We had the good fortune of connecting with Jeff Nishinaka and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jeff, how do you think about risk?
I’ve always believed that taking (calculated) risks are necessary and an important part of the journey of an artist. To begin with choosing to become an artist is a huge risk in itself. No guarantees of success not to mention a steady income or maybe a normal life… whatever normal is. But if you don’t take risks then you’ll never know what could have been. Some of the best things in my life have happened because I took the risk. It’s easy to stay within the limits of your comfort zone, but then you never get the opportunity to experience something new and different and potentially hugely rewarding. Because of my belief in taking risks I’ve been able to travel the world and have met some of the most amazing people. My life/career would not be what it is today if not for taking risks every chance I had.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to do almost everything possible with paper sculpture from small print jobs, billboards and animation to large installations and a collaboration with MoMA in NY. I know there are still other different avenues for my art yet I feel extremely happy for the opportunities I’ve had so far. But it was far from easy. I’ve had to overcome many challenges. There were times when I thought about giving it up and moving onto something more stable just to pay the bills. Yet as I look back on it, giving up was never really an option. I believed too much that I had no choice but to pick myself up and keep moving forward… haha, like a curse I was forced to live forever. It took the first 28 years of my career to make a name for myself. I just can’t believe that this is my 39th year working as a paper sculptor. I’ve made my share of mistakes in life and career, did and said way too many stupid things, but that’s life and part of being human. Yet the lessons learned from your mistakes are what is really important. The most important lesson I learned though is something my Dad told me when I was still an art student and it was all very new and just beginning. He said to “Choose one thing and one thing only and be the best at it. Don’t become a jack-of-all-trades, good at everything, great at nothing.” I never told him how much his words meant to me and how I took it to heart. It wasn’t too long after that when I decided to put myself one-hundred-percent into becoming a paper sculptor. Guess I feel that I’ve paid my dues many times over and hopefully learned from my experiences, good and bad, along the way.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
It’s hard to say now during this pandemic where I’d take a friend visiting LA to see. Sadly, too many of my favorite spots couldn’t survive and have closed down forever. But not all is lost… there are beaches & mountains and open air malls like The Grove/The Original Farmers Market, Westfield Century City Mall or The Third Street Promenade. In fact the best thing about LA are the places that can be enjoyed outdoors even during the winter. There are also a lot of neighborhood farmer’s markets around the city that are fun to “people watch” and buy locally farmed produce. I’m not a hiker but there are a bunch of hiking trails in the hills around LA that can occupy most of the day. Another great chill thing to do when the weather is good (which is like 300 days a year) is to have a BBQ in the backyard.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Of course my parents and maternal grandparents. They were the first ones to support and encourage me to become an artist. They helped emotionally and financially. There is also the amazing artist painter Dan McCaw from my art school days. One of my best art instructors from art school, Craig Nelson helped coach and encourage me as a student and still does to this day. When I made the decision to pursue paper sculpture as my artistic medium of expression, Leo Monahan, one of the early pioneers of paper sculpture helped tremendously. My good friend Leo is almost 88 years old and I’m still learning new skills from him! I’m also lucky to have a number of close friends, fellow artists and non-artists who’ve always supported me over the years. Being an artist can be a very lonely thing so it helps having a wonderful group of friends and colleagues that always support you.
Linkedin: Jeff Nishinaka
Facebook: Jeff Nishinaka Paper Sculpture
Photographer Credit: Columbus_Medical_NY – Scott Dunbar Me&Zak_Downtown LA – Ed Ikuta Qualcomm/The_Atlantic – Scott Dunbar Tiger_Mask – Ed Ikuta