Dreams of Paradise
Kyoko Nakamoto is an Okinawan artist whose paintings of “Paradise” show a world of beauty and vibrant colors where childlike inhabitants live simple, happy, and equal lives.
When did you start painting?
As a small child, I scribbled and painted all over the walls of our house. My mother never got angry, perhaps because we were living in a rented house. During high school, I knew I wanted to be a painter. However, when I went to university, I set aside my ambitions and chose to study business rather than art. After graduation, I got a job at an insurance company, but three days a week, I kept my dream alive by going to night classes at art school and slowly improving my skills. After ten years, I quit my job selling insurance and began working as an illustrator for magazines and packaging. Two years after that, I achieved my dream and became a full-time painter.
Was it hard to suddenly start a new career?
Of course, it was a tough decision. I had thought I should give up on my own dreams, I was married with three young children, and I had a job with a decent salary. But when I was 34 years old, I made up my mind to follow my own path, and at the same time I had the inspiration for the characters in my “Paradise” series.
Why do all your characters look so similar?
I didn’t want them to have a specific age or gender. They even have identical faces and hairstyles. Essentially, they all look the same, and this similarity shows the equality I imagine in paradise.
And the same clothes too?
Yes, they all wear little white robes. I chose white for its simplicity and purity. Also none of them wear shoes – I think being barefoot is very natural and gives a sense of freedom, so my “Paradise” characters never wear shoes.
So are they all meant to be perfect little people?
Not at all. They make mistakes, dropping things or even stealing. I guess you could say they have child-like qualities, but they’re not meant to be children.
Is your vision of paradise based on a real place?
I think it’s a mixture of my imagination, and places I have visited on my travels. I loved the mood of downtown New York, with people from all over the world living as one community. Some of the scenery in my paintings comes from the central coast of California when I once had an exhibition of my work. Above all, however, I am inspired by Okinawa. I love the weather, the people, even the air. I like to read and watch movies, but above all I like to travel. I think it’s important, especially for artists to experience new places and talk to people from different cultures.
Are you always so outgoing?
Sometimes, but I also need time by myself, to be quiet. I usually spend about 5 hours a day alone in my studio, but as an exhibition approaches, I become even more focused. I can spend 10 hours in front of my easel concentrating so hard I don’t even want to go to the bathroom.
What are your future plans or ambitions?
I’d love to have solo exhibitions in New York, Tokyo and Europe. I’m really interested in France and Italy, but I can only speak Japanese and English so maybe I’ll have to study some foreign languages first.
I hope to be able to offer something toward a more peaceful world. I’d like there to be more equality between people and countries, I understand it would be difficult, but it’s a dream of mine. And I think that everyone should be able to follow his or her dreams.
Kyoko’s gallery is located in Naha near Shuri Castle. Directions to the gallery along with more information about Kyoko and her paintings can be found at http://www.kyokoart.com/
Interview first published in Okinawa Living Magazine, November 2008.