O n  B i g  D r a w i n g s

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Jeanine Riedl

When did you start drawing? Were you naturally attracted to this medium, or is this a more recent concern and engagement? 

I was born into a family of calligraphers and inevitably given a brush from about age 3. I don't know if I can say Japanese calligraphy is considered drawing, but I drew lines with ink on paper with a brush every day for long hours, and I started writing pen drawings when I was about 10 years old, and since my 30s I've been using a Uni-Posca, a brand of very thick markers. Now I use a digital pen tab, but it still doesn't feel like a part of me.

What do you make of the traditional idea of 'mastery', which despite a lot of innovation, continues to have an ongoing association with drawing. 

I honestly don't know. At Japanese art prep school, I drew more than 100 pencil drawings for admission. I learned many basic traditional technics of drawings/paintings using pigments to copy Italian Renaissance religious paintings using Western tempera painting, and Japanese old paintings too. In addition, my major was traditional Japanese design, such as family crest and kimono pattern design. It was a fun time because I liked them, but on the other hand, it was strictly forbidden to draw new things like a manga etc. with using those techniques. In the end, I became a student who didn't go to college very often. It took me a long time to get out of those basic techniques I learned in the art college and be free to create my own unique work.

What is a good drawing? What is a bad drawing? 

To me, a good drawing is a drawing that I want to see over and over again, and a bad drawing is a drawing that I never want to see again.

How important is a notion of 'process' in your drawing practice? 

I think it's very important, but I can't really explain the why and how right now.

The main theme of our project is 'OnBigDrawings'. What do you make of big drawings / or small drawings, and why does it matter? 

I have thought what means “big” from On Big Drawing. Maybe it must be not physical size to object nor drawing size to me. All art works and project I have worked on recent years were large size installations. But I can’t think the same thing after COVID19 now. 

 Since the exhibition will be in online gallery, I decided from the start to produce my work in digital format. I wanted to print it on cloth, so naturally the drawing was a vertical. There is a difference between the necessary dpi for printing and the appropriate size for digital display, and it became the work that I put big drawings and small drawings at the same time by chance.

What kind of relationship do you want your work to have with its audience? 

       This time, I'm going to make face masks from clothes with printed patterns from my drawing, and I will ask people to actually use them in their daily lives. Since Covod-19, I have been making masks, so I think masks are the best way to express my presence.  

What do you make of small, intimate drawings, sketchbook pages, beermat sketches, and scribbles. Are these sheets more 'personal' or can they be art? 

       Sorry, I'm still not sure what the mean of the question.

The current student generation is hugely influenced by graffiti and Manga culture, as well as a desire to represent things in more classical ways. How do you relate to this trend? 

Is there such a trend? I didn't know that. I'm a Manga cartoonist now, but I didn't always want to be one. I had something I really wanted to express and I couldn't express it in one drawing. I needed a story to tell, so I used the Manga form. Most films and novels with lesbian themes were hopeless and dark and erotic in even 90s, so I wanted to change that image by drawing a fun, cute, positive and energetic story about the lesbian community at that time. I wanted to convey laughter, comedy, energy and lightness in the past and future timeline. Manga was the perfect medium to do that.

If what you want to express is story and visual, I think movies and animation are the way to go, but it's not easy because it's usually created by a large group of staffs. In that respect, I think comics are good because you can create and finish both the story and the art by yourself. 

       How would you define the fundamental differences between painting and drawing? (A quote: 'A drawing is a painting made with less paint', ... Henry Matisse). 

       I would love to know what the difference is, too, since I was wondering the same. I think the point is using or not using paint too.

       In 2010/2011 MOMA in New York staged its biggest drawing exhibition of the 20th century, and it was called 'On Line'. Do you think drawing is necessarily just about 'lines'? 

       Sorry, I'm getting more and more confused.

       Asian drawings are known to celebrate a notion of 'emptiness'. Do you seek 'emptiness' in yourwork?

Sure, I was born in a family business of Japanese calligraphy and grew up surrounded by not only calligraphy, but also various East Asian paintings, prints and artifacts, so I think the concept of 'emptiness' in Asian paintings is ingrained in me.

       Traditional drawing is a more intimate and 'personal' artform, yet a lot of contemporary art practice seeks a more social and participatory dimension. How is this reflected in your projects and drawings? 

When I was an art student in the 80s, I was influenced by the experimental plays of Shuji Terayama, who created avant garde Tenjosajiki theater, that improvised their stage play according to how the audience interacts. I was actually part of the theater as a stage art staff member for one of those avant-garde theater companies. I always wondered if it would be possible to create a new art form that interactively changes meaning according to the audience without the actors' performances.

In 1994, I started Aozora (Blue Sky) Art on the streets of Tokyo as an audience interactive participation project. The themes were colorful families, diverse marriages, LGBTQ and other social issues, so I used a lot of pop, friendly, manga-like art styles to make it accessible to people who were not interested in art usually.

Drawing is often treated as a very technical medium in art education (especially in US art schools). Do you think there could be other ways to teach drawing? 


       One question foremost on my mind, was: how do the artists respond to the Covid-19 crisis, and do you think the new situation has an impact on your creative practice, your exhibitions and projects, and the nature of work being affected by working from home for extended periods of time? Perhaps artists start making smaller scale, more intimate works, made from simpler and easily accessible materials ? 

I have been thinking these themes since March just when Covid19 era started. I saw many artists post their sketches, photographs of empty city, and also art pieces they worked on during quarantine on SNS.

I realized that I am not a type of artist who continues creating own artworks whatever happened. Rather, opposite. My area Queens, NYC was a top Covid19 effected neighborhoods in USA at that time. I started making masks with my leftover materials for essential workers, and immigrant families in our communities. 

I also read there are many people including undocumented people who can not get federal check or unemployed insurance. One of my friends started a community service project that distributes free fresh grocery bags to such people/families in emergency. I started to volunteer work to the project. In fact, my family lost most jobs since March, and haven’t recover from it yet. I connected with many local communities through donating my handmade face masks. Local garden, local farm, local kitchen, art groups that started to distribute a free food boxes, Burma group supporting refugees, and many individuals who helps seniors, and families in difficult times.

Making masks with a sewing machine is a simple work. I felt it was like a meditation, or, I was letting my thoughts wander, especially about my art projects that were supposed happen this spring-fall, but were all canceled in this year. All materials of masks I made, were from the Materials For The Arts, a NYC’s organization that recycles many materials for artists’ projects. More than 70 kinds of cotton fabrics I had were new and very beautiful, which were donated from Broadway fashion industry. This reminds me the industry announced that they postponed all shows until end of May 2021 already. 


(from Jeanine)

Dear Rica,

Thank you very much for sharing these insights into your work. Many of your projects made over the years are large-scale, participatory, and very much related to people in a very direct way.

We tare hrilled about the 'Long Drawing', which you created especially in the context of 'OnBigDrawings'. 

This piece is mainly made using digital tools and methods, and on a relatively small scale it manages to present a rich assembly of characters, text, storylines, and elements with symbolic meaning, such as the hidden form of the Amabie sea monster that can heal disease. Many aspects of this work only reveal themselves on close inspection and through zooming into the piece, thus reveal further stories and imaginary worlds.

Could you imagine doing more work in this new, digital way in the future, and could this different engagement with scale (not life-size, but enlarged by zooming in), have an impact on how you will be working in the near future?

Thank you very much. This is the first experimental work I created, and I made a lot of mistakes before I finished it because this was my first time using this software and I was not used to it. However, in the process of making my work, it was a big deal for me to discover the possibility of creating a layered work of art by zooming in and out of it. As an artist, I would like to pursue this idea further and create new works of art.

But, I'm starting to think a little differently about how I'm going to spend the last 25 years of my life as a human being, compared to how I once thought of such things as an artist. I’ve decided to embark on a life’s work to help women in Japan. When I was young in Japan, I suffered in Japan's awful, male-dominated society and created artworks that defined it as a problem, with themes including unfair marriage and family systems, gender, and sexual freedom. Now that I'm older, I'm considering a different approach. Specifically, to fund women's support groups in Japan with grants from international foundations. The Japanese government has a very small budget for women's aid. In reality, the money goes to men, with the budget going to many male-dominated organizations under the guise of "supporting women." In October 2020, the suicide rate of Japanese women increased by 183% from last year. Japan ranks 121st out of 153 countries in the Global Gender Gap Report 2020. It's getting worse and worse. This must be changed. I'd like to learn grant writing for funding (I'm actually already on the funding team for the local Lifeline Grocery Package project and I’m writing paperwork) and put it to greater use for real organizations that support women's aid. When I was a high school student, I saw the "Peace Poster Exhibition" at the Tokyo University of the Arts' school festival and thought, "I wish I could do something like this to make the world a better place with art," so I attended and graduated from the university, and I have continued to work as an art artist, including the creation of manga, ever since. But after 25 years, I felt that what I had done wasn’t enough or that nothing had changed. I wrote about that realization and disappointment in my report, “Manga Comics of Aliens in NY.” Moreover, the pandemic has not ended, so I'm going to continue to learn grant writing instead of making artwork. 

English proofreading by Ashley Matarama



しかし歳を重ねた今は違うアプローチを考えています。具体的には世界の財団からの返済不要の投資を得て日本の女性支援団体に資金繰りする事です。日本の政府は女性支援のための予算がとても少ないのです。実際は「女性を支援するため」という口実だけの男性が中心の団体に予算をつけて男性にお金が回っています。今年の10月は日本女性の自殺率は前年よりも83%増加しました。今だに日本は女性の地位がGlobal Gender Gap Report 2020で153国中、121位です。どんどん悪くなっています。

資金繰りのためのGrant Writing を学び(実はもう地域のLifeline Grocery Package projectのfunding teamに入って書類を書いてはいるのですが)さらに大きく実践したいと思っています。私は高校生の時に東京藝術大学の学園祭で「平和のためのポスター展」を見て“こんな風にアートで世界を良いところにする仕事が出来たらいいな”と思って大学に入り卒業し、その後も漫画を含むアート作家活動を続けてきました。しかし自分がやってきた事があまりに無力というか、何も変わってないなあと25年やってきて感じてしまいました。その気づきや落胆などはAliens in NYのレポート漫画の中にも書いています。そんなわけでコロナがまだ終わっていない今、まずは私は作品つくりではなく勉強にあてるつもりです。