Thomasina Larkin stumbles across a local artist who likes to mix and match.

Armed with phat magic markers, acrylic paints and his computer, Shibuya Tadaomi can transform anything that catches his eye into a soulful and lifelike image of robotic funk. Influenced by a childhood spent watching Transformers and Power Rangers, and surrounded by the mismatching architectural designs and graffiti of Yokohama (where he was born and raised) and Tokyo (where he’s often played), Tadaomi pays homage to the vibrations of music as his main inspirational force.

“The sounds I hear give me a vision of what I express on paper,” says Tadaomi, who gives props to his local idol, world famous music producer DJ Krush, for his boundless originality and expressiveness through ambient-ish experimental hip-hop tunes. “Art is a communicative tool. You don’t need language when you can talk through art.”

Despite the robot-like portrayal of his portraits, Tadaomi’s pieces depict an uncanny likeness to reality as his thick, bold lines create a real sense of depth and the outline detail gives them a three-dimensional quality that seems to make the drawings materialize. The 32-year-old illustrator didn’t discover his gift of reproducing robotic replicas of real things and enter his budding career as an artist until about five years ago, well after he graduated from a design school that he says imposed restrictions on his creative endeavors.

“I had limitations and rules set by the school because the types of art I could create were dictated to me,” says Tadaomi. “I wanted to express myself by finding my own style through music, especially hip-hop.”

Tadaomi’s groovy diagrams have been graphed onto garments for Japanese clothing line BBS, huge canvasses displayed at festivals in Europe, CD jackets, shop windows in Harajuku, magazine covers for music publications in the United Kingdom, events flyers, boom boxes and, most recently, clothing designs for North Face, which are expected to be released in June. Tadaomi has also just completed 60 drawings to create a fully animated music video for “What You Standin’ For” by Japanese hip-hop DJ Uppercut and MC Rosco P. Cold Chain from the Neptunes. Though his work has been presented at numerous venues in the UK and Japan, including at Harajuku’s Diesel clothing store in April, Tadaomi says he’s still a starving artist struggling for survival among a vast sea of virtuosos in Japan. “I’m often invited to join exhibitions, but people can’t often buy my work and word about my stuff doesn’t spread so much,” he says. 

Despite the fact he relies on his mom’s home-cooked meals to provide him enough sustenance to spend a typical day walking around his neighborhood, Tadaomi is one very naturally kakoii (cool) dude. “I don’t worry about making something cool,” says Tadaomi, whose droopy eyelids, shaggy hair and freckles almost make him look like one of his portraits come to life. “I draw to make people smile and be happy, to enjoy art. I just enjoy working with many different people and collaborating on a wide range of projects.”

illustrated by Todaomi Shibuya

Story by Thomasina Larkin
From J SELECT Magazine, June 2006