INTERVIEW Vol.1 Aki Gokita – Make-up Artist
“It doesn’t have to be good, I want to create pieces with qualities such as strength or have a presence.” These words were spoken by the make-up artist Aki Gokita, who creates various pieces using make-up as grounds for art. In the following interview she reveals how she set her sights on the path to becoming a make-up artist and the passion behind her work.
JP2: Tell us about your student years.
Gokita: As a student, I was involved in theatre. I had probably always wanted to somehow express myself since I was a child, but I didn’t know how to go about doing it and the first thing I came across was theatre. During those years, I devoted myself to stage building with the other members of the group. After graduating, the members and I started up a performing arts group. We held several performances while juggling jobs. In our very last performance, I was the lead actor for the very first time. I should have felt ecstatic but I only felt isolated. I thought to myself, “I was always on stage so I couldn’t spend any time with the others. Does that mean the time I spent with everyone was more important than the joy I felt through acting? What’s going on?” I began to doubt whether this was truly the best way to express myself. From then on, I gradually felt that this was the end of the road for acting.
JP2: Why did you decide to go into make-up after that?
Gokita: Towards the last of our performances, I was invited to a make-up class held by a mother of a friend’s friend, who happened to be the beautician Teruko Kobayashi, and began to take classes there. After I thought about my future, I decided it might be useful if I was able to do make-up. The class was for beginners so naturally my skills were nowhere near the expected standard, but sometime later my friend introduced me to some make-up jobs. I understood that my skills at that time were not up to scratch and I had a strong urge to study harder. It was then that Teruko Kobayashi asked me if I wanted to become a member of staff in her make-up school of which she was the principal, only I would be working as a recruiter and not a make-up artist. To be honest, I wasn’t very interested in the job but I felt there might be an opportunity so I decided to take the offer.
After I started, I worked as a recruiter but was also allowed to join a class of graduate students who wanted to further their studies on make-up. Then, hounding everyone by saying I wanted to work in make-up, the make-up artist Toraji Hiroyuki Suzuki, who was a supervisory technician at that time, told me that he would be my instructor. I was thrilled! I made some time at school and through asking friends to be models, I had practiced close to a hundred times within four or five months. The last session was an exam where I had to teach a lesson in front of the teacher, which I somehow managed to pass. I was finally able to teach lessons as a professional but what happened afterwards was a nightmare.
JP2: What do you mean by “a nightmare”?
Gokita: I was a really late starter and am awkward as a person. It was the same when I was performing as a student – I’m not the kind of person who can get things straight away and there was a constant pattern of not being selected even though I worked hard. I hit a similar of wall while doing make-up as well… I was able to achieve a certain level but I was hardly able to improve. I decided I should just try so I created and drew a lot of pieces. During that time I struggled and was often out of steam, and there was a constant battle between wondering why I couldn’t improve and the desire to get better.
That was when I started having back problems and I had no choice but to take time off from work. Still, even though I couldn’t work and had to rest, I felt I wanted to do make-up. I had come this far and there was a chance of improvement if I had some more time. I couldn’t move so I decided to draw and started doing illustrations. I began to really enjoy that and felt that a different side of me was starting to emerge. During my time off I spent my whole time drawing.
About three months later, I was able to return to work and I joined a make-up training session. The finished work looked really good. Toraji even said to me, “You’ll be fine. This is a once in a lifetime piece of make-up art which you can or can’t produce. There’re some people who can’t. But the fact that you did, means you have potential. That’s why I think you’ll be alright.” This was a huge encouragement for me and it became my turning point.
After I recovered, there was a time when I faced another wall regarding my skills and I struggled, but two or three years later I left the school and became a freelance worker. Now I conduct several lessons a year as a visiting instructor. In 2007, I started up an art project called ‘Daria’ with the make-up artist Emi Ohashi, who was a pupil of mine but also worked with me at the school. When I left the school, she sent me a very sweet letter saying we should work on something together.
There’s a fairly big age gap between us and I felt that I would be able to play around with my emotions if we worked together. Like her, I also had a strong desire to create something with her. ‘Daria’ is the place we can play house. We don’t just look at the concept or the make-up but the background story, the way we place and display the pieces. The project took off because of expression through our make-up art, only, it wasn’t just women trying to become beautiful through make-up, but a way to overcome and freely express the world from where the story unfolded – through the face.
JP2: Are there certain approaches you stick to when you create your work?
Gokita: Putting it in a way that won’t be misunderstood, creating is like ‘playing’. A well thought out play. It’s not a compromise, but because it’s a well thought out play there’s an innocent satisfaction to it, and through that I can become kinder or stronger. I also want to feel responsibility regarding what I create. Sometimes this becomes confused while I’m creating. At those times I ask, what do you want to become? I ask and observe, then suddenly it’ll dawn on me. There was one time when I created a piece using a dancer as a model. The model said to me, “You looked like you were struggling but then suddenly it seemed like it all came down on you. I think that’s what you call expression.” In my opinion, there is value in the finished piece but I think the important thing is how to catch the wave of inspiration through the creative process, and how to ride that wave. I feel that the pieces which have overcome those times have a higher chance of being good. I would like to continue facing my pieces with that kind of feeling.
JP2: We were able to look at some of the pieces earlier, but where do the images for the pieces come from?
Gokita: There’re times when I don’t think anything at all and go with my instinct. There’s always that feeling of ‘something’ there and putting that into a shape is quite difficult, I don’t know where it comes from. I guess it comes down to a distant memory or something I saw in passing… it’s a mystery I have within me.
JP2: This piece is very interesting
Gokita: That’s a part of the wagamama hoppe series and I create these in a hostile way. I thought it must be nice to be able to exist without being considerate of others. I love their faces. When I spent my time drawing, I first drew them with elongated faces but I slowly came to want a round face. Then someone I know really began to like these drawings. I first made a doll out of paper clay to give to her as a present. But then I realized you couldn’t carry it around with you and she would go on many trips, so I wondered if there wasn’t something else I could use so that if she became bored during her trips then she could take the doll out and talk or touch it. I created these small pieces out of cloth with the intention of them being able to be transported. I also thought that the person who bought it or gave as a present could name the doll as well. They have similar faces but they’re all made by hand so each one is slightly different. I make this series a lot these two or three years.
JP2: What are your future goals?
Gokita: With the make-up pieces, I still feel I haven’t made the expression I want to create. That’s why after taking a photo of the piece, the feeling that it’s unfinished always remains. The piece I want to create changes depending on when I do it, it’s not always honest to what I want to create and I want to be able to stay faithful to my feelings. People who want to make skilled pieces of work study at art or fine arts universities and I don’t have any specialized knowledge or foundations in anything other make-up. I would like to create pieces that can be individual and powerful while being awkward and rough – pieces with a presence.
JP2: Finally, please give a message to the readers.
Gokita: Those of you who are young should do as much as you can, and when you do something, put in some thought. If you do anything halfheartedly, you’ll only get that back in return. If there’s something you want to do but you spend all your energy thinking that you’re too old, you’ve never done it before, or you weren’t born under the right circumstances, it’s better to use that energy on things that are worthwhile.