May 28, 2023
thats the hook up proletariat boston kenji pin striping

13 Questions From ALPH / An Interview with Kenji Nakayama

thats the hook up proletariat boston kenji pin striping

I am surrounded by amazing individuals. I am incredibly lucky to know some the best artists and creative thinkers working today. Some of them have exposure and some of them you have never heard of, either way, I’m going to interview them and share their words wether you like it or not. Relax and take notes as we start with TTHU’s very own and very talented Kenji Nakayama.

AS: What’s your name, what do you do?

KN: Kenji Nakayama. I have been making hand cut multi-layer stencils of (mostly) cityscape. I have also been doing traditional sign painting as an art and also as a side trade.
And design sneakers for full time job.

AS: Where are you from, where are you at?

KN: Hokkaido, Japan. Boston, MA.

AS: What brought you to Boston?

KN: I moved here from Japan to learn traditional sign painting at Butera School of Art in Boston, although the name doesn’t exist anymore, now it’s become a part of Fisher College and the sign painting program is going to be closed next year. The school had almost 100 years of it’s history, and it was the only school that taught people traditional sign painting. It’s just really sad.

AS: What keeps you here?

KN: Job. Of course friends(although some of my good friends left here over the past few years), work environment(including my studio set up)
Boston is definitely hard place to live if you wanted to make a living off of just doing art or music, lots of young talents are moving away after they finished their school and there is not enough good support as well, and we are lacking strong artist community, however it seems like things are getting a bit better lately.
But I actually like the lowkeyness of this city, you will never get buzz as much as you would get in NY or some other big cities, but you will have to hustle as much as people in the big cities which kind of good and bad but you will have less hustle going out and checking out events and shows because we don’t have that many cool shit happening here that often so you could be more productive and you also another cool thing is you don’t get to be involved in decent gigs that much, less opportunities here, but you still need to keep doing it for long term goal and you probably want to search for opportunities in different cities. sounds kind of awful, but you get to face the realty and it makes you tough. And I love how some people hate the others here, makes me careless about the others and stay being focussed. again, it doesn’t sound attractive, but I think it’s fine, I’m used to it.(LOL… please don’t take my words too serious, Boston is better than that, I feel like Boston is the place, hard to make friends, but once you made friends, they treat you like family)

My friend Caleb Neelon wrote a good article about “how to survive in Boston as an artist” kind of things for some paper, and it was well spoken.

AS: How did you get into pin striping?

KN: I got really into motorcycle and always fascinated about hot-rod and motorcycle culture, and you can not talk about Hot Rod culture without Von Dutch and Ed Roth… pinstripe is one thing I’ve always wanted to get into, I got my first pinstripe brush 10 years ago and I was so stoked and I totally ruined at day 1 just because I didn’t know how to take care of brushes, basically didn’t know how to clean and store the brush.
But I learned all the basic including how to use and take care of brushes,sign painting tools, media at Butera School of Art, and of course learned techniques and all sorts of sign painting tricks.
I personally prefer East Coast truck pinstripe to West Coast hot rod pinstripe, but I think I like to get better at both styles.

AS: What was the transition from this into Stencil work?

KN: stencil is separate, I have been doing but it started from motorcycle too. I used to paint friends bike with automobile spraypaint and I started cutting stencil to put a graphic, that was my very first stencil.
then I started making intricated ones, but it became way more serious after I moved to Boston.

I am known for stencil more than sign painting stuff, but I am trying to define the clear connection between those 2 things. I’ve been collaborating with Dana Woulfe, and it is helping me to combine 2 things together really well, through working with him, he definitely pulls out my abilities and has me utilize and explore since after having worked together for a while, he knows what my skill sets are.

AS: What artists and people do you currently respect the most (Music, photography, literature, painters, whatever)?

KN: Caleb Neelon is one I have been looking up for past years, he is a great artist, but also a great writer/author,
Very well rounded creative individual. He recently released “History of American Graffiti”, I’m sure lots of you guys must have heard of him and know what he’s done.

Project SF has been doing more cool stuff lately, especially Dana, Josh have been putting up so much work, and of course everyone else in the team are very talented and always has something going on which is very inspiring me. I feel good about being part of the group.

Kerry of Proletariat, he just always has some crazy ideas and make shit happen, also he definitely has 6 sense, when I was working for Proletariat, his shop didn’t have a big storage room, maybe bathroom size small closet, it was not enough space to put anything, but he was really good at ordering stuff just on time and everything arrived perfect timing, I was always like “Damn Kerry…” He kind of sees future, I guess that’s why he always knows what’s next and make a good decision whenever he needs to.

I could bring up more names but I respect Dark Clouds a lot, he is insanely productive and his obsession is indestructible, he just keeps it real.

AS: I find it incredible that you use so many elements of graffiti for your work but completely shy away from using graffiti directly in your work. Is this intentional?

KN: I use spray paint, also my subjects are often be one of those places that taggers and graffiti writer go up, but my main focus was never been graffiti or street art on the buildings… I had spent decent amount of time documenting the beauty of decay in the city, but graffiti, tags and street art are often be way more temporary than what I was capturing as the main guy in my work, however it is very important element of what I wanted to document, and I’ve always loved finding and looking at graff and street art.

AS: What are your all time favorite tools/utensils?

KN: OLFA Knife,
All my sign brushes and stripers(pinstriping brushes)
1 Shot

Stencil? I wouldn’t say what my favorite stencil is, but “Reflection Returnal” is probably one of the most memorable piece I’ve done so far… I have a lot to talk about it, lots of things happened around the time I was working on it and lots of things happened because of that piece, but I don’t talk about it here, it is almost too personal and I feel like this is something I would talk if someone asked me about that piece in person.

AS: What is something you are really excited about right now?

KN: Painting antique tools, and few other projects…

AS: I have seen you produce amazing work both commercial and for personal use. Do you find it difficult to balance the two?

KN: Not really, I have a good time on both, but I find it difficult to make time for everything I want to do especially while I have a 9-5 job.

AS: How did you get involved with TTHU?

KN: Proletariat Family

AS: Name a goal you want to fulfill in the next year:

KN: Stay low, keep moving forward

AS: Stay real Kenji, it’s always a pleasure.

Be sure to check out more of Kenji’s work here.

Now┬áthat’s the hook up!


ALPH was once suspended in third grade for drawing on the walls in art class. Not much has changed.

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