Feature: An Interview with Randy Noborikawa

February 29, 2012

Southern California-based Randy Noborikawa is one of the those talented artists who can do 30 things better than you. As an artist, maybe you work hard at one medium, one style, and are satisfied. Randy works in neon, fine art painting, Lenticular painting, graphics, and other mixed-media projects. We spoke with the artist recently about his time in San Francisco, learning the Lenticular style, and the patience to work in neon.

I want to first talk about the beginning, because when you are looking at the body of work from an artist who has range, I like to know what their first love was. So in your case, what would you say was your original practice?


When I was in high school, I was always drawing and trying to hustle surf graphics to the local companies. This was back in the early 1990s. That was just kind of the thing, drawing waves, fun innocent  stuff.

Iwas always messing with whatever medium I could get my hands on.

You graduated from the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. What was your first job out of school?


When I graduated, it was right around 9/11, and the things were looking gloomy, so I took a job doing graphics for a small women’s clothing company back down in Southern California. It was pretty depressing, but I had to make ends meet...


That said, what would you say your first "art" job out of school?


My first "art job" was working for Quicksilver, and at the time it was a sort of dream "job." Despite having to churn out graphics on a ridiculous frequency, we would take "inspirational" trips all over the world, and I feel very fortunate for that experience.


Being able to travel is life changing, inspiring, and overwhelming for an artist. I was also able to go on many surf trips through South America, Australia, New Zealand and other places.  Although i sacrificed a good number of years at this job, I feel I still was able to grow as an artist.



When you were younger, or a student, who was planting seeds with you that you could work in so many mediums, expand your palette, be multi-dimensional?

When I was a little kid, I was all about Star Wars’ drawings and cars.  My mother is an artist and  was always painting some crazy mural in my room and doing watercolors and decorating with lots of different eclectic stuff. I’m sure that inspired me.


In high school, I was always gravitating towards Robert Williams, Rat Fink and Frida Kahlo, and Dali to name a few. I do still have one of the first copies of Juxtapoz as well, that was a go-to source. When I was finally able to move up to Northern California, I was completely inspired by the guys that were making it happen like Twist, ESPO, Sam Flores, Mike Giant, Eric Bailey, and my roommate Coro. I remember countless shows at 111 Minna that inspired me. I feel lucky that I was able to go to school later in life, and that’s where I was able to learn about neon...


You recently moved to Costa Mesa, right? California is a big state, and regions sort of hold their styles. LA is different from Orange County, which is different from San Francisco. What do you learn from these places? What do you find interesting and inspiring about having lived in both Northern and Southern California?

Growing up in Southern California turned me on to a very active lifestyle with nice weather and easy access to things and places. I love the desert and the beaches and the mountains, but that’s about it. Aside from a few pockets of creative individuals, its kind of void of any inspiration for me. There’s a very overly competitive undercurrent that makes an otherwise beautiful place, unsettling... I go through spells where I love it and hate it.


On the other hand, Northern California seems to have it all. I love the community, diversity, true open mindedness, and honest hustle that people seem to have there. I love bikes, all types, all wheel sizes, and I love that San Francisco loves bikes. It’s not as great to ride in Orange County for commuting because of the wide open spaces between everything...  I pretty much love everything about the SF, but my current network and resources have me locked in down in Orange County. I’ve learned that you can make great things happen anywhere, it’s just your attitude...


What passes the test for you in order for you to paint a cityscape of a certain scene?


I’m always looking for an interesting composition or dramatic lighting. Sometimes it’s just a great moment in the day or night when the golden hour is happening, or there’s an old car on the street by chance. I usually like some level of grit or imperfections that everyone can relate to, like a liquor store or bar, and sometimes they are just local landmarks with interesting color. I try not to overthink them, just capture what is beautiful and right there in front of me.


Talk me through one of your city paintings? What do you learn about a particular area when you paint it? Are you taking photographs at different times of the day?


I just like the challenge of creating that warm glow and depth.  I do take photos more towards sunset, but enjoy the night scenes as well. For me they are an exercise in painting loosely (relatively) and just the process. Nothing too serious, although I do like to drop in little street art pieces that aren’t really there. Like the Shepard poster and some of the tags. I guess its wishful thinking, pulling a little SF into the environment.


A big portion of your site is dedicated to the Lenticular paintings, ie, this abstract viewing of a traditional painting. The idea is to create an illusion of depth. There are a few pieces in particular that when viewed one way is a nun, and if you move yourself, there is an "oversexed: nude woman. When did you learn about this process, and what are you getting the viewer to think about?


I was in an art museum in Australia and saw this exhibition of early illusions. When I saw one of these lenticular pieces, they were initially printed on, but I thought it would be challenging to hand paint them. For me, they create a wonderful abstraction that could never be planned, when viewed from straight on. The process was tough to figure out, I experimented with a number of ways to paint on the thin slats, until I came up with my secret way... The possibilities are endless as far as subjects are concerned. I started off with the "Saints and Sinners" series because I’ve always had an interest in all the Catholic iconography and Dia de los Muertos kitsch...


Some of the lenticular pieces have made it out to the streets. Any interesting stories about the way those made their way out of the studio?


It just seems like in this day and age, there is so much art on the street to be directly engaging the public. I just thought it would be interesting to deposit these little guys like hidden diamonds. They don’t really scream out, they just patiently hide their little secret duality. I’m pretty sure I was inspired by Space Invader. I have a friend, David Seiler, who is an artist in Oakland He's also a gymnast and can climb walls like Spider Man. So it’s fun to go out with him and post them up...


My favorite works are the neons. I just think there is so much you can do with neon, and you have made some really strong pieces with the medium. "Cut Back" may be my favorite. What is your story with neon? How long have you been working with it?


I can’t really remember how young I was, but i just remember really responding to its qualities. I think it was the first time I saw Las Vegas, just really intrigued with the actual concept and construction of it. Neon is kind of a big part of early Americana, when every sign  be it a liquor store, hotel, or what have you, was a hand made neon sign.


I was extremely lucky to be able to study it with David Svenson, a pioneer of neon in his own rite. He was taking the medium to its limit with mold-blowing and casting, and other crazy techniques. It's very overlooked, but an amazing process happens when making neon, so technical and scientific, but so mesmerizing and soothing. It’s a very hands-on process that has its limitations, so it really forces you to think in more "puzzle solving" terms of designing it.  At this stage I don’t have my own neon studio, I just have a small handful of eccentric, totally wacky awesome guys that I go to for the bending. It’s a shame that it is an art form being shut out by more technologically advanced LEDs.


Looking at all the piece you make, all the art you do, what do you think best exemplifies Randy Noborikawa?

I just want to keep growing and learning about everything. So, I guess, you never know what’s gonna come out next... I’ve heard some say its detrimental for an artist if they don’t lock down one particular style and stick with it, But I know in my thirty something years of getting to know myself, this is how I seem to operate and I just can’t do it any other way...


What projects do you have coming up? Any art shows, collaborative projects?


I’ll be in a group show in Los Angeles on March 3 at the LA Mart. And I’m working on a collaborative project for Chevy Sonic that is making its way to the public as we speak…

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