Artist Spotlight - Akira Leisure
By Angelyn Labadan
1. First, give us a short introduction!
Hi, my name is Akira Leisure. I’m a biracial and transmasculine artist and I’m currently a junior at Temple University Japan Campus (TUJ). I’m Japanese and American and was born in Japan, but I’ve also lived in America and South Korea before moving back here.
2. Describe briefly the work that you do.
I primarily make drawings but often expand into other media such as photography, painting, printmaking, mixed media and some writing; my work focuses on human beings and the constructs, concepts and norms we’ve made and keep up with, such as the notion of gender, history and memory. I simply draw humans in a bare state and try to build off what comes before or after that state.
How did you get introduced to your craft?
I’ve been drawing since I was little,but I studied art both by myself and in schools. I’ve gained a lot of experience and knowledge about art through self-research on the internet and being exposed to all kinds of artists and their different disciplines, starting from manga and anime and then fine arts and contemporary art.
When I entered Temple, I had only practiced mainly drawing and painting, but when I was introduced to printmaking I realized there are so many more types of media I can work with.
I find printmaking to be fascinating because it allows me to expand on my drawing practice through other forms, such as linocut, monotyping and screenprinting.
Each medium has a different aesthetic and process to it, and both of these things really make me appreciate not only how it transforms my drawings, but also the time and effort it takes to make these prints.
4. What themes do you pursue?
My work roughly revolves around the theme of identity and memory and focus specifically on h
ow gender, mental illness, nostalgia and emotions (such as loneliness) affect it all. What I make is influenced by the relationship I have with my identity.
There’s multiple aspects to my expression of this, including gender, nationality, race and mental illness. Each of these things affect my identity and also in turn affect how I view these parts of who I am. I try to express this inner dialogue through pursuing these themes.
5. How do you work/what is your process like?
My process is pretty random. I might sometimes draw something on my sketchbook without much thought, and if I like it enough I’d add more to it to finish it into a “presentable” artwork. Other times I might sit down and start something with the intention of making “an artwork”, but it also is a random process of trial and error of what looks good.
I don’t plan on how I want to make something and it’s often improvised or based on a loose idea. As I work on something, the idea becomes solidified the more I work on it, and in the end what I come out with might be different from what I started with, but it still is an outcome based on the relationship I have “talking” to the piece.
6. Do you have any long-standing influences?
I have countless influences from being exposed to all kinds of artists online, but the sensibility I want to keep in my art is influenced by Andrew Wyeth, Jenny Holzer, On Kawara among many others.
I’m also influenced by critical theory mainly regarding art and gender. I’d say a lot of abstract ideas inform what I put into my art more often than visuals do.
I am inspired by all kinds of media and the effect it has on me emotionally, intellectually and so on.
7. How do you want your work to affect your audience?
I want people who look at my art to try and think about why something is depicted the way it is. I draw so much that sometimes I kind of lose sight of what I might be putting into my drawings, and I’m always interested in what someone else has to think about in my art. It’s kind of like finding meaning in my art through others’ interpretation. It might sound simplistic, but I think it reflects the way our own lives work as well; others inform and shape who you are, and you do the same to others too.
I also mainly want people to challenge their notions of gender. I live the experience of questioning my gender through being transgender and because of it, it’s become something normal for me. But for many people, this idea might even be surprising.
I want people to think, what gender is this person? Why does it matter? What parts of this person makes me think they are a certain gender?; empathy comes from informing oneself of a certain experience, so I want people who aren’t familiar or well-versed in ideas like feminism and queer theory to consider the ideas found in these places through my art.
I hope that through questioning or understanding, they can take away a level of understanding of not just myself as a person but also the experiences of people like me.
8. Can you describe your idea of artistic success?
The simplest form of success for me would be to know many people have seen my art and know they’ve taken away something from it. To think someone interpreted my work and came to their own understanding about it and also have been affected emotionally to some degree would mean a lot to me. Each piece I make contains a part of me, whether that be a memory or experience, so to have people understand a work would also mean they tried to understand me.
I would also say monetary success is also important, but it kind of depends on how that money is being made. I’ve sold shirts with my prints on it and the appreciation people express for them means just as much as the monetary aspect of it.
9. What are your plans for the future?
I’ve entertained the idea of graduate school after I finish my undergraduate in Temple. There’s much more that I want to say and study through art but sometimes also have a hard time doing this visually. I imagine graduate school could allow me to express what I have to say much more and also give me better ideas on how to express them.
10. Let’s talk about one of your most recent and favorite projects:
I MISS EVERYWHERE, AT ALL TIMES
This project was made under my Interdisciplinary Workshop class with professor Kaoru and Louise. It’s a mixed media project on memory, nostalgia, loss and mental illness, among other themes. It consists of multiple analog pieces and also expanded into a blog documenting these pieces along with some writings I did.
The blog part came much later and was a response to being unable to show my pieces physically to people due to school closing.
You can look at the blog here: imisseverywhere.tumblr.com
How did you came up with this idea?
This project initially came from a difficult time in my life earlier this year. I was struggling emotionally and mentally when I struggle with this, I tend to regress or yearn for the past because I think that it was better back then, somewhere other than now.
I’ve had this feeling often but it’s pretty complicated considering I’ve lived in multiple different places, so when I yearn for the past it’s something that was already at question back when I was younger.
I wanted to reflect on this idea through collecting some photos of the places I’ve called home in the past and modify it somehow. I had been meaning to try out screenprinting, so this project also became an opportunity to practice and (attempt to) perfect the medium.
The final pieces turned out the way it did mostly out of experimentation based on Louise’s initial suggestion of mounting my prints on boards. I kind of expanded from that physical process into using multiple different media just to see how it looks, but it turned out they worked in favor of my themes.
Why is this your favorite?
I like how it turned out because I think I was able to touch on something that is sensitive but important to me in my life. I think I could’ve made my themes more specific, but I think it came across personal enough for it to successfully express the thoughts I have on the places I’ve lived in my life and how they affected me. I also thought it was an interesting attempt at balancing the personal and impersonal in my art and finding the level of personal experience I was comfortable sharing in it.
Be sure to connect with Akira on his
Thank you Akira for taking the time to talk with us!
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