Chunky Monkey
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Chunky Monkey , 2003, 15 x 20.625
Hand Modified Mono Print: Dutch metal leaf, watercolors,
colored pencils, and ink jet print on watercolor paper.
(Private Collections)
Statement about "Chunky Monkey"

Being born in the Year of the Dog (the Chinese zodiac), I am quite fond of dogs. Therefore, I was immediately drawn into this Ukiyo-e (Japanese woodblock prints) image of the Geisha (courtesan) giving a treat to a little black dog created by one of the 18th century Ukiyo-e masters, Harunobu Suzuki. Soon after, my mind replaced the traditional Japanese sweets on the black and red lacquered table tray into European style chocolate assortments. I often start creating my artwork through images which inspire me.

My own story begins to unfold.

Chocolates are one of my favorite foods. In America, a box of chocolates is frequently the gift of choice on many occasions. Japanese people also treat a box of chocolate as one of their special gifts. I had always wanted to create an artwork featuring chocolates.

Once my mind replaced the Japanese sweets with chocolates, I imagined a little dog changing into "Curious George," a famous children’s book character. In Japan, "Curious George" has also become a popular character and is familiar to many people. I felt that "Curious George" fit very well within Harunobu’s image.

Instead of just pairing monkeys and bananas, as is often done, I decided to change the whole situation. Instead of a Geisha woman giving bananas to George, he is handing out a box of GODIVA chocolates to the Ukiyo-e beauty (could it be I?) By the way, GODIVA is also quite popular in Japan. But there are bananas on a lacquer plate also, could the boxed chocolate perhaps be a bribe? Or since George is really quite mischievous, could the box of chocolates be empty? On the other hand, it is possible that George simply wanted to give something nice to the Ukiyo-e beauty as a token of international friendship!

It is comical and humorous to imagine a conversation between George and the Ukiyo-e beauty. However, when I step back and think twice about this image, I also view it as a social commentary on the westernization of Japanese attitude to food. Every time I visit Japan, I strongly feel this change and also see a worldwide trend toward healthier diets and the prevention of the lifestyle disease.

This artwork was created first by the computer manipulation of the image. The image was then printed on watercolor paper with an ink jet printer. Dutch metal leaf was then applied. Details and colors were also added with watercolors, acrylics, and colored pencils. At last, on the metal leafed surface, vinegar was splashed to get a chemical acid reaction to create a beautiful yet mysterious organic pattern.

Meanwhile, I am also incorporating the unique Japanese use of the gold leaf background into a painting. The gold leaf background creates a mystical space where a conventional notion of time and space do not apply. This is exactly the stage on which I have my American and Japanese characters interact with each other.

The title of this artwork "Chunky Monkey" was inspired by one of the well known Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavors. It is a unique ice cream flavor named on a play on words. The base ice cream of "Chunky Monkey" is a banana flavor. Then chocolate fudge and walnuts are mixed in. As I come from Japan, this combination of the flavors was very unique and new to my taste buds when I first tasted it and I still remember the wonderful taste sensation. I was hoping to incorporate this unique personal cultural experience into my artwork.

Although I grew up in Japan, I have already spent 16 years in the U.S. and I still have new experiences of American customs, language, and culture. I would like to share and express my experiences living in a different culture through my artwork. I would also like to encourage interactions between different cultures and help take down the walls and misunderstandings between them. I hope that humor and beauty will help increase friendship and understanding across borders and oceans. I would be honored if my art helps achieve this a little bit.
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