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On October 24, hundreds gathered in the stylish environs of newly-renovated Hotel Il Palazzo for Fukuoka Now’s first Now Lounge event. The theme for the evening was International Creative Community and the intention was to provide an opportunity for artists, both foreign and Japanese, to meet and discuss their work.

The event also served as a showcase for the work of eleven foreign artists currently or formerly resident in Fukuoka. Samples of their art were projected on screens around the venue and they were introduced to the assembled crowd by Love FM’s Junko Fujita, who was MC for the evening. Party-goers were also treated to an eclectic mix of performances, which included live painting, experimental vocal manipulation and 8-bit Game Boy rock.

The turn-out was unprecedented with over 550 guests milling in over the course of the night. The event’s success lay not only in its gathering of large numbers of artists and art-lovers but also in the impressive internationalism on display, with literally dozens of different nationalities represented. While guests mingled, DJ Humphrey soundtracked proceedings with a laid-back set of ambient house which went down a treat. Visuals on the evening were provided by Norazam Zabania, who specially designed several video montages for the event, and Adam Burns, who created a slideshow of work by the featured artists. Speaking of the artists, let’s take a closer look at this talented collection of foreigners.

Name: Simon Oxley
Nationality: British
Genre: Design

Simon Oxley has been living in Fukuoka since 2002. He runs his own successful design studio, Idokungfoo, and is most famous for designing the bird illustration used on Twitter’s home page. Speaking of the influences he has taken from Japanese culture, Simon cites the impact children’s animation has had on his work. “The exposure to animated kids’ programs has been a constant source of fascination – my kids are very young, so we watch them together – Dekoboko Friends, Zenmai Zamurai etc. There are very clever ideas woven into each tale with many references to Japanese life and tradition.”

In interviews, Oxley has expressed a growing interest in diversifying his output by producing work in wood, metal and plastic. It comes as no surprise, then, that he has recently branched out into the world of fashion, collaborating with Würkin Stiffs on a line of men’s accessories released this year.

Name: Vincent Lefrançois
Nationality: French
Genre: Illustration

Vincent Lefrançois was born in France in 1966 and studied plastic arts at the Pantheon-Sorbonne University in Paris. A few years after graduating, he came to Fukuoka and started to work as a freelance illustrator for the likes of JR Kyushu, Nishinippon Shimbun, Fukuoka Now, Tokyo Walker and Sotokoto. He currently works with Casterman Publishing, adapting manga for the French market, as a mangaka with Asahi Weekly, and as an illustrator with NHK Publishing.

On being a foreign artist in Japan, Lefrançois remarks: “I understand that my work interests people here only by being my work. There is no way for me to ape what I can’t basically appreciate. No one but a Japanese mangaka could produce better Japanese manga. My purpose, then, is to bridge a link between both cultures, their people, their ways of thinking.” An exhibition of his recent work will be held at the Japanese-French Institute of Kyushu in May 2010.

Name: James Dover
Nationality: American
Genre: Mural painting and drawing

James Dover is a native of Hawaii, where he was born in 1972. He describes his early influences in a very straight-forward fashion. “Since childhood I have liked nice lines and use them heavily in my work. Color came later.” He has lived on and off in Japan over the last nine years and has studied ceramics for three years in Kyushu. He is currently based in Itoshima, where he has his own gallery space. He also runs a painting studio in Daimyo.

Dover has a passion for “life drawing” and painting on all materials – paper, canvas, wood, metal and even the human body. His work can be seen in several Fukuoka bars as well as Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach Marriot (not to mention an episode of popular television show Lost). It is his desire to inspire people to be more creative, whether that be as artists or as models. In coming to Japan, he feels that he has achieved the artistic freedom necessary to produce new material.

Name: Macarena Olivera
Nationality: Argentinian
Genre: Various Mural painting, drawing and sculpture

Macarena Olivera was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina in 1970. Between 1988 and 1992, she studied at the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes Prilidiano Pueyrredón. In 1998 she was awarded a scholarship by the Japanese Government to study at the University of Kumamoto. After that, she concentrated her work in Japan. In Fukuoka, she conducted art workshops at Tiempo Iberoamericano. Her involvement with this cultural organization led to her work featuring prominently at the annual Isla de Salsa event. Further afield, she produced commissions for Hotel España in Iojima and Nagasaki.

Olivera claims her work is heavily influenced by Genji Monogatari, the classic work of Japanese literature by Murasaki Shikibu. She has run a number of her own individual exhibitions both in Japan and Argentina. She has also seen her work displayed as part of collective exhibits in Germany and Spain.

Name: Ksenia Yakunicheva
Genre: Painting and drawing

Ksenia Yakunicheva is a postgraduate researcher at Kyushu University. She has two master’s degrees in Product Design and has studied in Russia, Italy, Germany and Sweden. In 2002, she won a Pall Mall commercial art competition and in 2007, she won an International Biennale Modulor in her home city, St. Petersburg.

Her current research is concerned with the interaction between humans and their living space. Outside of academia, she maintains an interest in a wide range of artistic pursuits including painting, photography and dance.

Name: Nikos Tsouknidas
Nationality: Greek
Genre: Illustration

After graduating from university with a degree in Computer Science, Nikos Tsouknidas worked in illustration and website-design in his native Greece for a number of years. In 2007, he moved to Fukuoka to study for a master’s in Design Strategy at Kyushu University.

He feels he has taken a lot from his time here. “Japan has affected my life and my knowledge base since I study design here, and the people in my university are some of the best designers I’ve met.” Currently, Tsouknidas is involved in a major graphic novel project.

Name: Elena Sommer
Nationality: German
Genre: Illustration

Elena Sommer is a design student currently on an exchange program at Kyushu University. Her work has been regularly exhibited in a number of locations throughout Germany since 2003 and she has also seen the print publication of her manga artwork. In her own words, Sommer’s illustrations are “layered with detail and symbolism and are the kinds of pieces which intend to convey a harboured emotion.”

She also notes that relocating to Japan has allowed her to “forget or to shut up the past in a box, so that the head feels free for new experiences.”

Name: Alfend Elias
Nationality: Indonesian
Genre: Photography

Alfend Elias came to Fukuoka in 2006 to study for a master’s degree in economics. After two years, he took up photography as a hobby. Since then, his interest has grown exponentially and he recently entered a professional course at the ABC Photography School, where he is currently under the tutelage of Master Akashi Kengou. He has worked as a freelance architecture photographer for Jakarta Arsimedik Studio, a company based in Indonesia. He is interested in pursuing a career in photo-journalism and is a member of

Name: Victor Cagno
Nationality: American
Genre: Illustration and graphic design

Victor Cagno is an illustrator and graphic designer. He moved to Fukuoka from New York City in April 2009 after working for Harper Collins Publishers as senior graphic designer for eight years. He specializes in editorial design and illustration, from advertisement to promotional materials.

He also enjoys creating children’s book illustrations and has worked on such projects with celebrity authors Cindy Crawford and Bill Cosby. Cagno believes that his work has always had Japanese influences and hopes that these will continue to grow.

Name: Jay Palarino
Nationality: American
Genre: Painting

Jay Palarino is a graduate of the University of the Arts, Philadelphia, where he studied under Andrew Rudin. As a composer, has written for theater, film, animation, drum corps and the concert hall. As a painter, he has held exhibitions in various cities throughout northern Kyushu. Palarino describes his work as an “attempt to combine a layering of frenetic rhythmic energy with the contrasting textural backdrops of repeated ideas, emotional brush strokes and sustained structures.” He is currently seeking a venue for the debut of his symphonic works.


From video installations to video games, live performances at Now Lounge were an eclectic mix of art and entertainment

Name: Meri Nikula

Meri treated the assembled crowd to a performance of her unique ‘vocal mosaic’ technique. Using different singing techniques and electronically looping and layering passages of sounds over each other, she created kaleidoscopic musical landscapes that had the audience entranced. Simultaneously, samples of her video art were projected in the background. A native of Finland, Meri has lived and worked in a number of locations throughout the world and is currently looking forward to her upcoming residency at Tokyo Wonder Site.

Name: Pepino

Pepino consists of husband-and-wife team Ale Cremades and Ai Kaijo, from Spain and Japan, respectively. The two harness the mighty power of Game Boy sound chips to make their own unique brand of electronic rock. They describe their sound as closest in form and composition to power metal and they validated this comparison with a relentlessly energetic set. Cremades later commented that they enjoyed playing for and surprising a crowd who were mostly unfamiliar with their work. Enjoyment was definitely a mutual feeling on the audience’s part.

Name: Toshiaki Tashiro

Live painting at Now Lounge came from Toshiaki Tashiro, a native of Saga who, since early competition victories in high school, has been building a name for himself in art circles around Japan. Accompanied by a propulsive soundtrack and a single dancer on stage, Toshiaki, in the space of a few minutes, created a unique painting in front of the audience’s eyes. His self-declared artistic mission is to produce art that makes people happy and he delivered a performance that thrilled with its spontaneity and energy.

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Originally published in Fukuoka Now magazine (fn132, Decemeber, 2009)


Fukuoka City
Published: Dec 1, 2009 / Last Updated: Jun 13, 2017