Artist ob Shares About Her Concept of “Moe” and the Energy of Self-transformation Hidden in Adolescent Uncertainty

Saitama-based ob celebrated her first solo exhibition in NYC last November, bringing the artist’s innocent, otherworldly atmosphere to Galerie Perrotin’s spacious second floor. Among the art scene’s most cutting edge institutions, Perrotin’s sleek Lower East Side space features galleries on three floors, at once airy and built from brutalist concrete. Every few months, Perrotin opens new shows in batches of three. Last November, ob’s Your, My, Story attracted an ultra-fashionable crowd of Instagram stars, or maybe the kids who truly inspire them. The front desk bloomed with a bursting bouquet of congratulations crowned by a signed card from superstar Takashi Murakami also who operates ob’s creative home base, Kaikai Kiki Gallery.

“I believe that the energy of self-transformation hidden in adolescent uncertainty gives us the courage to face others”

Your, My, Story shared a wide selection of ob’s most recent work, including canvases and drawings done with pastel and pencil on paper. In addition to marking her first sweeping introduction to this global art capitol, the show also celebrated one full decade since ob’s artistic debut. Over her career she’s built a recognizable style always exploring new angles. Wide-eyed and angelic figures she calls “vessels” and “puppets” deliver messages from realms beyond our own, set in soft scenes culled from the artist’s own cultural experiences. 

ob began taking painting seriously in 2006, sharing her work on emerging social media technologies like the online platform pixiv. By 2010, the same year ob graduated from Kyoto Art Senior High School, she emerged as an active participant in Japan’s thriving “SNS Generation,” a new wave of artists who honed their crafts and constructed creative communities through Social Networking Services (SNS). That same year, the fledgling ob curated a group exhibition called wassyoi that highlighted artists working alongside her in the SNS Generation. This show captured the attention of art fans and industry insiders around the world, a meteoric debut for ob’s style, which has remained consistent since.

However, the success of ob’s artwork transcends her ability to slip into the right space at the right time. Her universe finds widespread resonance through delicate and intentional details. Her figures themselves entrance, shrouded in mystery and alabaster auras. They are idealized canvases for viewers’ projections. Sometimes compared to anime or manga characters, these similarities between pop culture and ob’s artwork say more about society than anything. Her characters visually allude to ubiquitous adolescent uncertainty. Via email, ob intimated she considers the concept of “moe,” or adolescent uncertainty, more important to her work than youth alone.

“The emotion called ‘moe,’ a word that symbolizes Japanese otaku culture, is a shining light that can illuminate us at any stage of development in our life,” ob wrote. “I believe that the energy of self-transformation hidden in adolescent uncertainty gives us the courage to face others.” 

Uncertainty denotes an in-between place where something is neither one thing nor another. Such is the nature of not-knowing. ob’s technical approach embodies this energy, balancing digital inspirations with analogue methods like oil painting, made from natural materials. “I am constantly working within contradictions,” ob wrote. “Having contradictory thoughts in your mind gives vitality to life, so while you feel comfortable with digital inspirations, you can’t help feel stimulated from physical materials and embodiment. Just like people who are tired of urban life aspire to live in suburbs, I find fluctuation between the digital world, where you can get a lot of information with the movement of your fingertips, and the painting expressions, which you achieve by dealing with your physical body and the painting medium.”

“Today, the value of diversity is expanding rapidly. I think that revisiting the classic stories may hint to revisiting ourselves”

Winding through the walls of Your, My, Story at Galerie Perrotin painted a dreamscape ripe for the viewer’s own narratives. Whether arranged in Berlin or Taipei, experimenting with detailed scenes or bold accents or the understated intimacy characterizing ob’s NYC show, she’s simply providing the tools for others to find what they need. Over email, the artist noted that contemporary culture rapidly transforms due to the thrilling proliferation of diverse voices and ever-increasing rate of human communication. “While enjoying this, I am eager to conceive and produce artworks that transcend time, and to gain a wider perspective through the process,” ob wrote. 

“I am attracted to myths and folklore that are similar around the world,” she continued. “Of particular interest is the genre of human-animal marriage. Historically these stories tell us that when different beings try to get married, major turbulence occurs. If you interpret the human-animal marriage psychoanalytically as a story of turmoil in one’s mind, we can assume there is another existence within our deep psyche. Today, the value of diversity is expanding rapidly. I think that revisiting the classic stories may hint to revisiting ourselves.”

Your, My, Story unfolded from efforts to connect with real people. ob explained that her NYC debut stemmed from her participation in the group show Healing, curated by Takashi Murakami, which traveled to various Perrotin locations during the pandemic. “I feel that COVID-19 brought common feelings to many people, such as enforcement of a new lifestyle, the sense of loss, and all the physical divisions,” ob noted. “NY has a history of overcoming such difficulties for over 100 years, and people from various backgrounds have continued to live together.”

Feelings from when we were teenagers are essential to overcome the micro scale traumas innate to the human experience

The world is continually recovering from the pandemic, but also all the many traumas innate to the human experience–on the micro and macro scale, over minutes and months and years. To be alive means to engage with “moe” because deep down every human being still feels like a lost teenager, at least sometimes. ob has struck a nerve in the softest way possible, with an gentle attempt at facilitating hope for serenity. 

“I would like to create paintings that leave space for imagination to enter, so that the viewers can evoke their own narratives,” the artist concluded. “During this solo show, I have heard several times that my paintings reminded viewers of their childhood experiences. That made me feel I was able to connect with the deep psyche of the viewers.”

She pledges to continue exploring that depth of painting in upcoming works, including a 2022 painting featured at Head in the Clouds, a group show that opened Feb. 9th, 2022 at Perrotin Tokyo with artworks from Aya Takano, Otani Workshop, and more. Stay logged in to ob’s story on Instagram here for your daily dose of everlasting youth. 

An artist born in 1992. When ob was in university, she was mainly active in Kyoto, where her university was located, and gathered creators of her generation through the online illustration community platform pixiv and curated the exhibition wassyoi. In 2013, she accomplished her collaboration with Shu Uemura. In 2020, she opened neo wassyoi (at Hidari Zingaro) and Healing (at Emanuel Perotin Gallery Seol.) Subsequently, in November 2021, she opened her first solo exhibition in New York titled, Your, My, Story.

Edit Jun Ashizawa(TOKION)
Translation Ai Kaneda


Vittoria Benzine

Vittoria Benzine is a Brooklyn-based art writer and personal essayist covering contemporary art with a focus on human contexts, counterculture, and chaos magic. Her work has been featured in Whitehot Magazine, Hyperallergic, Brooklyn Magazine and more. Instagram:@vittoriabenzine