If Steve Nishimoto — Nish, to the design community — is as driven by change and culture as he claims, then today's inspiration must be in no meager supply. The designer just returned from his first trip abroad, where a last minute tag-along to the Tokyo premiere of Mash landed the seasoned artist in the same country from which his relatives emigrated four generations ago.
Not to say that that inspiration has ever been elusive to this sponge of a visionary — a long list of clients, including Burton, Uniqlo, MTV, and Beautiful Decay seems to prove the opposite — but if the 4,000 pictures Nish took during his travels serve their purpose, then we will surely see trails of his trip across the ocean in his work to come.
We caught up with the freshly de-planed New Yorker to chat about the past, present and future, and were left with three things: an itch to doodle, an itch to travel, and a new sense of what it truly means to marry art with life.
Joshspear.com: Tell us about your background…
Nish: I’m 100% American Japanese (fourth generation), born and raised in Chicago. I've been living in New York for the past six or seven years, and was bi-coastal with San Francisco for one or two of those. I've been a skateboarder for as long I can remember, I enjoy riding a fixed gear around the city, and I have been full time freelance for the past 3 or 4 years. I survive on coffee with milk (soy if possible), no sugar, please.
JS: You state your inspirations as change, culture, and design. What do you find in these three things that makes you feel this way?
N: Moving forward, always looking back. Watching culture evolve, and not watching much TV.
JS: It seems like you formed strong roots in New York from the moment you relocated from Chicago. How did your working with Associates in Science and the founders of Zoo York come to be, and what were you looking for in those experiences (and what did you find)?
N: Both jobs were achieved with lots of determination and hard work. And both provided important lessons that weren’t expected and helped teach me a lot.
JS: The NY skate scene is (or was, depending on your viewpoint) one of the most interesting skate cultures around. What is happening there now that might have the same implications as, for example, Alleged Gallery had in the 90’s?
N: The 90’s were a golden era in skateboarding (New York and San Francisco), hip hop, and graffiti — that can’t happen again under current day circumstances. The group of people you are talking about set the current bar. That standard that they set is, as far I’m concerned, still the standard.
JS: How is your art similar to your design (and vice versa), and what is unique about each?
N: Both are tackled with the same eye. Design is meant to sell, art is meant to express. The ultimate achievement is for both to do both.
JS: Your work, stylistically speaking, is incredibly diverse. What leads you to approach each project so uniquely?
N: Would you want to do the same thing over and over?
JS: Who have you been inspired by, both growing up and more recently?
N: My family, all my friends, skateboarders/artists/designers (of the past and current), and now, countless people I’ve met in Japan.
JS: You just got back from an interesting trip to Tokyo — what were you up to there?
N: I came out sporadically with a two-week notice that the Mash SF video was going to premier at the same time. I knew some guys that were in the video, and knew I would be traveling with good friends from New York (we later on got coined as “the New York Crew”). I felt like I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. I was almost scared to come out as it would be my first trip to my homeland, as well as my first time officially out of the country. On top of that, I would be the first of my family to come out. My grandfather, grandmother, father, mother, and my sister had never been to Japan. I knew I was going to go, I just didn’t know it was going to be then. I was able to see Tokyo, Osaka, and Kyoto, all with good coverage on bike, skateboard, foot, and train.
JS: You’re 100% Japanese, yet this was your first trip to Japan — what was it like to experience something that’s (potentially) a huge part of yourself for the first time?
N: It was a hell of a trip. In a good way. One part I found interesting was the fact that I got “stereotyped” to be a native who spoke the language. It was extremely awkward the exact moment they realized I couldn’t! I did, however, feel a comfort amongst people in a culture that I was raised in (I was brought up in a Japanese American Christian Church). The mannerism’s, speech patterns, and seeing the young to old had an extremely familiar feeling. It is indescribable. Everything was so visually intense. I was like a child in a huge candy store. I couldn’t stop shooting photos based on the simple fact that I didn’t want to forget a single moment.
JS: What are you looking forward to in the next few months? Anything exciting on the horizon?
N: I am looking forward to taking in my new experience and applying it to my life, and new art/design projects.
I want to thank Geez, John Igei, and Massan for the invite. I want to thank Rika, Luke, Ranjani, Olivier, Seth, my sister, my aunt, and Erin for convincing me to go. I want to thank Gabe and all the Mash team for having the “New York Crew” come out for the premiers (and Japan, as it was everybody's first time there. You all are amazing people). Thank you to everyone at W Base/Carnival (especially Pai, Yohei, and Mr. Rip), everyone at Ftc Tokyo (Kent, Graham, Makoto and the whole crew (Ando, I wish I had asked you to sign the polaroid you gave me!)). Hal, Shady (for taking us around town on his day off), Mike Hernandez for making me laugh and being a source of positive energy, and every single person I met out there. Word. I am looking forward to making my way back.