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Cities & Cycling

Mariya Suzuki: Drawing the cities of the future

Mariya Suzuki: Drawing the cities of the future

As part of DESIGNART 2020, VanMoof invited Japanese illustrator Mariya Suzuki to take over the Tokyo brand store. Her gigantic window mural explores how Mariya experiences and feels about the city of Tokyo. We sat down with Mariya to talk about her life, creative process, choice of landscapes, and her dream city.

Can you tell us about yourself?
I originally come from Nara, but I went to college in California’s Long Beach where I studied illustration. I came to Tokyo in 2014 and lived in Meguro-ku the whole time. I like it – It’s hard to move out.

I’ve always known that I was going to be an artist. I felt like I didn’t have any other choice when I was a kid. If someone gave me a chance to express myself, I would always choose to draw. Drawing has just felt completely ‘natural’ to me for as long as I can remember. And it was always line drawing specifically – that’s the style I feel most comfortable with.

What is your work process? Where do you normally start?
When I was going to college, my figure drawing teacher made us carry sketchbooks everywhere. That’s when it became my routine – to draw whenever, whatever is in front of me. It was a figure drawing class so it started with people, and then my interests expanded to people in space and landscapes. Sketching was what I enjoyed the most, but in the final semester I thought, “why can’t my sketches stay as sketches?” People assume sketches are not finished products but I’ve tried to stop developing my drawings too much. They were more intricate and more realistic before, but I’ve consciously made them looser since then.

During my time in the US, I met this american artist Trey Bryan who also carries a sketchbook and draws all the time. He said he tries to capture moving things, moving people. And when you do that, you have to draw really fast. When you draw fast, you can’t afford to care about little things, and it kind of broke my habit of getting caught up in details. But I’m still trying to find what looks good, and I feel like that’s not gonna stop. What you think looks good is always changing, your skills are always changing.

Where does your inspiration usually come from?
It’s usually something from everyday life. I like to think that I'm capturing the moment by drawing what I see. That might be a landscape, or cityscape, or coffee, or people. Sometimes people say that my drawing feels nostalgic – I really like that. I like the feeling of people connecting my drawing to their memory or something familiar. I’ve always drawn what I see. I’ve rarely drawn from imagination, I can’t really do that. If I look back to old drawings that I did as a kid, it’s always been something real like our cat or my sister.

You draw a lot of city landscapes now – what draws you to this subject in particular?
I’m attracted to buildings and houses because somebody lived there or used to live there – there are so many stories that the place carried. I like to look at buildings as they are pulled down and destroyed. It looks interesting as it is but it’s also like you’re looking into somebody's life. It's like the end of a story and the beginning of another. It’s pretty symbolic for Tokyo because that always happens – the city is always changing. Sometimes it feels like it’s happening too fast, I can’t follow everything.


What do you like the most about Tokyo?
I like Tokyo because it has many different faces. It’s a big city with a lot of people, big buildings, new shopping malls, big subway lines. It's busy, but if you go two streets over, you wonder, “is this still Tokyo?” Even though it’s gigantic, It almost feels like a small city, and you feel the history oozing from the streets.

I also really like these little streets hidden behind houses. When I find one I try to follow it. Because it's the back side of the house, you can usually hear voices, you almost feel like you shouldn’t be here – so you have to stay quiet.

What do you like the most about Tokyo?
I like Tokyo because it has many different faces. It’s a big city with a lot of people, big buildings, new shopping malls, big subway lines. It's busy, but if you go two streets over, you wonder, “is this still Tokyo?” Even though it’s gigantic, It almost feels like a small city, and you feel the history oozing from the streets.

I also really like these little streets hidden behind houses. When I find one I try to follow it. Because it's the back side of the house, you can usually hear voices, you almost feel like you shouldn’t be here – so you have to stay quiet.

You’ve been riding a VanMoof while preparing for the exhibition – what do you think of the bike?
I really like walking but the bike is obviously much faster, which lets me explore even bigger areas. I like seeing the cityscape whizzing past when I’m riding fast. It’s hard to explain but I really like that feeling, and you can’t get that just by walking. At the same time, it makes you more focused – you have to be more aware of the surroundings!

Did the bike change the way you see and experience the city?
Yes, because it’s so fast it can be easy to go too far. If I’m looking at something in the distance or curious about what’s round I would just keep going. And even if I ride too far, I know I can always get back again. You can’t explore in this way when you’re on foot, it takes too much time. With the bike you have much more freedom.

What did you like the most about the bike?
I got a comment from my friend, she was like “what is that bike?” and I felt good that I couldn’t really explain it – it does so many things. I like how it’s stable, the tires are pretty fat it’s really easy to ride it. Maybe it’s not the most exciting feature, but I really love the basket. I’m always carrying stuff with me, and this makes it so much easier.

Can you tell us about the artwork you're presenting during the festival?
I carry my sketchbook and drawings tools everywhere with me. When I encounter things or views that attract my attention, I take them out and draw what is in front of me. Page by page, my sketchbook collects random moments of life. For this show, I tried a new way to capture these moments. I explored the streets of Tokyo, big and small, and brought pieces of the city back to my studio where I would put them together on a large canvas. I created a collage as if I was revisiting the places in my memory and getting lost in thoughts.

See more of Mariya’s work here or visit the VanMoof Tokyo brand store to see her new mural in person.

Interview by David Robert