Being A Working Artist With SUVAIR Hirata

For James Hirata, mindfulness is the key to producing truly great art.

As the 2014 Seattle University Visual Artist in Residence (SUVAIR), Hirata is eager to instruct the next generation of up-and-coming artists. During his six-month residency beginning July 7 and ending January 9, Hirata will work with scholars and students from a variety of disciplines, educating them on the realities of working as an artist professionally.

Hirata spoke with The Spectator in a phone interview while visiting fellow artists in New York City. When asked what his objectives are for his upcoming residency, Hirata said, “My goal is to let students observe what art practices are like and what my art practice is like. I plan to bring a lot [of] different artists to the university to be models that students can learn from.”

Hirata plans to educate his students through a variety of forms, including lectures, film screenings, discussion-based classes and student art critiques. Though Hirata is looking forward to teaching in and of itself, he says he is excited to be teaching Seattle U students in particular. He expressed his regard for seniors Kelsey Cook, Liam Downey and Laura Stowell.

“They were just making some things for a class and all the work in the show was really, really good. I was impressed that they were so devoted,” he said.

Artistic commitment employed by students like Cook, Downey and Stowell is very much in keeping with Hirata’s own creative values. Hirata spoke to the importance of trusting one’s “artistic intuitions” when he said, “It’s hard to pay attention to what your interests are… It’s hard to learn how to listen to your interests, and to what is intriguing [to] you about the world.”

Speaking to Hirata’s own work, it is nearly impossible to categorize. From sending a pre-paid cell phone into outer space to painting with his own sweat, Hirata’s work is as eclectic as can be. Fine Arts Associate Professor Francisco Guerrero recently published a press release of Hirata as SUVAIR and described his style as “situation-specific.” Hirata’s pieces have been featured at the PUNCH Gallery, Henry Art Gallery, Hedreen Art Gallery, and Fred Wildlife Refuge, among other venues.

Though Hirata was undoubtedly driven by his creative passions, he recognized that fine arts education and indoctrination can be a fine line. In reference to studying the arts in college, he said, “I think it’s a difficult tract because you are learning your professor’s mind in school and then when you get out, you have to start to think for yourself.”

Critical thinking is still important to Hirata in his practice today. He views the art industry, in and of itself, with a skeptical set of eyes, remaining conscious of the impact, or “footprint” as he calls it, of his own work.

“Whatever art practice you engage in, I think its fair to have some degree of criticality,” he said. “This way, you can be aware of the effect of your presence. This applies to art and
other professions.”

Growing up in West Seattle, Hirata notes the geography of Seattle and the limitations it may have for artists beginning their careers.

“Seattle is so geographically closed off to the rest of the art world and to the world at large. To work as a professional artist, you have to be aware of that,” he said.
He encourages students to study previous artists in their discipline extensively but to be weary while doing so.

“You need to learn to observe what is happening but on the other hand, you have to have some sort of creativity. You could become a mimic,” he said.

Hirata explains that students who are eager to enter the art world must also understand the importance of presentation and the impact it has on the way their art is perceived. Regarding his the exhibition he will show at the end of his residency, he says he is open to student input.

“Maybe I will collaborate with students for the exhibition. Maybe it will be a collaborative show where I invite artists to work with students,” he said. When asked what his central objective for his residency, Hirata says, “I want it to be, more than anything, students learning how to make an exhibition.”

Darlene Graham

Darlene Graham is a sophomore Journalism major and a Film Studies minor. When she's not writing for The Spectator, Darlene enjoys watching interviews of her celebrity crush, Marilyn Manson and caring for her fern.


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