Born in Hyogo, Japan, and now based in Brooklyn NY, Mayumi Nakao moved to New York City in 2013 to study painting and the English language after graduating from Sozosha Design School for Illustrators in Osaka, Japan.

Lately, her focus has been on improving her skills in painting while absorbing various styles in order to arrive at a more sophisticated take on representational art. For her, representation has generated a methodology of sourcing and technique that has evolved into a very personal vision almost as if it’s her own genre.

She recently obtained a certificate of fine art at the Students League, where she was inspired to paint in oil and to take her practice more seriously. Her latest paintings are based on family photos of American friends who grew up in New York City. She mixes photorealistic representations with the imaginations of the past in order to create the paintings.

As Mayumi emigrated alone from Japan, she experienced feelings of isolation and despair. This series, entitled "Borrowed Nostalgia," is based on childhood photos of her friends. Mayumi always finds comfort in familiar family images and uses her imagination to create vibrant, patterned scenes.

Her love for color and Western culture are exemplified in each work through Pepsi Cola or Batman. The aim is to share stories of individuals who also experience judgment and displacement.Inside the work, she uses different cultures, races and generations as a way to tap into our common memory, making images that are strongly present and yet also a doorway to our shared past. This feeling, for her, has a sort of sentimental value that makes the heart warm.

Original Art by Mayumi Nakao

Artist Statement

My “borrowed nostalgia” concept is about family and friendship and it emerged from a very good place. I have a close male friend from Ghana who lives in New York City and he had all of these family photos from back in the day. I was immediately drawn to the photos featuring him and his family enjoying their time together in America. Such moments touched my heart so much that I wanted to paint them on canvas.

A few years ago, after seeing these family photos for the first time, I immediately thought about my own family back in Japan. Specifically, I thought about the good times and the bond we all had, and still have, and the experience gave me much nostalgia.

Not too long after that, I asked my close friend whether I could paint his family photos because I wanted to focus on different cultures and races as a way to cultivate humanity and spread love. I thought of the different generations represented in the photos and therefore wanted to tap into our common memory with paintings that are both strongly present and a doorway to our shared past.

This approach to using art as a vehicle to build community is very important to me.  

Original Art by Mayumi Nakao

How has your relationship with art changed over time?

In 2017, when I started creating, I was just drawing what I liked without thinking about anything. I started oil painting in the fall of 2018, and I had the opportunity to show it to the people around me. I received evaluation, advice, and happy words for the work. I remember that my awareness of painting changed from there. At first, I started it as just a hobby, but when I continued to do it every day, I developed a desire for expression, approval, and ambition. Also, they became stronger as time passed. You can move someone with what you make, it can be a powerful tool to show your identity, and sometimes it has a stronger will than words. My serious relationship with my art will be in the 6th year this year, but it is still fresh, unknown, and sometimes there are fights. I think I will continue to work hard and stick with this relationship for a long time.

Where do you find inspiration? What drives your work?

I often get inspiration from my friend's old photographs. I usually imagine the atmosphere of the early 90s, so I can get a lot from American home dramas, movies, interiors and home decoration books from that time. In addition, there are many things to gain in everyday life, such as conversations with friends, scenes seen in the middle of a walk, experiences on the trip, etc. Also, there are many museums and art galleries in New York, so I can see the works of various great artists and get inspired from them. The challenge and curiosity are that I want to shape the inspiration I get from such things and incorporate them into the next work – this is a big driving me.

Original Art by Mayumi Nakao

What is your favorite part of your process?

Actually, all of the process is fun, like sketching images in my head and putting colors on the canvas. My favorite part is painting the facial expressions of the characters. I work on the person's facial expression at the beginning, and I can't move on to the next steps until I'm convinced. It's a very important part of the process. Also, I like to include detailed motifs. It is especially fun to put things in that make you feel the smell of life, the patterns of clothes, trivial things mixed in the background, and meals are one of the important elements as well.

What is one thing about your art and or practice that our audience may not know?

In my painting, Perth, perspectives are not expressed correctly. I haven't learned the basics in art. When I started painting, I was self-taught and it was difficult to correct them. However, some people told me that it can be a strength in my paintings, and it is good to have strange feelings. After that, I don’t force it or modify it. I am using it as a characteristic of my paintings.

What does your dream piece/project look like?

Last year, I had experienced painting while staying in Italy for a month. I learned the fun of living in a new place, absorbing new things in different vibes than usual, and put them directly into the work.

It would be great if I had the opportunity to change the environment and location once in a while for paintings and participate in local projects.

Original Art by Mayumi Nakao
Mayumi Nakao
Mayumi Nakao
Mayumi Nakao