An Interview with Hisham Bharoocha

April 4, 2015

Hisham Bharoocha has been a constant source of inspiration for us as a multifaceted artist and as a positive human being. Guess what? You don’t have to be an asshole to be a good artist and Hisham is living proof of that. Hisham’s artwork comes in many different forms that all seem to inform each other. From collage, painting and murals to photography, clothing and music, we often wonder: How does he do it all? We wanted to find out and in turn learned about Hisham’s background growing up in Japan, his influences, work habits, guilty pleasures, current projects and of course…..his astrological sign. Enjoy!

Lil skater punk Hisham

Lil skater punk Hisham


Can you remember the first piece of art you saw that had an effect on you?
When I was a kid I didn’t really think about art but I drew a lot based on being super into Japanese Manga. So maybe that was an influence but I didn’t think of it as art. I drew figures of people skateboarding while looking at issues of Thrasher and Transworld.
I got into art because of my mom who is a painter. She had some books on Japanese Summer festivals and I was obsessed with the colors you’d see at those festivals. The food stands, the dancers and their outfits, etc. I didn’t know photography was art back then either.

The first time I felt I understood art and found a connection between my teenage drawings and paintings was when I saw an Outsider Art exhibition at a museum right by our apartment in Tokyo at the Setagaya Museum of Art. It had pieces by Henry Darger, Adolph Wolfli, Annette Messager, Dali, and so on but I was so inspired by the work I saw in that exhibition and I felt the visual vocabulary they were using was what I was interested in the most. I saw a lot of repetition and pattern and that has always been a big part of my work.

Playing drums in Black Dice, 2001

Playing drums in Black Dice, 2001

When did you start making art? Did you always know you wanted to be an artist?
I drew since I was a kid but when I got into playing music I stopped drawing as much in Junior High School. Then while playing bass and singing in tons of bands my mom said ‘you’ll never be able to make a living as a musician you should at least do visual art’ which is funny because obviously that’s not the usual rhetoric you hear from a parent but that comment got me to start thinking about going to visual art school. I wanted to keep music pure for myself as an experience since it brought me so much joy to play without having the constrictions created by learning compositional music structures at a proper music school. I was very happy to have gone to RISD and I got to make visual work and music at the same time which was a dream come true for me.

Boa, ink on paper, 2011

Boa, ink on paper, 2011

You spent your childhood in Japan and then moved to the states as a young adult.
How do you think growing up in Japan has influenced you as an artist? 

Japan is all about extreme stimulation so you can see that in my work. I grew up in Tokyo during my Junior High and High School years and I went to as many music shows and art exhibitions as possible. I would put my cassette walkman on and go to the art book section of Parco and I would pour over all different types of books for hours and hours. I had this feeling that I was doing research for the future. That shows that kids have such an instinctual knowledge of how their minds work. I was a teenager that was into metal, then got into indie rock and experimental music because of skateboarding videos and going to shows. All of that influenced my art making practice and still does to this day.

Did you grow up watching cool cartoons or TV shows in Japan? I used to love
watching reruns of Ultra Man…

I was more into Manga because I was in San Diego during elementary school so I didn’t have access to the shows as much. I was super into one called ‘Kinnikuman’ which is known here as ‘Muscle Man’ which is a super hero wrestling story. I learned how to draw figures from that comic book. I was also into one called ‘Hokuto No Ken’ known here as ‘Fist of the North Star’. ‘Dr. Slump’ was also another favorite when I was a kid. Later on I got into weirder ones, darker comics like ‘Devil Man’, ‘Akira’, ‘Kiseiju’ or ‘Parasite’ and so on. The list is vast. Every Japanese person reads manga, it’s the same as reading books there in a way. Oh ‘Gundam’ was a childhood favorite for sure almost forgot about that one.

Installation view of Control, an exhibition at Snow Contemporary, Tokyo, 2013, photo by Keizo Kioku

Installation view of Control, an exhibition at Snow Contemporary, Tokyo, 2013, photo by Keizo Kioku

I’ve always admired how you’ve been able to stay active as an artist in Japan even though you’ve been living in NYC for a long time now. Does that feel important to you? To be able to help build more of a dialogue between Japanese and American art and culture since you have this unique position…
Yeah I feel lucky to have been able to exhibit over there, to be able to talk about being a mix raced Japanese person. If you are mixed race there you are considered between a full blooded Japanese and foreigner so that puts you in a weird space. It’s the same as being a new immigrant here, where you ride the line of being proud of your cultural background and trying to fit into American culture. I have always been that outsider, on the cusp but not fully integrated. That comes across in my work pretty clearly, where my work might be considered too visceral to fit into the conceptual art world, or not direct enough to fit into the graphic art world. My music isn’t completely abstract but it is not pop music. It is no longer noise music or fully experimental so I don’t fit into either world fully and I can’t because that isn’t my true personality. I don’t fit in and I don’t want to fit in because that’s not me. I am interested in this space that I occupy as a multi-cultural human being and I create work with this in mind even though it may not come across in a direct way in my work. I was lucky enough to live in two countries growing up and being a kid that was into thinking about the structures in which we live mentally, cultural and physically. I payed attention to how cultural differences sculpt ones mind.

Soft Circle performing at barnard Collge, photo by Zach Dilgard, 2009

Soft Circle performing at barnard Collge, photo by Zach Dilgard, 2009


You often jump from working on music to art back to music. Do you find this jumping around to be inspiring or scattered or both?
Both. I have to get in a groove with each medium so sometimes I feel rusty, and it takes a minute to get my mind into perform music mode or painting mode. That said it feels the same in my mind when I switch from thinking in English or thinking in Japanese. That movement is actually very fluid in the mind so maybe it’s not a good analogy but it does feel similar to when I change the presentation of my personality when I am around Japanese people or Western people. It basically doesn’t change but the physical gestures and speaking manners change.

The pros of being multi-disciplinary are that you get a break from one medium and you can exercise a different approach to creating something. When I need a break from editing photos I can make a collage. When I get tired of visual work and need a break I can work on music. They all influence each other and it’s great to be able to see the connections between them all.

The cons are that I don’t learn technical things and compositional elements as in depth as people who work in mainly one medium. That said most artists now don’t work in only one medium. It’s not as common since we are inundated with information on different types of art and we are all interested in growing as artists, using technology in our work, incorporating many different elements to progress.

I’m working on connecting all in creative practices in the space of art since music and photography have usually been totally separate from what I considered my visual art. I’m starting to make sound sculptures and incorporating my own photography into my work.
We’ll see what happens next.

hisham-insta
You are an avid Instagrammer. How has IG affected your creative practice?
What do you think of IG’s role in society? Is it good for art?

I’ve always been a photographer and majored in it at RISD so when that social media platform started I was like ‘it’s on I got this’. In school I shot 35mm for the most part and when I graduated I started shooting medium format, two and a quarter so basically composing in a square. Since IG is a square it worked out that my mind was already used to composing in a square format.

I use IG to showcase things I find interesting that I happen upon in the world, so mostly from a journalistic perspective but I also promote my art and music projects there. Since ‘photos say a thousand words’ I found that IG is a social media platform that brings people closer than any other social media platform. I’ve become real friends with people who I follow or follow me which doesn’t happen with Soundcloud or even Facebook. In a way it’s like experiencing music live. If you see a band and they come across as phonies and they are acting a part, then you feel that immediately. That isn’t a judgment on that kind of music or performance but you can see it and feel it, then decide if you want to take it or leave it. If musicians on stage seem like they are truly expressing sadness or anger on stage you can feel that immediately. Photos are the same when they are curated that way on a platform like Tumblr or IG. You can see what people pay attention to, what kind of people they want to communicate with and so on.

I choose to be on social media because it helps my career as an artist and it is in my personality to want to communicate to as many people as I can. I am aware that it is a fragmented presentation of parts of me and I don’t have a problem with that. I don’t think social media is good for everyone and it isn’t necessary for everyone to do. It’s a choice you can make to be a part of it or not but one can choose to keep in mind that most young kids look to the Internet to get all of their information.

Instagram’s role in society depends on the person using it and the viewer’s mental filter. Some see it as the destruction of photography as an art form. I could give two shits about that way of thinking about it. The beauty in photography is that anyone can take a great picture but it’s very hard to be consistent and original within that medium. I love the aspect of looking at stranger’s pictures and sometimes people who are obviously not thinking about it as an art form take the most incredibly original photographs. That’s what attracted me to photography in the first place. I love finding something in the world that is stranger that what I could imagine.

Is it good for art.. It depends on each person’s angle and how they look at it but I find out about a lot of artists through looking at IG and I think people have discovered my work through IG so from my stand point it is good for art. All the selfies with art though, not so into that.

Music Comes from Within, collage, ink, felt balls on paper

Music Comes from Within, collage, ink, felt balls on paper

What’s it been like working with the Boredoms over the past, like almost 10 years? Any good Eye stories?
I have so many.. The one that comes to mind is when I had already done some improvisational performances with Yoshimi in The Netherlands and also opened with one of my old bands Pixeltan for her side project OOIOO. I got invited to play at Eye’s art opening at a place called Trees Are So Special in Tokyo. The owner who died of cancer a couple years ago knew Eye was a huge influence on me so he invited me to perform as Soft Circle but also to possibly do an improvisational set with Eye. I had only interacted with him on a fan level at this point. I remember Eye watched me sound check as Soft Circle very intently and that made me nervous but as soon as I was done with my sound check he walked over to me and said “yeah let’s do a set together.” The show was sold out and it was one of my most fun memories to connect with an artist I admired so much.

Then there’s 77 Boadrum but that’s another long story..

A lot of the art community is being priced out of NYC right now. It’s a pain in the ass to be here but yet we keep on sticking it out. Why do you continue to stay?
My best friends are for the most part still here. There are still a decent amount of people I grew up with in New York during my early 20’s and I still feel that there is community here. I have people that I am working on projects with and I want to be able to keep working with them for the moment. Before art school I lived in Tokyo so I’m used to being able to access things easily using public transportation. I like that you can hear about something an hour before it happens and experience it, like going to a music show or an opening or any other type of performance.

I definitely don’t like how expensive renting space is here. I hate that the city feels like a giant mall with tons of privileged people buying things and everything looks the same, tastes the same, sounds the same. Everyone wears the same thing, the second you find something original it’s absorbed by the commercial world. That’s a global issue and I see it when I travel all the time. Every young girl looks like they want to be at Coachella, or be an actor highlighted in Nylon. Every boy looks like a hip hop star. All music sounds very similar, comfortable, not pushing the envelope.

That all said I do still find originality in youth culture here, and even though most of the world has been gentrified and global aethetics are becoming a smooth Google search I see that observers no matter what age you are, are aware of this and know it’s an issue. Culture is dying because everyone’s attention span is so short. Everything is entertainment, not something that people should think about for longer than two moments. New York will always morph and grow. I’d like to be a weirder presence in this city as long as I can deal with it. Until all my friends move to LA ha ha..

Climb High, paint and paper installation, 18 ft wide, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Climb High, paint and paper installation, 18 ft wide, Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco

Do you meditate ?
Yes. I use a technique called Vipassana. I can’t say I do it everyday which is the proper way to do that practice (twice a day; once in the morning and once in the evening) but I use it when my mind feels cluttered. It’s the only thing that has really worked for me, the only practice that peels away the layers of daily experience which pile on top of each other in the mind. If one doesn’t peel away the layers and look at them you can’t see how you have reacted to certain experiences in depth. Many smaller mental traumas can be caught between layers of experience and all one needs to do to avoid confusion, which leads to anger and depression is to address the feelings you felt during those experiences. I highly recommend this practice. I tried many types of meditation since my mom was pretty new age but this one deals with reality. Nothing is imagined, no glowing light, no imagined peace, no mantras. I love that about it and I feel that real spirituality is actually more scientific than people think. Accepting how the mind works and being more objective with your life is a good perspective to have. I feel l’m a cross between Buddhist and Animist. I’m not into dogmatic religion but I do see the beauty in religious rituals. Some people need them to survive, to stay optimistic and positive so I do not judge that.

Obstacle, collage on paper, 2015

Obstacle, collage on paper, 2015

Any rituals you do when you work on art or music?
Not really but I like my routines I guess. I drink my ‘take on an empty stomach’ supplements first thing in the morning, make coffee then start working. Eat breakfast or not, take my ‘take with meal’ suppliments, work, eat lunch, then go to the gym. Make dinner for my wife, work a bit more. Read, meditate and sleep. I guess that’s all a type of ritual in a way..

Red Dot, dye on found fabric, 2015

Red Dot, dye on found fabric, 2015

What are you currently working on? 
New music projects include finishing a Soft Circle record as well as working with my friend Dan D’Errico on a project which is unnamed at the moment. I want to set up more performances with my group IIII. Working on getting more grants. Some commercial work. Boredoms is headed to London to perform for a project that Doug Aitken created called Station to Station. That happens in June. My year is a bit less structured than last year..

What do you do on a day off from working?
Absorb art, music or travel. Recently trying to travel as much as possible. It’s so inspiring to see places you’ve never been to, to see the culture, hear the sounds, smell the air.

Hisham's installation in Temple of Bloom exhibition, Cinders Gallery, 2010

Hisham’s installation in Temple of Bloom exhibition, Cinders Gallery, 2010


What astrological sign are you? 
Totally Pisces through and through.

Do you have any guilty pleasures?
Collecting art books and T shirts. I have way too many T shirts. I bet I could wear a different one for a whole year. I have to get rid of some.. Ice Cream? Japanese snacks?

If you could have any superpower what would it be?
Make it so no evil could exist on the planet. Extract extreme greed and fear from people’s minds.

Desert Vision, collage and ink on paper

Desert Vision, collage and ink on paper

Who are some of your favorite artists currently?
To me the classics which influence always are Sol Lewitt, Agnes Martin, Robert Erwin, Isamu Noguchi, Francis Bacon, Richard Tuttle, Dieter Roth, James Turrell, Frank Stella, John McCracken. Eye’s work will always be an influence.

I like some of Katharina Grosse’s work a lot. I just saw some fantastic paintings by Joe Reihsen. I always love what Tauba Auerbach is doing. Laura Owens is doing amazing work. Tomoo Gokita, Kerstin Bratsch, Landon Metz, Greg Bogin, Jay Davis are all doing amazing work. I guess I’m looking at more paintings than before because I have some new ideas I want to try in that world of creation.

Facial Recognition, collage and ink on paper, 2015

Facial Recognition, collage and ink on paper, 2015

Do you have any favorite quotes or mottos?
not really.. I have some inspirational quote I read a day on the Internet but I can’t think of any that I always reference. I always say to people ‘nobody said it would be easy’ in regards to life.. I think I got it from a Vipassana lecture.

Feel the Light, installation view of exhibition at Vleeshal de Kabinetten de Vleeshal, Netherlands, 2007, photo by Leo van Kampen

Feel the Light, installation view of exhibition at Vleeshal de Kabinetten de Vleeshal, Netherlands, 2007, photo by Leo van Kampen

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
In all white linen on a beach with an open bar, white sand, and clear blue ocean….Just kidding, probably making work, hopefully with a small family, enjoying my own reality.

What would be your last meal before execution?
Sushi from Jiro’s

hisham-mural-in-front

See more of Hisham’s available artwork HERE including 2 beautiful letterpress prints we just released, like this one below….

Corrosion, letterpress print, 2015

Corrosion, letterpress print, 2015

Be sure to follow Hisham on Instagram @softcircle

AND now we leave you with a fun video collab featuring music by Hisham’s project Soft Circle and Cinders artist Andrew Jeffrey Wright’s New Dreamz…..peeeaaace!