Luis Mendo and I sat at a small table at his workspace in Kamiyamacho, just ten minutes from Shibuya station. He said he was a drawer—a term that for him meant something between an illustrator, an artist, and a graphic designer.
“So, Luis,” I said, “What do you think the feel of Tokyo is?”
“Well, I can tell you about the smell of Tokyo,” he said.
I paused for a moment. Laughed.
“Okay,” I said. “Tell me about the smell of Tokyo.”
“Every time I come to Tokyo I have this… well, you get into a city and you kind of smell it, right? A friend of mine asked, ‘What’s the smell of Tokyo?’, and I said, ‘Well, it’s a mix between new plastic, asphalt, and soy sauce.’”
Luis said it was a blend of the organic, the artificial, and the food culture—all of it mixed together to create a unique scent all of it’s own. The scent of Tokyo.
“And what do you like about the place?” I asked.
Luis shook his head.
“So many things, man. So many things,” he said. “What I enjoy the most is the visual inspiration that Tokyo brings to someone who uses visuality as a part of their work. Because it’s so layered, it’s so full of illustration and photography, and even the writing itself is a kind of drawing. And that’s all input that you get, and it digests in your mind, and then you use it in your work.”
We talked a little about the area. About the fashionistas and designers that passed by in the mornings, and the Norwegian cafe he never felt comfortable at. Luis laughed about the little shop on the corner by his studio, the vintage one with the owner who looked like a character out of a Robert Crumb comic.
Luis hadn’t decided exactly what he would draw for the project. He said he drew wherever he went; he would find something. It was just a matter of time.
Luis’ drawing is hard to categorize, and difficult to pin down. His style sways depending on the subject matter, the tools at hand, and his mood. When I asked him about it, he said his style was temperamental.
“I mean, I let my line go where my feeling goes,” he said. “So I’m not really good at drawing academically. And it’s mainly because I don’t have the patience. My temperament always takes over. It’s very hard to stop so the drawings become very organic and a bit wild in a way. It’s a kind of contained wildness.”
I liked that. A contained wildness. It brought to mind the image of a raw expression or idea, confined to a single page. Luis told me this was one of the good things about illustration, and about art—it helps people to understand the world.
“People are lost in the world. It’s too chaotic, it’s too full of unexpected moments and unexpected things. People need to get a grip on things, and to live in a peaceful way. And drawing helps with that, because [when] you draw you simplify things. If I make a drawing of all of this,” he said, gesturing to the bookshelves behind me, “I have to simplify those things in a way that makes them simple to assimilate.
“And then I think, ‘Okay, the world is actually quite simple.’ And I think that that should be art’s task.”
“Breaking things down and expressing them at their core?” I asked.
“Yeah, or to make the world more understandable. More close, and less threatening.”
We talked a little more about the area, and about drawing it. Luis talked about some of the things he might draw, and some of the things he found interesting to draw, but he never settled on a single idea. He stressed improvisation—the act of just letting things happen, and seeing where it goes.
“You cannot plan life,” he said. “It’s so strange that people try to plan life all the time.”
“That’s a really great line though, Luis,” I said.
“Yeah, but you can’t,” he said, shaking his head and smiling. “Don’t even try.”
Interview & Written by Hengtee Lim