© grape Japan / © Vanilla Gallery / © SRB GENk

Kawaii, Fetish, Erotic, Cruel. The Art of GENk (Exhibit Overview and Artist Interview)

From July 23rd to July 29th, you can experience the unique artistic vision of GENk (pronounced "genki"), in his second solo exhibit at Vanilla Gallery in Tokyo. Combining elements of the kawaii, the fetish, the erotic and the cruel, GENk's paintings are both visually arresting and alluring, disturbing and enticing. This exhibit, "Unknown Cults" is the perfect opportunity to see his works and perhaps even meet the artist. GENk enjoys interacting with visitors and has been regularly spending time in the gallery since the exhibit began.

"Unknown Cults"

Source: © grape Japan

"Our own secret cults of worship -- Apart from religion, I think we all have 'faiths with no name' within our hearts. Perhaps the religious services and doctrines which we have, through the ages, turned into symbols of our selves also have forms which cannot and will not be understood. And yet, even if they remain understood by no one, they are nonetheless sacred and precious above all things. When you come face to face with these 'faiths with no name' strewn across the gallery, I hope you will, if only for a fleeting moment, commune with them."
(Translated from exhibit press document)

If you're unable to visit during the exhibit period, artwork and goods are available for purchase at Vanilla Gallery's online shop here.

Vanilla Gallery

If you're expecting art work which is all plain vanilla, think again. Surprisingly situated in the posh and prim shopping district of Ginza, the eccentric and much beloved Vanilla Gallery specializes in the subculture fringes of Japanese art, often featuring fetish, erotic and grotesque elements. There's a good chance you'll find something interesting, perhaps shocking, tantalizing and memorable.

The plain vanilla sign gives no indication of the world lurking within...

Source: © grape Japan

Go down the stairwell (rabbit hole) and you'll begin to see previews of what to expect. The poster for Unknown Cults is there, along with posters from past exhibits...

Source: © grape Japan

The gallery has two main exhibition spaces, A and B, as well as a shop where you can purchase goods related to past and current exhibits.

"Unknown Cults" is in Exhibition Space A.

Source: © Vanilla Gallery

Source: © Vanilla Gallery

Interview with GENk

We were fortunate to find GENk at the gallery when we visited, affording us an opportunity for a brief interview:

  • Grape Japan (gJ): Your painting style seems to combine elements of horror—blood in particular—together with eroticism and kawaii. Were these things always present in your art since you began?
  • GENk: My point of origin, when I first decided I wanted to become an artist was when I saw the work of a creator, no longer alive now, by the name of Yasushi Nirasawa. He made creatures. Their faces are human, but their bodies are heavily surrounded by exoskeletons. His work looks a bit like American comics. That was his style. So, when I saw his work, I thought this was someone with an amazing art style that goes beyond [anything] Japanese [artists have done before.] And that’s when I started painting, imitating his style. Then, after some time, I found out about Trevor Brown. When I saw his work, I realized that his kind of art was exactly what I was seeking for myself as a painter. After that, I decided I wanted to establish my own style fusing the kawaii, fetish, erotic and cruel within my art.
  • gJ: Have Japan’s unique subculture(s) also influenced your style?
  • GENk: Yes. In fact, there’s some overlap with what I said earlier but I discovered Trevor’s work precisely because Japanese subculture was enjoying a boom in the 90s. I was still a student at the time but that’s when I discovered the erotic, the grotesque, drugs… basically, taboos. I discovered taboos. Up until then, I didn’t care for horror and things of that sort but that all changed… I was… I knew it was taboo, but I couldn’t fight the temptation to look at it! And that’s when I began to like body piercing and other kinds of subcultures. So, when it came to painting, I personally didn’t get anything pierced but I began painting subjects upon which I could project such [subculture]. And this has remained in my art until now, as I established my style painting girls with piercings and tattoos.
  • gJ: And are your works mostly based on models or from your imagination?
  • GENk: From my imagination, mostly. In recent years, however, I’ve used miyako, or the main model for this exhibition, also in the poster, Mitsu Maria, who I met at an event called Fetish Festival. Then, there's Miku... She’s been a fan of mine from the time even before I began exhibiting my work, which would be about six years ago—she was still in her teens back then—and [later] she would always come to my shows. Now, I finally have the privilege of painting her as a model. So, in recent years, it’s true that I’ve gradually increased the number of paintings based on models.

Source: © grape Japan

  • gJ: I see. Generally speaking, do you put titles on your paintings?
  • GENk: Well, for me, words are important. I don’t think I need them to explain each work, but I do think my paintings need hints. So, for example, this painting here, with the separated head, has a title which I think is really easy to understand. I call it “Fanatical Fanatic.” This girl always puts on a calm and composed façade but inside, she has feelings on the brink of overflowing, feelings of passion and uncontrollable love! Those feelings explode and gush out! That’s what this painting is about. I think the painting itself already expresses that idea but adding this kind of play on words as a title is fun... I can enjoy deciding on titles for my works. I place importance on such titles because they offer something interesting which is independent from the work itself.

Source: © grape Japan

  • gJ: So, then, if I understand correctly, when you paint blood like this, rather than representing actual violence, you intend it as a symbol—for example, as you mentioned in this painting here—of passion or of other feelings?
  • GENk: Yes… Well, it’s not the case every single time but, relatively speaking, it’s not about blood really flowing out but rather as a kind of makeup. People who have an ideal of beauty in their minds, people who firmly believe in an ideal about what is beautiful or cool, and then act on it without hesitation... I truly admire such people. I think those who do body modification are like that. For example, piercing your body or getting it tattooed isn’t something you need to do as far as living out your life goes. But when I hear about people who cut their tongues or, in the most extreme cases, cut off a finger, I can’t help but feel that these people are so cool because they sought out their ideal of beauty which they believed in. So, to symbolize this, I paint cuts… And I paint those cuts on the girls in my paintings because I want to convey the meaning that this is beautiful.
  • gJ: In one of your recent works I saw, there was a girl with a heart-shaped cut on her arm… Yes, this one here… That painting left an impression on me. It looked like she was doing it as something pretty, a decoration, an ornament which she enjoyed…
  • GENk: That’s right. Well, in fact, it’s self-mutilation. That’s clear. But at the same time, it’s not just an act provoked by a certain mental state. There’s a side of her that is engaging in “blood play,” enjoying the act of cutting… She’s doing it because she thinks it’s beautiful, which is why I gave it the title: “Look, look!” It’s not something dreadful at all. She wants to say: “See how pretty I’ve become.”
  • gJ: And maybe: “This would look great on Instagram”
  • GENk: Yes (lol) It’s just that pure motivation which is reflected in the title.

Source: © grape Japan

  • gJ: I’d like to ask you another question. I’ve noticed that many of the girls in your paintings have grey, clouded eyes. Is there any intent behind that?
  • GENk: Ah, that… You see, I just love so-called “dead eyes”… I love zombies and ghosts with their vacant stares… Those scary eyes in the film “Ju-On” (The Grudge) or Sadako (from the "Ring" series) staring at you… I find those eyes sexually attractive or cute. So, in my paintings, the girls have a vacant gaze or seem to be in a daze... but they’re also very alive…
  • gJ: It’s truly the Eros and Thanatos duality…
  • GENk: It is, exactly!
  • gJ: Do you have any contacts or experiences beyond Japanese borders?
  • GENk: Well, I’ve hardly had any contacts outside of Japan… I’ve interacted with international fans several times. As for work, I’ve been contacted by people outside of Japan a few times, but either we couldn’t reach an agreement at the rough sketch stage or people have asked permission to use a work which was not available or already being used somewhere else… I don’t have anything going on right now outside of Japan.


SRBGENk (pronounced "genki")

"The fearful is beautiful, the horrific is erotic. Both kawaii and fear coexist in his paintings. The adorable and the strange based on bloody fantasy and insanity with a tinge of the occult. Even in his most intensely individual works, many people have been charmed by the alluring gazes of the girls in his paintings and by his beautiful expressions of blood. These days, SRBGENk is not only active in the ero-grotesque, he participates in events and art festivals of various genres. He has contributed cover art for music CDs, film DVDs and books, designed the key visuals for [hard fetish art festival] Enzan as well as Fetish Festival, and is known for designing the main visuals for the horror survival board game "Hako Onna." You can be sure that great things will continue to spring from his creative mind."
(Translated from exhibit press document)

Source: © grape Japan


SRB GENk solo exhibit "Unknown Cults"

  • Place: Vanilla Gallery, Exhibit Space A
  • Address: B2 Tosei Bldg., 8-10-7 Ginza, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 104-0061 (Google map).
  • Duration: July 17th (Tue.) to July 29th (Sun.) every day
  • Times: Weekdays 12:00 ~ 19:00 / Weekend 12:00 ~ 17:00

Source: © grape Japan


By - Ben K.