Interviews

Meet LA’s Art Community: Gajin Fujita Likes to Think About “What LA Was Like, Way Back When”

An interview series spotlighting some of the great work coming out of Los Angeles. Hear directly from artists, curators, and art workers about their current projects and personal quirks.

Gajin Fujita (photo by Ella Andersson, courtesy LA Louver, Venice, CA)

Welcome to the 11th installment of the interview series Meet LA’s Art Community. Check out our past interviews here.

This week, we interview artist Gajin Fujita. The son of Japanese parents (his father a painter and his mother a conservator), Fujita grew up in Boyle Heights. His journey as an artist began with graffiti; as a teenager, he joined tagging crews KGB (Kidz Gone Bad) and KIIS (Kill to Succeed). Carrying the influences of graffiti with him, he went on to receive his BA from Otis College of Art & Design, Los Angeles, and his MFA from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he was mentored by art critic Dave Hickey. Across Fujita’s work you will find traces of Japanese art history and Los Angeles landscapes.

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Gajin Fujita, “No Man’s LAnd” (2020), spraypaint, paint markers, Sakura streak, 12k white gold leaf and 24k gold leaf on wood panel, 24 x 16 inches (© Gajin Fujita. Courtesy of L.A. Louver, Venice, CA)

Where were you born? 

I was born in Boyle Heights, a neighborhood in east Los Angeles.

How long have you been living in Los Angeles? 

My whole life!

What’s your first memory of seeing art? 

My father was an artist, and so my first memories of seeing art was watching him paint when I was a kid.

Do you like to photograph the art you see? If so, what device do you use to photograph? 

I don’t typically photograph art, but I do like to use my iPhone to capture sights around the city that catch my eye, like the LA sunsets from my balcony — which I do almost everyday. I’m convinced the sunsets look best in west.

What was your favorite exhibition in Los Angeles this year? 

There were a lot of great exhibitions, so it’s hard to narrow down. But one of my favorite art moments happened at Otis College, during an alumni group exhibition that included my work. At the opening, I got to meet one of my heroes, Masami Teraoka, who also graduated from Otis. I’ve always admired his work, so getting to chat with him about painting techniques and our mutual love for ukiyo-e prints was truly memorable.

What’s the best book you’ve read recently?

Lately, I’ve enjoyed reading The Samurai Swordsmen: Master of War by Stephen Turnbull, especially the accounts of the 16th-century samurai Musashi.

Do you prefer to see art alone or with friends? 

I prefer to see art by myself, in a quiet environment. When I go to an exhibition with a group of people, I tend to veer off on my own anyway, but it’s always nice to congregate afterwards and talk about the work together.

What are you currently working on? 

Last year, I made a bunch of smaller pieces; now I’m working on a large-scale painting. The latest painting I finished, “No Man’s LAnd,” references a specific place in LA located between Chinatown and Lincoln Heights, where artifacts and remains from the Tongva tribe were discovered. I’ve always been really fascinated by stories of the past, and it’s crazy to think of what LA was like, way back when.

What is one accomplishment that you are particularly proud of? 

I was really honored to be the featured artist on the Los Angeles Public Library’s limited edition art library card. And, I got to do stenciling workshops with inner-city high school students at library branches across LA. The whole experience has been really rewarding.

Where do you turn to for inspiration for your projects? 

I find inspiration all over the city, from the hawks flying over my house, to the diversity of people I meet every day. I also draw inspiration from the books I read, and the artists that came before me, from Kuniyoshi and Yoshitoshi to Caravaggio and Basquiat.

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