Japanese artist Yuya Negishi is certainly familiar with the starving artist trope. When he moved to Minnesota four years ago, he brought only a backpack, $2,000 cash, and his obsession with American culture and art with him.
With his artwork beginning to gain traction locally over the past year, the risk is finally paying off. This June, Lyn-Lake's Fuji Ya and Pabst Blue Ribbon are both commissioning Negishi to paint murals for them in Minneapolis and, starting in September, he'll begin teaching art at Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
"It all started with [the George Lucas film] American Graffiti," Negishi says. "I saw it when I was 13 years old, and got curious about American culture."
[jump] That was all it took for his obsession to spark. Soon he was listening to '90s gangster rap, and wearing his hair in an afro, in corn rows, and at one point in dreads.
He began spinning rap records under the name DJ Crenshow, but since rap vinyls were nearly impossible to find in Japan at the time, he flew out to Los Angeles for two weeks to buy as many as he could to ship back home, along with a 1992 low-rider Cadillac.
"I'm not a typical Japanese person at all," he says. "All my curiosity was in California because I was DJing and I was really into gangster rap."
Eventually, Negishi met his now ex-wife, who was teaching in Japan, and the two of them moved to Minnesota. It was then that he decided to seriously pursue art, while his wife got her degree in architectural design. He began collaborating with other artists and offering to paint free murals to get his name out there.
Since then, Negishi's work has been displayed at Espresso Royale, Fuji Ya, Covet Consign & Design, Hell's Kitchen, Cult Status Gallery, the Fox Egg Gallery, the Abstracted Gallery, and just last month at Urban Light Studios in Seattle.
Despite a misunderstanding that led to his work being painted over on the Midtown Greenway, Negishi says he may even design another mural along the bike and walking path now that the city has given him permission.
Negishi's work walks the line between his traditional Japanese roots and the identity he's forged living in Minneapolis and visiting L.A. His work will sometimes go into great detail. At other times, vibrant colors and simplicity dominate, echoing Warhol-esque contemporary pop art. However, the subjects and styles Negishi chooses are consistently Japanese, which he says stems from growing up in Japan and seeing the artwork in temples and shrines there.
"I want to live in this country forever," Negishi says. "I feel part of the community here [in Minneapolis]. At the same time, I don't want to forget my identity."
While he feels that his work has been well-received in Minnesota, the Japanese community is still very small here, so he eventually hopes to move out to the West Coast where there's a larger Japanese presence.
But for now, he's happy to be making a living off his art in Minneapolis.
"I love what I'm doing here," he says. "Now all I need is a girlfriend."
You can check out Yuya Negishi's work tonight at the Acadia Cafe, where he'll be live painting during the Electro Soul Dance Party with Stephen Wayne from 8 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. Admission is free, but there is a $2 suggested donation. The event is 21+. For more info, visit the dance party's Facebook event page.