Keiko Nabila Yamazaki’s Creates Childlike Work That Makes Us Feel Young
Article written by Isaiah Lawrence on May 25, 2021
When you take a look at Keiko Nabila Yamazaki’s artwork, the thought of colorful, bold shapes and lines with playful illustrations, surface design, and printmaking, can bring you back to your childhood. Although she experiments in different mediums like gouache painting, printmaking, and jewelry, most of her work is done digitally. Seemingly, her work gives viewers a characterological approach to reliving the most enjoyable parts of their early days (where the pressure of being an adult is highly unlikely).
Keiko was born and raised in Jakarta, Indonesia and moved to New York in 2013 to attend the School of Visual Arts (where she achieved a 3.91 grade point average). From the years 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, she has been on the Dean’s List. Ever since graduating with Honors Rhodes Family Awards for Outstanding Student in 2017 with a BFA (Bachelor of Fine Arts), Keiko has been doing a wide range of activities like paintings for exhibitions, commissions, as well as having her own line of products, that she wholesales at shops and sells at Craft Fairs. The inventory in her shop consists of affordable items like art prints, stickers, postcards, keychains, enamel pins (also known as lapel pins), tote bags, silk scarves, etc.
You may think about minimalism (also known as ABC art), after taking a glimpse at her pieces, where she does not focus on emotion, but allows her art to embody a childlike spirit. Sure, there is not an excessive amount of detail in her work, but the small amount of details are enough to standout. She can make less detail more valuable than highly detailed work. The nostalgic memories of sitting back and watching cartoons on daytime television, to eating broccoli, and playing with toys (like the yo-yo and the time play cube), are what many of us are afraid to admit we miss.
From her 2016 artwork like “Snake and Ladder,” there is a colorful, geometric background, ladders in the middle ground, and snakes in the foreground. This piece gives viewers the nostalgic feeling of playing classic board games. Many of us probably forgot about the Tamagotchi (a handheld, egg-shaped LCD video game with a digital pet on the screen) and she digitized it in “Tamagotchi Bath Time.” The piece showcases the joyful activity of playing the Tamagotchi while taking a bath with a rubber duck.
Keep researching her artwork and you may notice she also creates sexual content like “Luchadoras,” where the female wrestlers are only wearing masks and shoes (while a shirtless, male referee is holding a ‘Round 2’ sign, wearing wrestling trunks).
The computer-savvy Keiko is passionate about Wes Anderson works, Disney tsum tsum dolls, food, dogs (especially her Cocker Spaniel named Shelby Frog). She grew up watching many Western and Japanese cartoons.
Keiko received recognition from the “Society of Illustrators” and “American Illustration.” The press coverage she received: “NYSAI Press—The New Blue” and “NYSAI Press—I’m Sorry.” Some of Keiko’s awards: the “3x3 Student Show Winners No.14” (2017) and the “Society of Illustrator Student Scholarship Award” (2017). She achieved publications: the “CreativeBloch Magazine—Issue No. 2” (2017), the “Visual Opinion—Graduation Issue” (2017), the “Anna Magazine” (2017), the “American Illustration Book 37” (2018), the “CreativeBloch Magazine—Issue No.5” (2018), and the “Circle Magazine Quarterly Art Review—Winter” (2018).
With artwork striking a euphoric sense of freedom, Keiko showcased her artwork in a solo exhibition called “The Exhibitionist” (2017). As for some of the group exhibitions she participated in, she exhibited her art work at “JCAT Showcase 44” at the “Ouchi Gallery” (in Brooklyn, NY, 2016), “Poisoned Apples and Smoking Lamps: Interpreting Fairy Tales and Adventure Stories” at the “SVA Chelsea Gallery (in New York, NY, 2016), the “Satellite Art Show” at the “Ocean Terrace Hotel” (in Miami, FL, 2017), “BFA Fine Arts” at the “SVA Chelsea Gallery” (in New York, NY, 2017), “Japanism 2” at the “Pleiades Gallery” (in New York, NY, 2018), and the “Illustrators 60 Exhibit: Part One” at the “Society of Illustrator” (in New York, NY, 2018).
Many minimal artists were influenced by the notion of nothingness, derived from Hindu scriptures. Were you influenced by the notion of nothingness?
Honestly, not me. My work is minimal and tend to be direct, but I think it is my way of trying or organize the chaos in my life.
On your website, you created your own version of the “Fantastic Mr. Fox” DVD cover. In an interview, on “Ballpitmag,” you were asked “Who and/or what inspires your work?” You are inspired by everything you see and feel. Movies inspire you, especially those with cinematography and art direction by Wes Anderson and Wong Kar-wai. Fashion inspires you in terms of colors and patterns. Who inspires you more? Wes Anderson or Wong Kar-wai?
This is such a difficult question. Both, Wes Anderson and Wong Kar-wai use composition and colour to evoke emotion and humor. Both of their movies feel so nostalgic. If I were to pick one, I think I’d have to go with Wes Anderson, only because the props design are very illustrative, closer to what I do as an artist. There is something magical with Wes Anderson’s work that makes it feel like a fairy tale. The story feels both real and unreal at the same time, if that makes sense? The real aspect would be how all the characters have a backstory of family dysfunction and I can definitely relate to that.
In your piece, “New York City Pattern,” there are patterns of a taxi, a slice of pepperoni pizza, a hot dog, a pretzel, a red brick house (with a smiley face on the front door), a building that appears to be built from blocks, a gold building, a building in a shape of a baby bottle, and a numbers and letters. The numbers and letters in this piece appear like stickers. What does the New York City taxi represent? Why did you choose a taxi instead of a school bus?
I wanted to create a pattern that encapsulates New York City. I first visited New York in 2011 when I was in high school and it gave such a strong impression for me. I knew that this place was the place for me to be. I think I subconsciously chose taxi instead of a school bus because I didn’t grow up here. I didn’t go to a school here and I’ve never even seen the yellow school bus as a child, except on cartoons and TV shows. The Yellow cab is iconic, probably one of the first thing people will mention if you ask them what’s visually memorable about New York City. It’s the first thing we see when we step out of the airport; we take it on the way to the city from the airport and on the way to the airport from the city.
Ever since 2017, you have been doing paintings for exhibitions and commissions. You are even an award-winning illustrator and surface designer. What would you say is your biggest competition?
Time? There are so many things I want to do, but I always feel that there isn’t enough time. Sometimes, it’s difficult to know where to start.
You own a line of products you wholesale at shops and sell at Craft Fairs. What is your best selling product? Are there any other items you hope to sell at your shops?
My best selling product would be the hot dog hat and the hot dog enamel pins. I think there’s something about dachshund that people love. There are so many items that I hope to sell at my shop, but one thing I would love to explore in the future would be apparel. I also want to design dog harness and leash for pets.
In “Big Apple,” the colors of the rainbow are in the background, but not purple. A giant, eye-popping apple is smiling in a bowl with a banana, orange, and watermelon in the foreground. What software did you use to create this piece?
I don’t think I use much purple in my work. This, I do not know why myself. I used Adobe Photoshop to create this piece. I work primarily digitally and I love creating iconic spot illustrations.
“NYC Hot dog” actually shows the face of a dog inside of a hot dog bun, a tail on the end, and legs extending out of the bun. When a child thinks about the word hot dog, many may think about a dog, which is incorporated into the piece. At one point, many, if not all, children compared a hot dog to an actual dog. The redness of the hot dog can mean it is fresh and hot. The word “New York” on the hot dog is vibrant yellow, which could be mustard. Do you favor mustard over other condiments or is mustard the only condiment on the hot dog because it fits the digital piece?
I am still that child. Whenever I see a dachshund I always think of hot dogs too for some reason. Not sure why? Truth be told, I actually don’t enjoy eating mustard. The same with wasabi, I find it unpleasant as it hurts my nose. Growing up in Indonesia, I eat a lot of condiments, especially hot chili sauce. My favorite brand is ‘Cap Ibu Jari Jempol’ and the spicy hits differently than mustard; it doesn’t hurt your nose, just your tongue. I chose mustard for the hot dog illustration because the colour complements the artwork. Since the hot dog is red, I can’t use ketchup, so I had to settle with mustard.
“NYC Hot Dog.” ©. 2018. All Rights Reserved.
You create childlike art and also sexual art. Who would you say is your target audience?
My intended target originally has never been kids. I like colourful and vibrant things. I like bold shapes and lines. I’ve never really thought that my art was intended for children until I did my craft fair in 2013. All the kids flocked to my booth and were so happy to see my stickers. Parents would also direct their kids to my booth to see my work. I think it is because I am very much inspired by the cartoons I watched growing up that my work feels like it is intended for children. Of course, I am not at all upset that children love my work. My ultimate goal as an artist is to share happiness through my art, so I am very happy that they love my work. Children are honest, if they like what I am doing; I must be doing something right! So who are my target audience? I hope it’s everyone. I know that is very broad but I hope there’s some parts of my work that everyone can enjoy.
You are inspired by Pablo Picasso’s quote: “Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” Did you miss out on any parts of your childhood? Are you trying to relive your childhood?
I don’t think I am trying to relive my childhood per se, more that I am trying to reflect back to my childhood as an adult. I do feel like I missed out on a part of my childhood. To be open, I didn’t have an ideal childhood, so it was quite difficult for me growing up. I wasn’t close to my parents and they didn’t have a good relationship with each other. Long story short, my dad was busy working abroad and I don’t have a good relationship with my mother. Because of this I didn’t have a sense of security at home. I hated being at home because it makes me feel so anxious. I was forced to grow up early so I had to find my own happiness in order to keep sane. I found comfort in watching cartoons. In cartoons, everything was possible and everyone was happy. I feel like I can be a child and act like a child while watching cartoons. It made me forget about what was going on around me. I think this had a huge impact on me and creating this style of art gives me some sense of happiness. It is important.
In your art piece titled “Me,” you are doodling on a piece of paper. I know that it is a childlike piece, but is there a bigger reason why you do not have any eyes in it?
I actually use smiley faces a lot in my illustration. I wonder why I didn’t use it this time? Probably because I wasn’t sure how I felt about myself when I created the illustration. I didn't know what kind of expression to put on the face, so I left it blank.
“Me.” ©. 2020. All Rights Reserved.
Have you ever thought that if you digitally design a part of your home in your piece “Home or Nursery,” somebody would desire the real home? Or is this piece another home that children call home?
Of course. If I can digitally design a part of my home, it creates an endless possibility of what I can have and see. Since it is digital, I can always change it around.
This is a drawing that I did of my current home. I have only really felt at home when I started moving to New York. I feel comfortable at my home here. I know most people feel home sick, but I don’t think I’ve ever felt homesick. Of course there are things I miss such as my friends and the food, but I am happy here after starting a new life here.
The reason why I named the piece “Home or Nursery” is because nursery is where plants are being taken care of for optimal growth all year round. The plants are protected from the cold winter and harsh summer heat. This is how I feel now about my home. For the first time, I feel protected and secure in my new home in New York. I can finally grow to be a better and stronger person. My house is also filled with plants too, so it is basically a nursery anyway.
“Home or Nursery.” ©. 2021. All Rights Reserved.
In “Susana 1,” who is Susana?
Susana is my friend! I would say she is one of my most constant supporter, someone who enjoys my work and pushes me to explore new things. She commissioned me on several paintings before, and in all of them, she gave me full artistic freedom. It’s an artist dream to be able to do what they want for work, and this isn’t always the case in illustration world.
“Susana 1.” ©.2020. All Rights Reserved.
Your 2016 Art piece “Tennis” shows tennis balls and smiley faces in front of a multi-colored tennis net. Was there a specific memory that made you create this piece or did it come from randomness?
No specific memory, it definitely come from randomness that happens in my head. There are so many things that I subconsciously think about that I can’t even keep up.
“Tennis.” ©. 2016. All Rights Reserved.
“My Life In A Day” is a humorous piece. It shows you sharing a bed with your significant other, your dog interfering between the romantic moment. Afterwards, the significant other walks the dog in the snow while you are looking on your cell phone until you fall asleep. By the time you wake up, it is night time and you are hungry. Would you say this describes the “My Life In A Day”?
In 2020, some days are definitely like this. 2020 was such a difficult year for me, both mentally and career wise. I don't feel like making art at all, and when I do, I don't like anything that I create. I feel so unproductive and upset at myself, and not doing work makes me feel very anxious. I believe that I am not alone when I say that 2020 was a trying year. That being said, 2020 has taught me something about myself: that I measure my worth based on the result of my work, and not the journey itself. I realize that I should be kinder to myself and that it is ok to make mistakes. That it is ok to take a break once in a while and not being productive does not mean you are a failure. Everyone has their own pace, and forcing yourself to run fast will just burn yourself out.
“My Life In A Day.” ©. 2021. All Rights Reserved.
Yamazaki Nabila, Keiko. “KNYAMAZAKI.”. 2021.
Yamazaki Nabila, Keiko. Instagram. “knyamazakiillustration.”. 2021.
Yamazaki Nabila, Keiko. Behance. “Keiko Nabila Yamazaki.”. 2021.
Yamazaki Nabila, Keiko. LinkedIn. “Keiko Nabila Yamazaki.”. 2021.