Moving to the other side of the world to make art is no easy feat, but Przemek Sobocki has made a success of his art and fashion illustration in Japan – and has never looked back.
Young Post caught up with the Polish illustrator last month in Shatin’s New Town Plaza, where his work is currently on display as part of the mall’s Spring Secret Garden exhibition. He shared his experiences of moving to Asia, establishing himself as an artist, and how he often creates pieces to match clients’ briefs.
Did you always wanted to be an artist?
I was always drawing, but I’m not from an artistic background. I was really interested in fashion, but no one told me you could do that [for a job]. I had a friend who went to art school, and I thought about doing the same. But, for me, art in the form of painting was too pure. I needed to do something useful. I was interested in the theoretical side of art and its history, but especially architecture. I remember when I found out I could study interior design. I liked how it fell between architecture and [traditional] art and was useful. I studied for five years, and I have an official fine art degree, with a specialism in interior design. I started working as an interior design, but decided to go back to the school and study fashion. Then I went to London.
How did you end up in Asia?
For six years, I lived in London, where I ended up accidentally. My friend invited me there for a holiday, and I stayed. I was really into fashion at the time, and wanted the inspiration and experience of London. Then I got tired of the lifestyle, it was tough. It’s a beautiful city and I learned a lot, but I needed a change. I wasn’t yet ready to go home, and I had some Japanese friends, and got interested in Japan. I did an exhibition there in 2006 and decided to give it a go living there.
How is it being an artist in Tokyo? Is work easy to find?
I think I was lucky in that I met the right people. It’s also about your personality. I felt really comfortable there. I think I’m not too scary for Japanese people! Some foreigners are really loud and big, while I’m really into the idea of distance. I like that no one talks to me on the street or on the train. After more than 10 years, I’m kind of established [in Japan]. I have a name there.
Is most of your work client-based commissions?
Yes, although I do hold my own [private] exhibitions sometimes. If you’re an artist, you need to express yourself in a way that feels natural. I don’t believe you should do exhibitions for the sake of it – you do them when you’re ready and you have work that you want to share with people.
Your portfolio is really diverse – album covers, window displays, fashion illustration. Do you often exhibit in malls?
In 2012 I created a big display for a big department store in Tokyo. Since then, I’ve been getting more space design offers. My background is in interior design, so it’s easy for me to connect with a three-dimensional space. When I do fashion illustration, it sometimes feels like the magazine pages are too small, too claustrophobic. It’s nice to have other outlets to express myself.
Because my background is in design, I like to think of myself as a designer. I do art, I do illustration, but I think as a designer. I really focus on the right colour balance, storytelling, composition, all these things. I like exchanging ideas with a client – I’m not the kind of artist who closes the door and doesn’t see anyone while I’m creating something.
Tell us about the Spring Secret Garden exhibition
It’s a continuation of the work I’ve been doing recently – incorporating more botanical elements into my work. My first ideas for [this exhibition] were different to how it turned out – they wanted it to feel darker, more green, more moody.
In a 3D setting, like a shopping mall, it can be difficult making things feel intimate. We tried to create a space people can enjoy and feel they’re in a different world.
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How does it compare to other projects you’ve worked on? What would you say is your favourite medium?
The shopping mall is so big, whereas before I’ve mainly worked on window displays. Even the a space design [I’ve done in the past] was still quite closed, while [the mall] is more open-plan and bigger-scale.
Was it difficult scaling up your work to such a large space?
I tried not to get overwhelmed. I worked with the client and designing company, who were really helpful. They knew exactly what they wanted, as they know their customers well. When I work in a space, I want to visit the place to feel the dimensions and different angles, but I didn’t have that opportunity with this project. I had to really trust [the client] and follow their directions.
What are the challenges you’ve faced along the way?
It’s never been smooth: it’s a tough journey. It may look amazing from the outside, but all artists have their doubts. Artists can be oversensitive and take things too seriously. I haven’t found one thing to stick with yet. I’m still looking. Maybe I’ll always be this way!
How is technology affecting the way you work?
It’s amazing! I just got the iPad Pro and I love it. Doing commercial work in the past involved drawing, scanning, then cleaning it up. Now you just draw [on the iPad] and it’s just there on all your devices. It’s really opened my eyes. I like the texture of paper, so I still try to use it in my illustrations, though. I like imperfections – I don’t like it to look too smooth or plastic.
What’s the next project for you after you get back to Japan?
I just did a packaging collaboration with Guerlain in Japan. That was launched [last month]. So I’ll be attending launch events and helping with promotion. I’m also going to create some animation for an advert. I have a few projects in mind, but I’m not sure if I’ll have time. I’ve made lots of kids murals in the past, so I’d like to start a business that creates murals and wallpaper for kids rooms.
If you didn’t have to worry about income, what would you be working on right now?
Well, I’d take a long holiday for a start! I’d be interested in working in the movie industry, or in theatre. I did set and costume design in London, which was my first fashion experience. Or maybe animated movies or art direction for print media.
Sobocki’s work is on display at New Town Plaza, Shatin until Sunday, May 7. See more of his art at sobocki.com