PESU, Japanese expat living in NYC, paints stories for crowds on mic and on canvas. His artwork is fun, colorful and full of minute details for his audience to discover and decode. Since arriving on the east coast, his success has grown exponentially: participating in independent live art shows and in MTV’s Art Battles, having his own gallery shows, featuring in Lupe Fiasco’s Day Dreamin’ video, being an Evisu artist, and now becoming an artist art-buyers look for, painting 150 pieces in 2007 and selling over 120 of them.
“We need to appreciate our ancestors and the culture that we have created for us as well as find the best way to live with nature.”
Format: First off, where does your pseudonym, PESU, come from?
Pesu: When I was a graffiti writer in Japan, my nickname was ESU. Since I moved to California I’ve a painted a lot, and it popped into my mind that I could call myself a professional painter. Putting professional in front of ESU, I chose to become a real professional painter, so you know, Professional ESU became PESU.
Format: You left Japan in 2001 to go to California. Did you feel a lack of appreciation for artists and individual personalities there? Or was it more to satisfy your curiosity and seek inspiration in a new place?
Pesu: Both. Like for example, my graffiti was erased whenever I painted in Tokyo or in my hometown, so I felt like “don’t kill my baby!” I came to the States expecting people to admire my graffiti work. Also, I wanted to feel American culture.
Format: Are you ever nostalgic of Japan? Do you plan to return in the future as an established artist?
Pesu: Yeah, sure! I love Japan so much and really want to see my family and friends who I love. Though the fact is, I have too much youth and energy and I need to explore the world and brush up my skills. I also think the speed of growth for artists is completely different whether you are in Japan or the States. Finally, I feel I should work like there’s no tomorrow while I am young in the States because I was born in Japan and can come back to Japan anytime.
Format: Then you were off to NY. What did you find in New York that you were lacking in Cali?
Pesu: I don’t know, but I can say I’ve been struggling to live the life I want to lead because I feel positive and negative vibes from the people I’ve been kicking around with in NY.
Format: A few words on Old-Soulz?
Pesu: I founded Old Soulz Entertainment with my man, Yaz, in California three years ago. We share the same mission towards art (music), peace, and nature. We have other painters, DJs, music producers, photographers, videographers and more. We work and hang out with same minded people with similar visions. Old-Soulz is based on the idea that, as human beings, we need to appreciate our ancestors and the culture that we have created for us as well as find the best way to live with nature. Our goal is to spread these ideas while entertaining people at the same time with different varieties of art forms.
Format: How important is it, to progress, to collaborate with other artists?
Pesu: It is so important to collaborate with other artists! Artists I am collaborating with right now are going to be like Picasso or Dali in the future, and I want to be like one of them as well. As we are painting together, artists are like brothers and if we work together it would be synergistic to each other. We can make great art together that we wouldn’t be able to do by ourselves. One person could be good, two could make it twice as good, and three people could do three times better. Above all, it motivates me a lot by collaborating with artists in NY. Art is liberating, and isn’t it fun that freedom keeps multiplying when you collaborate with other artists?
Format: Your paintings are like a cartoon for adults, filled with messages and codes. Would an animation project interest you?
Pesu: If I had the chance, I would do it. By the way, I grew up with and influenced from reading Japanese Manga.
Format: Weed and the pothead make regular appearance in your pieces.
Are they a source of inspiration or just an honest look at our generation?
Pesu: All of the characters in my paintings are Pesu, myself. If I am happy, I draw happy characters, but if I am sad, they would be sad characters. “Life is Art.” I am just painting what I feel honestly and put myself into my arts. If my life is boring, I only paint boring paintings. But if my life is happy, it would be happy paintings. But, if I am high, it would be high and crazy paintings. Anyways, I am usually high [laughs].
Format: You don t only paint but you also rap. What first attracted you to the hip-hop movement when you were in Japan? Who first inspired you to rap?
Pesu: When I was younger and my life was tough, my heart was moved when I saw graffiti. Graffiti was there for people to see anytime, even though the artist who had painted it was gone. Then, I started to do graffiti because I wanted to paint my existence on walls and move people, like when I saw graffiti the first time. While doing graffiti, I met many friends who rap, so I naturally started to rap because I thought that would be cool.
Format: What do you find in hip-hop and music that completes your visual expression and painting?
Pesu: I find life. I find real present conditions, messages, soul, joy, sadness, and other emotions from music. My life equals art. It is improved by feeling sympathy for and by learning how each artist’s music was created with their life. And my life is still improving from it.
Format: What do you have planned for us now? We know we can see you every Thursday at Libation, Fridays at Aura, or even painting in Central Park, but any special projects you want to share?
Pesu: We have special event “Jazzlicious,” a tribute to Miles Davis on May 25th, which is his birthday. We want respect to the legendary jazz musician who created path of music and influenced so many people.
One of my dreams is to stop war and struggle through my art work, so I am planning to work on projects relating to my ambition. Nowadays, I am painting a lot of “Free Tibet” paintings because I want to educate others on the situation over there. I am even planning a large “Free Tibet” event. I am also releasing a Japanese rap album by the end of the year.