Kenzo Minami

Artist/Graphic Designer


New York City

In order to show you Kenzo's work in full effect we set up a special format.


CWC International

KM x BGHD t-shirt
Interview. Kenzo Minami

How did you get in touch with
I was painting the first mural painting I did for Nike at their space on Elizabeth Street, NYC. Gail was passing by with the Rabbit & purpletree guys, and they popped their heads in.

What are your favourite hunting grounds in NYC – or any other place?
St. Marks Book Store, Zakka, Other Music, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, as well as anywhere with good strong coffee.


Where are you from and how (and why) did you end up in NYC?
I am originally from Kobe, Japan, growing up in small town factory. Right before I left Japan at age 18, I had just gotten in to the university and was majoring in Philosophy. But since I always drew and built objects (I am sure this was just because this was one of the only things I could do to have fun at my father's factory), it was always back of my head and knew that I would eventually want to focus on it. So I quit university right away and moved to San Diego, since it was much cheaper to live, though my intention was to eventually move to New York... And I had to start somewhere (well, anywhere), because I didn't really speak English. So I learned to speak the language by hanging out with beach bums and moved to NYC to major in Industrial Design after almost a year being there.


What’s your field of ‘professional activity’ and how did you get to do what you’re doing?
During my second year [in the US], I was studying Industrial Design, and I started getting jobs as a set/prop designer for multiple medias - short films, MTV, Sci-Fi Channel, magazine photo shoots, and so on. At the same time, I was working with people from M.I.T. media labs on some projects as an interface designer. I eventually started shooting my own short films to combine everything I was doing (in a sense, to tell a story through loads of information and through interface). I essentially started doing graphic design solely because I wanted to put titles for these films...(Funny when I think of it now, these are back in a days of Jaz Discs, which nobody uses anymore, so all this stuff is pretty much trapped in those discs, probably forever, since I have no intention of buying a new Jaz Drive - if they even still make them - and go through all the discs.) Slowly, the graphic work got bigger in ratio to all the films, as I made more of those [graphic] films. So basically, they started off as shorts with a small title section, and eventually the title section took over and the films ended up as basically all title sequence [and graphics]. This led me to become a partner of a creative agency, Panoptic, with my partner Gary. And so as daytime profession, I function as partner/art director/designer of Panoptic. Here we do everything from TV campaigns to music videos.

My personal work somewhat came about as a combination of me going back to my roots to more concept driven work (well, at least for myself) and also as a reaction to all the commercial work I do in my daytime profession. It actually was never meant to be anything but amusement for my own sake... But since I encounter a lot of situations in commercial industry where either people don't want anything conceptual or they are simply incapable of getting it, all the ideas and concepts were piling up inside of me and my hard drive. I remember at one point, I wondepurple if someone would discover my hard drive and sketch book filled with stuff after I die... Or all will simply die with me. Seriously. So as I mentioned, I never really thought of doing anything with it apart from my friends asking me for my prints, etc. There was no master plan. I just went along with my friends for fun... And it ended up that a lot more people than I expected asked me to do "My Thing".

What’s your ratio between client work and personal work?
This is a tricky question. There is really no formula. Especially since the level of emotional involvement is completely different for these two modes, I don't really think I can explain it as a ratio. I am not saying that I am emotionally more involved in one compapurple to the other. They just come from completely different places. But essentially, my personal work is a more direct manifestation of how I think and perceive; I guess in every moment and every move I make in my life I am working on it, as much as this sounds like a complete cliché.

How would you describe your personal style?
Eric Satie meets Megadeth. Eco meets Douglas Adams. Controlled chaos. Mixing of diverse ideas and styles to somehow make its own self-contained sense [aesthetic], similar to what the French Surrealists did with their Word Games.

Are there certain colors, shapes that you are drawn to?
Colours so dark they are almost black.

Where do you get your inspiration?
Words. Sentences. The dictionary is one of the most inspiring sources in my studio when I am working.

What designer/idea/movement inspires you the most?

I still have weakness for guys like André Breton, Picabia, and Duchamp.


You were chosen to participate in a few Nike projects. how did those come about?
How things went regarding this was also quite random as well. According to what I heard, Matthew Clark, who is from Houston Gallery and who now works with Nike, saw a sticker of mine that a friend had and asked her who did it. He also asked Devon (Ojas) who he would recommend for the first show of new Nike Art Project space on Elizabeth Street. And he got the same name from both. And another time, the one I did in early September with four artists at the Chelsea Art Museum [in NYC], apparently came about completely differently. This time Neverstop contacted me and asked if I would do large painting for it. Even though Neverstop was also producing the show on Elizabeth Street, when I mentioned this, Alex (who contacted me) wasn't aware of it, because the one on Elizabeth Street was handled mostly by Whitney (of Neverstop). Also, the artists for the Elizabeth Street show were picked by Matthew Clark himself, who was not involved in the show at Chelsea Art Museum. (That's what I heard... I am still bit confused about how all these came about myself really.) And funny thing is that among the four artists, there were Ojas and JK5 who happened to be my friends.

Tell us about any other collaborations you have worked on before.
I did bunch of projects with DJ Hell (who contacted me from Munich, out of nowhere) and International DeeJay Gigolo. I did artwork and design for albums including Gigolo Compilation Vol.7 and also their image for Love Parade in Berlin this year. Also, two book projects with Surface 2 Air.

How have these collaborations changed your work? have they changed how you see your work?
The collaborations didn't necessarily change my work, though, of course, whatever you do in life somewhat effects your work on some level, so it's hard to say. The only aspect which started to change was how they [potential clients] approach me, which evidently effects my approach to my own work. Since I trained myself as a designer not an "Artist" for so long and am used to the whole design process, it took me a while to get used to the situation when people just let me do whatever I want. Essentially if I say a certain piece or project is complete, it is accepted as done... which is quite different from my approach as a designer. Because of this, I think I became more specific about my theme. Since too much freedom can get you lost, I use my theme behind the piece as framing principle. So theme became more important, not in a way to say "Look, I am clever, don't you think?," but to tie everything together for my own sake. The idea and theme behind the piece became more important to me, but at the same time, it also became less important if people got it or not. But some people seem to be getting it, so of course I enjoy that. It is encouraging to know that I wasn't just a weirdo with some crazy ideas. (Which, of course is a whole other discussion: what and who define weirdness in this society, but I won't go there. I still could be. Maybe people just became more accepting).

What are your next projects?
There is a new mural and another painting along with 2 artists (Kostas and S2A) for the store 'I Heart' which my friends are opening [BGHD: stay tuned, we'll give you all the details asap] and I am starting my garment project.

Who would you like to work with in the future?
I would like to do something with a Classical Music Composer.

What are your future plans? How do you see your personal style evolving?
Even though people associate me with a certain style now, as I mentioned above, I went through a lot of styles. I still cover diverse styles a lot of people haven't really seen under my own name. I think in the future, I will get to mix up more and, in the sense of people's expectations, I will get to surprise them. The fun part of this whole thing is to surprise... in a way that you build some style or idea or method completely and then, when everyone becomes comfortable with it, demolish it. I am also interested in the idea of remixing/mush-up of my old ideas and styles as well. Something like a singer-songwriter covering their own song, rather than just give it to somebody else to remix. I think this can be one of the interpretations of my ideas: mixing up diverse ideas and styles, in a way, I am mixing the myself of the present with the myself from the past.


What are your most beloved items?
* Joy Division + New Order Box set
* my watch
* dictionary
* 8 1/2 Criterion Collection DVD

Any comments/recommendations/hints/shouts?
Thanks to: Gary, JK5, Ojas, Matt and everyone at Nike, everyone at Neverstop, Koko and Azusa at CWC-I, DJ Hell, Crossover, Tommy, DK, Zakka, Bronwyn, Jacqui, S2A. And everyone who has given me support and understanding. Whatever I've done, am doing, and will be doing is all because of you guys. I am grateful.

Who should we interview next?


BGHD says thanks for the interview and the incpurpleible t-shirt design!

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