A new kind of calligraphy

For local muralist Yuya Negishi — whose work appears throughout Minneapolis — one principle guides his art: ‘Get people together.’

Artist Yuya Negishi poses for a portrait in front of his second mural he created on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2016 a block away from his home studio in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. The mural was painted by Yuga for protection for a friend  that passed away.

Easton Green

Artist Yuya Negishi poses for a portrait in front of his second mural he created on Thursday, Sept. 16, 2016 a block away from his home studio in the Uptown neighborhood of Minneapolis. The mural was painted by Yuga for protection for a friend that passed away.

Gunthar Reising

The art studio, apartment or disco — depending on the time of day — lies between an upper-middle class yoga studio, and a sequestered lot littered with empty bottles of vodka.

Within the house, psychedelic color schemes, life-size Buddha sculptures and an expansive collection of West Coast 90s rap records exist harmoniously — thanks to the eccentricities of Yuya Negishi.

Muralist and painter Negishi is a burgeoning name in the Twin Cities. You can find his murals from Uptown to Oregon.

“Working with him … it’s interesting. Every day is new,” Negishi’s roommate and fellow artist Joel Coleman said in a testament to Negishi’s peculiarity.

Keeping Yuyaness from Minnesota Daily on Vimeo.

Amid a strong herbal odor, Negishi reminisced about his childhood in Japan where his creative spirit began its cultivation.

“[I] played outside,” Negishi said. “Instead of [being] stuck in the house playing video games. Back then it wasn’t like that at all. We had to create our own toys — such as [a] samurai sword.”

Negishi, like all students in Japan, had to take calligraphy classes from ages six to 18. He now incorporates these skills and other iconic Japanese symbols, such as the dragon and koi fish, into his work.

Despite an early passion for art, Negishi has never sought formal training.

“I have no education in art so I can be a free spirit,” Negishi said. “All [of] my art is [an] experiment.”

Since moving to the United States with his now ex-girlfriend, Negishi has worked hard to make a home 6,000 miles from his place of birth.

“I decided to stay here because I wanted to make more art and establish my life as an artist,” Negishi said. “As I stay here longer and longer I like it here more and more.”

During a tour of Negishi’s home, a sizable record collection and full DJ setup prompted the classic “if-you-were-stranded-on-an-island-and-could-only-bring-one” question. Negishi’s answer? “West Coast gangsta rap,” of course.

“I was listening to J-pop or something and one of my friends was like, ‘Yuya do you know hip-hop? You’ve gotta check this out.’ [It was] N.W.A. and Tupac.”

“They’re singing about their life,” Negishi said. “Their struggle[s], hardships … I really respect that about hip-hop.”

Negishi’s paintings feature staples of hip-hop culture — community and expression.

“I mix traditional Japanese symbols with colors and pop,” Negishi said.

Negishi has also incorporated an element of performance into his artwork. The way he describes his process makes it sound like a dance.

“[The murals are] a way to express myself,” Negishi said. “I feel really, really good. I can use [my] entire body — climbing up on the ladder or scaffolding just like monkeys. It’s really fun, and then that’s what people feel.”

Negishi draws energy from crowds. He enjoys working on murals rather than painting in his home.

“I can actually talk with the community, the people who live in the neighborhood. I get like a fuel into my soul. When people like it, it makes me really happy too. I love it.”

The goal with all of Negishi’s murals is simple: “Get people together.”

As a muralist, Negishi sometimes struggles to strike a balance between the community’s wants and his individuality.

“I have to make sure people agree with it,” Negishi said. “Sometimes I have to paint something based on what they like, but at the same time I really want to put my energy upfront.”

Due to a controversy surrounding one of his recent projects, Negishi had to repaint an entire mural. In the background, he had painted what looked like a World War II Japanese flag.

“I learned a lot [from that]. I can’t make everyone happy, but I’m trying. If people don’t like it that’s alright, but I don’t want to create misunderstanding. As an English learner I tend to miscommunicate often — even now,” Negishi said.

Despite the confusion, Negishi now counts the controversial mural as his favorite project.

This cultural collision is what Negishi seeks in every aspect of his life; his art provides a cultural bridge.

“Music, art, drink,” Negishi said. “They bring PBR and I bring sake.”