Gouache painting breakfast by Yuko Kyutoku

GUEST ARTIST: “Leading Life Through Art” by Yuko Kyutoku

My name is Yuko Kyutoku, and I am a contemporary artist and art therapist from Japan, currently based in New York. I come from a doctor’s family that appreciates art very much. My parents decorated our house with paintings on the walls. My father used to teach me about different kinds of music, such as Elvis Presley’s rock & roll and Beethoven’s classical compositions. My grandmother is also a painter who had many solo shows throughout Japan. My father encouraged me to take many art lessons when I was a child because he knew that I loved creating art, and he believes I have talent. I thus took many art classes at a community center and learned collage, painting, sculpture, and drawing. I remember that whenever I created art, I felt that I could be myself and enjoy myself.

Blue Coffee Drink

I kept creating artwork regularly, and my parents displayed it whenever I made art in the house. Making art makes both my parents and me proud. My parents also took me to many museums to see exhibitions regularly. I also received art books on my birthday. I loved Tasha Tuder‘s children’s book, which my parent’s doctor friend gave me. I also loved when my grandmother talked about artwork and we visited her studio, observing her cool easel and smelling art materials.

When I became a teenager, I started to be influenced by American cultures. I was fascinated by classic American movies such as Gone with the Wind, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, It’s a Wonderful Life, etc. I also loved watching Chaplin films, and reading biographies of American actresses. I started making sketches after I watched a movie or read a book. I loved listening to American music, especially that of Elvis Presley, James Brown, Janis Joplin and Aretha Franklin who appeared to very authentically express their identities through their music. These films and musicians are still my influences today, and I sometimes write down some lyrics from their songs or dialogue from movies and include the text in my art, lending to a transformative creative process.

Coffee in Blue

Watching American culture through the media, I dreamed of coming to the United States and studying art. But first, I studied abroad in London, England. While I was staying there, I visited as many museums as I could. They have a variety of artworks, and each piece I saw there made me dream of becoming an artist and creating art in the future. I then came to America to pursue my education in the visual arts.

I started studying arts at Westchester Community College and then transferred to SUNY Purchase College in New York, where I started studying fine art in drawing and painting for printmaking, and received many scholarships and awards, including the Junior Choice Award. I also studied lots of different artists around the world, and my eyes were opened to the number of different styles and the various ways artists were using their talents to create artworks.

I also had my first solo exhibition in Japan and had hundreds of visitors at the show. My show was featured by a major newspaper, Seikyo Shimbun, in Japan, which was a most remarkable experience.

During my senior year, I was searching for my unique style. I experimented with a variety of materials, including gel pens, gouache paints, watercolor, printmaking, inks, Sumi inks, oil, pens, pastel drawings, and others, and I discovered a love of gouache, particularly Japanese gouache brands, Sakura Paints, for my mediums to use in my art. I loved using the Turner brand because it gives me rich, deep, and thick textures in my art. I also realized that I love Japanese art, especially ukiyo-e paintings, which use deep blue colors that fascinated me. I was very happy when I found the Japanese art brand, Turner Acrylic Gouache. I also discovered that the brand carries Japonesque, a series of traditional Japanese color paints.

I love using Japanese gouache because of the graphic quality that I can create. It gives the artwork thick and rich colors; however, it still has smooth qualities since it is a sprayer-based medium. Many artists have commented that my art is graphic, which I like. I can still mix with water and other colors, and it gives me the ability to create fluid textures on the surface, which is also fun to play with. I love seeing the richness of the gouache paints and exploring more colors while mixing traditional Japanese colors with other colors and other pigments such as glitters and marble powders.

In terms of style in art, I love both contemporary artworks and classical paintings. I admire classical landscapes, portraits, and other types that used many extraordinary skills; however, I also enjoyed thinking about new ideas and new perspectives expressed in many contemporary artworks, such as those by Damien Hirst.

After I graduated from SUNY Purchase College, I researched my career path so that I could support others more. Growing up in a medical family, I have also always had an interest in supporting others. I engaged in many volunteer activities internationally, such as with Mother Teresa Missionaries of Charity in Kolkata, an orphanage in Cambodia, and homeless shelters in Japan. Then I learned about art therapy. Art therapy is psychotherapy that utilizes art and art therapists’ work in various clinical settings such as hospitals, homeless shelters, community centers, and prisons. I found my calling in art therapy and decided to make it my profession. I then started studying for my master’s degree in art therapy at New York University.

During my master’s program, I had many internships where I worked with various populations in clinical settings, such as children with disabilities, adults with mental health issues, high school students with family issues, and seniors. I loved how art can be a powerful tool for helping clients in many different ways. I also used watercolors and gouache to create my reflection journals and artwork during this time. Artmaking has always brought me joy, peace, excitement, and happiness. I still have the artworks I made during the master’s program, which serve as reminders of a great time in my life.

New York Botanical Gardens Painting Gouache #3

I’m quite methodical in my approach to art. I enjoy being able to document and record things by creating art from what I’ve seen and learned, from my travels, from people I’ve met, from things I’ve seen, from movies I’ve watched, from museums I’ve visited, and from memories I’ve made. I am infinitely inspired by mundane topics, things we can find every day and things that can provide us with beauty, meaning, and happiness.

Nowadays, the tools I use are Japanese gouache paints, Turner Acrylic Gouache, white gel pens, black gel pens, Stonehenge paper, and watercolor paper. The brushes I use vary, but a standard set from ARTIFY will usually do me fine, and for more creative applications, I love the quality of Grabie brushes. I also love using some big, wide Japanese brushed bamboo, which creates interesting textures.

In past years, I had a solo exhibition at the General Consulate of Japan in New York. My works were selected to represent Japanese culture as well as the exchange of culture between Japan and the United States. I believe art transcends culture and language barriers, and this was one of my dreams come true.

I currently work at a children’s hospital in the city as a therapist. I provide art therapy sessions for clients where I see positive impacts on their lives while creating art and showing their art to others. I hope that continuing to share my work will encourage future creatives to discover what they’re capable of. Also, I hope to contribute to society by using my abilities and skills to make others’ lives better and happier.

Yuko Kyutoku

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