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Former Graffito Brings Type-Inspired Murals to Kobe, Japan

San José-based artist Sam Rodriguez brings a style influenced by interesting typefaces and Hayao Miyazaki's color schemes to Kobe.
October 21, 2016, 2:45pm
Photos by the author

A slice of San José has cropped up in Kobe, Japan, courtesy NorCal painter, muralist, and former graffiti artist Sam Rodriguez. Having lived in San Francisco and Brazil before returning to his hometown to raise a family with his Vietnamese wife, he's adept at learning from different cultures. Titled, Kizuna, his latest wall work is one of nine new murals brought to the area by POW! WOW! Japan, one branch of an international organization that beautifies cities around the world with street art.


Kizuna is part of Type Faces, a series of portraits with big blocky text that Rodriguez says affects our preconceptions about his subjects. This one incorporates local flair by pairing two women's faces, one young and the other old, with large Japanese text and symbols which translate to "family bonds." Passing pedestrians are fascinated by meticulous technique of applying thin layers of paint with a brush and washcloth. Whether or not they speak English, locals smile and offer kind words to Rodriguez about his work. It doesn't hurt that he's incorporated some anime flavors into the piece, citing Hayao Miyazaki's work as an influence on his color scheme.

One elderly lady excitedly touched the wet paint as if she'd never seen a mural before, which, according to POW! WOW! regional director Emily Okamoto, is entirely possible. Whilst getting approval to bring the festival to Kobe's Rokko Island neighborhood, she tells The Creators Project, "I had to explain how tagging and bombing is different from murals. They’re used to cleaning up tags and buffing walls in subways. Because these artists are respected, [the council members] understand that murals aren't tags. They're there for for artists to present their work and be meaningful to the community."

POW! WOW! goes out of its way to incorporate culture of the host city into its public artworks. Murals in its flagship venue in Honolulu often feature traditional Hawaiian patterns, figures from local folklore, and include offerings from indigenous artists. Rodriguez's take on this maxim is to dedicate his mural to an earthquake that rocked Kobe two decades ago. "When I was applying for this wall, I read about the candlelight vigils that still memorialize the Great Hanshin Earthquake of 1995," he tells The Creators Project. He preserves that memory in the relationship between a grandmother and granddaughter, epitomizing the "family bond" after which he named his work


Rodriguez's process becomes even more clear in his notes and plans for his mural and other artworks, including a streetwear-styled Totoro and Ernie from Sesame Street, which you can get an exclusive look at below.

Follow Sam Rodriguez on Instagram. Tune into our Facebook page this evening to ask him questions during an interview live from Kobe, Japan.


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