A frank conversation with Pueblo Illustrator Riki Takaoka
“I’ve almost quit doing art so many times.”
I’m at a coffee place downtown talking shop with Pueblo artist and illustrator Riki Takaoka. With works currently on display at the Q Pop gallery in Los Angeles, and a recent addition for possible contribution to nationally syndicated contemporary arts magazine Hi-Fructose, (not to mention freelance nominations from Paramount Animation Studios), I figured he and I were in for a quick convo about brushes or pen techniques. I wasn’t expecting that one of the quickest and most accurate caricature artists I’ve ever seen in my life would say he is quitting something he’s clearly great at.
But I was shocked to hear that come from his lips.
Shocked, but sadly not at all surprised. Talk to almost anyone in the so-called creative class, and they’ll tell you a similarly dismal story that usually goes as such;
1) Find something creative you love to do.
2) Take years and years honing and perfecting your craft.
3) Get good enough to be recognized for your art.
4) Ask for compensation for your art.
5) Get chided for daring to ask for said compensation.
The worst part about hearing that from him is that the illustration work of Takaoka is flat out phenomenal. Blending playfully bold caricatures with a jagged surrealistic quality, Takaoka has developed a signature style and skill set that stands on its own. A style that he points out he has been brewing since childhood.
“When i was a kid, I would draw and redraw the same cover of PSM (PlayStation Magazine) over and over. I was just obsessed with it. I’ve stayed in my room for days sometimes, just trying to push myselfto do better,” Takaoka said.
But all the talent and hard work in the word can’t guarantee financial success in the art world.
When the topic shifts to art as a means of income comes up, Takaoka offers, “Art is hard. Not hard for me to make. It’s easy to make and I love it. Just hard for me to deal with. Or, I guess live off. Deal with trying to live off it. And it’s frustrating to spend hours making a commission piece for someone and then have to beg them to pay for it.”
Unfair doesn’t seem to do it justice. In no other profession other than the creative field will you hear of such a thing. I’ve never once heard of my food service friends offered to be paid by a future profit share, or my wife the hairdresser and stylist proposed exposure for their work as an alternative to actual money. But every day in creative lines of work, artists are at odds with clientele who want assets for nothing or damn near.
“I get that almost every time, everywhere. It doesn’t matter where I’ve been. I’ve lived in Hawaii, in Texas, here in Colorado.” he said. “Unless you’re a well known artist, people constantly try to get out of paying you for your work.”
“There’s been times where I haven’t drawn for three months straight,” he added, sounding a bit dejected. “Because sometimes it just doesn’t feel worth it. But it’s one of the only things I know how to do well.”
I asked him about his experience living and working out of Pueblo.
“It’s a nice place to live. It’s affordable. I can walk around and not feel stressed out about having to have two jobs to survive,” Takaoka said. “But the problem is no one wants to work with each other. Not everybody, but too many.”
Even though the art scene here is by no means perfect, he was quick to add, “but it is getting better I guess. And bigger. People doing more. Taking chances.”
In any other line of work, the odds of failure facing people would break most people. But not Riki. At the end of our conversation, I asked if he considered quitting forever, which got a sly grin. “I can’t quit, I guess. Maybe I’ll just stop for a while. But not completely. At this point it’s like handwriting to me. Period. It’s almost subconscious. It’s the way I see the world. And deal with it.”