of artists of color don’t see themselves fully positively represented in imagery. Being Japanese, when I go to museums it’s always ancient Japanese art, not from like people today. Coming from Japan, I’m part of the majority there, but the minority here. But my experience is not Japanese-American. It’s always the kind of in-between. I think that when you see yourself positively represented, really when anything is positively represented, even when bad things are turned around in such a way, it’s way easier to be compassionate and more empathetic about the thing that you’re seeing. I mean watching the news is really depressing. I think one time I felt really depressed was when the earthquake in Japan happened in 2011. I was trying to catch up with what was happening, but just seeing how bad things were really brought me down. Having a conscious way of choosing what you’re looking at, even on Instagram I try to follow positive content, that can really change your mentality day-to-day.
[Autumn]: Are there any new mediums that you’ve been working in?
[Fuko]: I just started subbing for a pop-up book class at the Lawrence Arts Center. So I’m starting to think about creating more physical layers in two-dimensions. I’m thinking more about translating drawings into printed books and creating accessible printed matter that can be printed through the Riso or photocopied and then shared. There are a couple of design fests that I’m going to be attending in the summer, so I’m preparing for those too. I think it’ll be mostly drawings, colored pencil, and watercolor and then translating those images into books as well.
[Autumn]: What does your creative process look like?
[Fuko]: I actually like looking at religious imagery and I try to translate it so that it becomes more gender neutral and non-male narrative. I like seeing how Jesus is cradled or when you look in illuminated manuscripts all of the weird little interactions that occur there between peasants and royalty, those visual hierarchies are really interesting to me. I try to keep an eye out for specific imagery like that, but also just observe how I see affection between two people when I’m out somewhere. I really try to be as attentive as possible.
[Autumn]: Do you keep a sketchbook or anything like that? How do you keep track of all of these images and interactions?
[Fuko]: I do keep sketchbooks, but I also have keywords that I list down. I like having word webs where I start with one central idea and then become more specific. I also look at Google image searches to see generally what comes up. I try to get a consensus about words and their relationship to imagery, so it’s both what I observe and what I research.
[Autumn]: Is there anything else coming up for you?
[Fuko]: I got selected for the Kemper’s Women to Watch Paper exhibition. I didn’t even realize that Kansas City had a National Museum of Women in the Arts chapter, but they pick regional artists according to the medium they selected for the year. So I’ll be able to show my larger work, which has just been stacked between cardboard for some time now. Also, I’m going to be going to a Vermont Studio residency for printmaking. It’s a two-week residency up in Vermont and I’ll be participating in that in August.
[Autumn]: Do you see yourself staying in Kansas City?
[Fuko]: I think so. I mean it is really hard to juggle so many jobs—creative jobs just don’t pay well, but you know I really enjoy working at the Lawrence Arts Center, Washburn is a really cool school to be working at, and the Spencer is a great resource. It’s insane how Kansas City has so many opportunities for artists for free. It’s awesome that I get to be in this place and be part of it too. I think Kansas City is an awesome, supportive environment. I was in Chicago for undergrad and it’s a very adult art scene. It’s really hard for undergraduates and young artists to get involved, whereas Kansas City is really open to young artists showing, collaborating, and working with organizations. I feel like that’s really such a great attitude to have. I think Kansas City is super friendly for the arts and I really enjoy that.