"It has only become iconic because of our cultural response to it. Ezawa's piece holds a mirror to our collective obsession with every tedious detail of celebrities' lives."
A yearlong project featuring Ezawa's idiosyncratic, hand-drawn computer animation and aided by assistant Ryan Thayer, voice actors, and assorted interns, the Anderson-Lee piece is also one of the artist's most overtly comic pieces: the tabloid twosome's cartoonish lifestyle slips seamlessly into Ezawa's format as they exchange aggro vows, stroke tats, and chat up their pooch.
"I feel that I'm in the business of making moving paintings more than I'm in the business of making videos with a beginning and an end and a kind of dramatic curve," the 37-year-old self-described "video guy" confessed across his work table. "It's a different kind of attention that people bring to a gallery or to a museum, and in that way, it almost has to work like a painting, meaning some people will watch it for 10 seconds, some people will watch it for a minute, but it really depends on how they will get grasped or not grasped by the image."
The half-Japanese, half-German artist traces his own initial attempts at image-making to ancestors. "If you ask any artist, if they're really honest, there will be something way, way, way back even sometimes before you were born," he said with a small grin. The drawings of his great-grandfather Hans Gelderblom, an architect, made an impact, as did his Japanese forbears' silk paintings and bronze vases.
As a child in rural southern Germany, Ezawa etched his own path with cartoon flip books and hand-cranked panorama boxes resembling TVs. "I think there's one thing about the countryside that informed or really influenced me and why I am how I am now," he explained. "In the city I think even as a teenager there's already these peer groups sometimes it's ethnic, the Latino kids or the Asian kids, some listen to punk music or some are really good at school or math. In the countryside it doesn't really work like that you're just stuck with your age group, so one of your friends is a fantastic athlete and a piano genius, and your other friend is a borderline alcoholic heavy metal fan, and you all just converge and hang out. And so I think even today ... I sometimes think I don't have any taste, you know?"
That ability to switch from high to low, between mediums and messages, fed his work at the Düsseldorf art academy, where he tried his hand at photography and performance art before scoring an opportunity to study with Fluxus video art innovator Nam June Paik. "He wasn't there a lot, but to me, he was a really big inspiration," recalled Ezawa, who made his first video in order to be in Paik's class.
At first he put together "still videos that didn't move at all": one of his first, I Want to Buy the Empire State Building, was made when the structure was actually for sale. Working pre-Photoshop, Ezawa used a graphic machine to print the title sentence along with his phone number, reproducing the words on a C-print before hanging it on the wall and videotaping it. Paik had the piece, along with other student works, shown at the Anthology Film Archives in New York City. "What's similar to the videos I make today was I didn't think of video as this entertainment format," Ezawa said. "I thought of video more as a light box. It was really just like this illuminated image coming out of the TV."
TAKING OFF ON HISTORY
Ezawa's light-box reworking of Yves Klein's Leap into the Void part of "The History of Photography Remix" looked down from an otherwise pristine wall above us. After finishing his BFA at the SFAI and his MFA at Stanford, Ezawa began teaching at California College of the Arts.