On paper, their work stretches your perception of what is possible with pens, brushes and scissors. But in a casual webcam chat, Rob Sato and Ako Castuera are feasting on a single slice of pizza on their couch in Los Angeles, and Ryohei Tanaka is sitting in Kris Chau’s Tokyo hotel room eating chestnuts. Sato and Castuera, his pals, are laughing at Tanaka for taking screenshots of himself with his phone like an old person. Webcam chats are new for him. Chau revealed in an email that he essentially lives in a secret ‘80s time bubble somewhere in Tokyo, constantly creating art and happily living in the past, so the screenshot thing makes perfect sense.
“Well, that would have been magic in the ‘80s,” Sato realizes, defending Tanaka.
The four international artists are being featured in Ako Ryohei Rob: New Work & Then Some, a group show at Space 1026, opening on First Friday. According to L.A.- and Philly-based curator/artist Chau, this will be the first show together for the longtime friends, and her final curated show at the gallery. Admitting there are few real plans for it, Chau says, “If you give the three of them an empty room, they’ll come up with something. Shows like this never happen in Philadelphia.”
The four artists met while studying and living in Oakland, Calif. at California College of Arts and Crafts (now California College of the Arts), bonding over food and sharing ideas. “That’s how we met, like eating, hanging out … and eating,” says Castuera. “We just had similar interests: We want to eat and laugh at stuff and make art and get better at drawing and get better at putting stuff together that’s entertaining for people.”
“And that’s still true to this day,” adds Chau.
Beyond showing her dinosaur-laden watercolors, whimsical illustrations and homemade clay ceramics, Castuera makes a living as storyboard artist for the Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time, about a little boy and his magical, shape-shifting dog. When on break from the show, Castuera makes a point to tap into “the zone.” Her dreamy little world of fossil-filled hillsides, earth-dug clay creatures and fantastical landscapes all come from this place—which is really her way of explaining her imagination, a word she is simply not satisfied with.
“I’m trying to work beyond my conscious mind, searching for something that I couldn’t plan,” she says. “The zone lies beyond the realm of literal, linear thinking. I can’t always get there, but for me, it’s the ideal place to create from.”
She says that storyboarding and art are two different things. “It is constant struggle. You want to give everything your best, but that is not possible. You have to be selective, and it hurts to cut things out that you love. You have to pick and be patient, and try to get Rob to cook and clean everything.”
And when Sato is not cooking and cleaning, he says, creating art is his full-time job. “I always have something to do. There’s never been a part of my life when I haven’t had a lot of projects that I just need to get out of my head.”
While describing the piece “Unearthing,” which is kind of like Jack and the Beanstalk meets Transformers, Sato says: “I wanted to make something that was lifting off, coming apart and coming back down to earth at the same time.” This lofty and bizarre goal seems to guide his work, as he jumps from images of traffic and bridges swirling around a black-hole tunnel to stampeding zombie horse races—and even one dainty painting of a family shooting at its runaway flying home.
Tanaka, the quietest member of the discussion, said the most while snipping through a quick papercut. He seems focused and patient, but swears he’s quite the opposite. His thousands of papercuts, manga-influenced drawings and paintings are the work of a dedicated art monk.
“If we did not have to make art, if this was not in me, then I could go home and watch TV and have a life,” Chau says, as Castuera and Sato applaud. “I would be so blissfully ignorant of this thing that’s in me.”
Opening reception is Fri., Oct. 5, 7 to 10pm, with the artists, and live all-request papercuts by Ryohei Tanaka. Show runs through Oct. 26. Space 1026, 1026 Arch St. 215.574.7630. space1026.com
Calendar: Aug. 26-Sept. 2