SORAYAMA vs. SEXY ROBOTS
After assiduously painting chrome-plated ‘sexy robots’ for the last four decades, Hajime Sorayama’s reputation as the pre-eminent erotic cyborg artist now precedes him. Working collaboratively with Mizuno on the ultra-futuristic Wave Prophecy makes total sense in that context. With upcoming art shows in Miami, Paris, Hong Kong, Tokyo and Beijing, not to mention retrospective books and a top-secret watch release he couldn’t resist dropping into our chat, Sorayama is clearly enjoying his own renaissance. The precise nature of his memorably cryptic and typically elliptical commentary might have been unclear on our Zoom call, but this was one of the all-time funniest Sneaker Freaker interviews, though we're sure plenty of juicy details were lost in translation.
At the magnificent age of 75, Hajime Sorayama still rises each morning to daydream and paint sexy-robots at his ramshackle studio in Tokyo. While he has claimed in the past to be more of an ‘entertainer’ than a legitimate artist, his background in commercial illustration was a hefty handicap for anyone who worked in the advertising world during the 80s and 90s. Safe to say, sweating over a job title no longer bothers him when no less than Kim Jones drops in for a cup of jasmine tea and asks nicely if you’ll design sci-fi handbags for Dior. As he says, ‘I just recall the phrase from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. What does it mean to name something? If it’s a rose and if it smells good, that’s enough for me! I don’t want to regard myself as anything other than being myself. I can be all three things you mentioned or I can be neither!’
Sorayama’s embrace of American symbols, such as Marilyn Monroe, Mickey Mouse and Elvis Presley, is indicative of his generation’s post-war fascination with the West. Getting his dues for work he started creating 30 or 40 years ago as an outsider in Tokyo has to be the ultimate mixed blessing. ‘Yes, I agree with your sentiments. I think, finally, my era is here! It’s not so cool people were so behind in appreciating my art for such a long period of time. [laughs] But I suspect I am finally accepted for who I am.’ Sorayama admits he once imagined designing sports shoes for ,Phil Knight, but that it likely wouldn’t have worked out. Collaborating with Mizuno made more sense because they are both obviously products of Japan, but mostly because the size of the company suits his artistic temperament.
'Working with Sorayama everyday I learned, not just his humour, but also to put a value on your life. If you are not passionate, don’t do it, because that’s a meaningless life, even if you are paid so much. You must love what you do! His idea to make everything seamless, or disappear literally, could be the next future of Mizuno Wave. These profound ideas can offer great insight, even when they are not immediately obvious.'Takeshi Saito, Mizuno
Besides, Mizuno’s Wave Prophecy is the perfect footwear choice for cybernetic creatures. The cantilevered springboards and mechanical cushioning system brought bionic flair to the running track, and it’s hard to think of a shoe as infused by the anachronistic spirit of antediluvian-modernism as the Mizuno Wave Prophecy. Like Sorayama’s sexbots, the Wave is both retro and futuro at the same time, which dovetails neatly with the ‘super-realism’ genre he has painstakingly perfected.
Not surprisingly, Sorayama was initially more interested in the notions of aesthetic authenticity. ‘The Wave Prophecy looks cool, but the design, which articulates the technology process, is what interested me most. In 30 years, the Wave Prophecy will still look like the future never arrived.’
The gold and silver metallic tones ever-present in his paintings were the perfect palette. The first release was silver-white, followed by metallic-black, and while they effortlessly evoke the intended sci-fi atmosphere, there’s no escaping the fact that the upcoming gold edition is where the money’s at. Sorayama smiles when I ask about his affection for the precious metals. ‘I just like gold and silver because they are really sexy! What I really wanted was champagne gold, because real gold can sometimes be considered too indecent.’
While it’s not exactly clear from the photos, the Wave Prophecy’s stretchy upper material has a sheer translucency, almost like a pair of – dare I say it – sexy stockings, which, all things considered, seems like a pretty logical textile for Sorayama to request. But he was also adamant that his design process was informed by the sight of David Beckham wearing sports shoes beneath what was likely a very expensive Italian suit. As a result, he imagines the Wave Prophecy would also look just fine at formal occasions, including weddings and funerals.
‘Honestly, I was not fully satisfied with this product as there’s more I wanted to actualise. I was very disappointed Mizuno could not make parts of the shoe totally transparent. When I first presented my ideas, I said I wanted the shoe to look like Wonder Woman’s jet plane. Totally seamless and invisible!’Hajime Sorayama
At this point I’m surprised the Mizuno folks on Zoom are not experiencing a collective conniption, but they’re clearly not fazed by Sorayama’s charming honesty. The thing with Sorayama is that you never can tell when he’s being serious, which is apparently almost never, judging by the irreverent stream of consciousness and fits of contagious giggling. ‘When I am working on a project, I am fully committed in the moment. But after these shoes are released, there is nothing I can control. I just imagined a sexy robot wearing the shoes, I don’t mind if it’s a lady or a human, or even an animal for that matter.’
As things wrap up and I wonder how I’ll be able to piece together a coherent narrative, Sorayama can’t help but wax mystical. ‘The future is a mirage that you can never reach and is always full of hidden things. It is beyond imagination. What we will probably see in a few decades is something that we can’t imagine at this time. I was never inspired visually by Blade Runner, but the concept of an artificial robot falling in love with a human is the greatest fetish of mine.’