Upper Playground Exclusive: Interview with Japanese artist, USUGROW

Upper Playground’s long time friend and contributing artist, USUGROW, made his way from Tokyo to San Francisco this month for his solo exhibit, “INKFLOW” at Fifty24SF Gallery.


The artist hit the ground running with a Book Signing and Print Release at Upper Playground SF last weekend.  The renown artist recognized around the world for his signature black and white illustrations, lettering and ink works is currently installing his highly anticipated show opening this Saturday, October 4th at 7PM.  We caught up with USUGROW for an exclusive interview with the artist.  Interview by Jy-ah Min:

Tell us about the theme of your show “INKFLOW”. Will it have any connections to your last show at Fifty24SF Gallery in 2007?

U: There is no special meaning to “INKFLOW”. I just like the words and feel that they are very fitting for my style at this time, because of their simplicity.


The ‘Skulls’ in your work have a unique style to them. How did you get started in incorporating them into your work, and has it evolved over time?

U: I used to like the way that a person’s mad or scary face looked on their head and realized I was actually seeing their skull behind it. I started to see skulls and skeletons in another dimension and appreciated their beauty and simplicity. Now I focus on the positive side of skeletons instead of the negative.


You explained in the past that your signature use of Black and White was born from economy and restriction. What led you to work primarily in Black and White?

U: I started out working on flyers for the hardcore and underground punk scene, where we used to photocopy flyers in B/W and make screen prints for  t-shirts. Black and white is always cheaper than full color which is how I got started. So it started for economic reasons and for simplicity’s sake and I have stayed with it ever since.


You seem to draw many references from other languages than your own.  Any significant influences in your calligraphic work?

U: I’ve always had an open mind and strongly dislike being categorized. I use what I want and try not to compartmentalize myself.


What is the conceptual preparation required for your hand inked artworks?  Do you go through several drafts in the process?

U: Yes sometimes, when there is a request from the client for commissioned work. For my personal work, I’m making up a story from my imagination and creating from my minds eye. I enjoy working in both ways.


Many people identify your style as having strong references to chicano tattoo cultures born from Southern California.  Do you find this to be true?

U: Yes, that is one of my inspirations but just a part.


Your latest print release with Upper Playground is a third edition of the KOKUTEN series titled ‘Shijima’. Could you explain a bit more about your subject matter, Kokuten, the messenger of sun and moon in this series?

U: Kokuten is the messenger from the sun. The sun and the moon are just like yin and yang except in front and behind instead of side by side but still all in one. Kokuten is simply a portrait. There is technology all over the place in our human world, we all need to make time to communicate to the sun and the moon. Kokuten literally means “sun spot” in Japanese, in Japan the icon for the sun spot is the black crow, the messenger of the sun.


And finally, What music is playing in the background while you work in your studio in Tokyo?

U: I play every different kind of music in the background: hardcore, metal, electro, hip-hop and lately I’ve been playing a lot of indigenous/ world music from around the globe all the time. I don’t believe in written down/ textbook history. I learn real history from the indigenous/ world music that has been handed down directly from generation to generation.



First Look at USUGROW: Works 2007-2013

Published by Upper Playground, USUGROW: WORKS 2007-2013 captures some of Usugrow‘s best selected works from the past 6 years.  Here’s a sneak preview of his book due for release next week exclusively at Upper Playground.


An in store book signing and special print release will follow on Sunday, Sept. 28th, 2014. Then the highly anticipated solo show, INK FLOW will open to the public Oct. 4th, 2014 at Fifty24SF Gallery on Fillmore St. San Francisco. Stay tuned for more info and follow us @upperplayground IG or Facebook for the latest news.

Usugrow-Book-UpperPlayground-5 Usugrow-Book-UpperPlayground-4 Usugrow-Book-UpperPlayground-3 Usugrow-Book-UpperPlayground-2

All photos herein are copyright Upper Playground.

Coming Soon: Usugrow Book Release and Show in SF!

Our long time friend and contributing artist Usugrow, with his masterful calligraphy works, is renown for his hand style and collaborations around the world.  After several years of hiatus and reorganizing himself in Tokyo,  he is finally making his way to San Francisco for a solo show and book release this month at Fifty24SF Gallery.

Here’s a sneak peek of his Book due for an exclusive release later this month at Upper Playground:









shinganist, usugrow, toshikazu nozaka, tokyo, japan

Upper Playground artist, USUGROW and Toshikazu Nozaka is currently working together in Japan for the second part of their duo exhibition first held in Melbourne Australia in 2011. The part II of the two-person show “ORIENTAL ELEMENTS” will now be opening November 5th, 2013 and on display until November 10, 2013.

November 5th, 2013- November 10, 2013

@ GALLERY COMMON http://www.gallerycommon.com/
5-11-1 2F, Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 1500001, Japan
Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 150-0001 Jingumae 5-11-1 2F

FACEBOOK event page


James Jean has a new solo show

Posted from The Citrus Report

James Jean, who showed with David Choe at our exhibition we held with Good Smile in Tokyo in late October 2010, has a new solo show at Martha Otero opening March 2011 featuring 7 new large scale paintings, 6 of which have yet to be fully unveiled (because the 7th is below, it is called Tiger).  And Ninja likes them too.

Posted By The Citrus Report

David Choe to release the very limited “Tokyo Girl” print

We try to rewrite things for David, but its a lot better when we just give David the forum:

for those of you who couldnt make it to my show in tokyo, dont worry
they banned me from my own show in japan ,so i didnt get to go either:(
but that didnt stop me from enjoying pictures and news of how awesome the show went and all how awesome all the japanese fans were! thanks guys!!!

for all my friends who dont live in japan and couldnt make the show, i did something special for you, i held a few of the limited edition prints “TOKYO GIRL” for the tokyo show back .it is in a edition of 76, but there are only a few left
this friday on 12/3/10 at noon west coast time we will release the remaining prints at trapezeeditions.com.
the print is 17 by 17 inches on the best paper ever of a watercolor i did inspired by half japanese women and shibuya, in a limited edition of 76, for $250 .

on top of that by popular demand, we will release a 44 by 44 inch version of the same print (it looks fucking awesome at that size)
at a super limited edtion of 5(this was not available in japan,), for $808.
all signed and numbered by me (and who knows maybe something a little extra :)
thank you all for the love and continued support, you all inspire me to create bigger and better things!
thank you!!!