Artist Misha on the Balance Between Pop Culture Tributes and Original Characters in Her Art
Liz Ohanesian Misha in her studio
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Misha's latest batch of spooky girls are taking shape inside her studio, just in time for Thursday's K-Town Art Walk, where she'll be the featured artist at Agit Gallery. The East Hollywood-based artists refers to her girls as Kowai Kawaii Yokai. The first two words are Japanese for "scary" and "cute," respectively. Yokai are a variety of creatures who turn up repeatedly in Japanese tales. Misha's own yokai appear in a variety of human-esque forms. One has tentacles cascading down her shoulders in place of a head of hair. Another appears to be part human, part fox. A third coils around a tree branch like a snake.
Kowai Kawaii Yokai dominate Misha's work. These are the characters you'll see in her jewelry line and in the small paintings that she sells online. She's talking about eventually creating an alternate vision of Los Angeles, where yokai roam the street, and has even sketched out a few characters for the future project. As much as Kowai Kawaii Yokai are a part of Misha's identity as an artist, they aren't necessarily her best known work. Instead, you might recognize Misha's name from a number of quirky takes on pop culture phenomena, from The Big Lebowski to Doctor Who.
Frequently, on weekends in Los Angeles, you'll find an artistic tribute to something that already exists, be it a film franchise, TV show, comic book character or video game. The shows will bring in large crowds that go beyond the usual art scene. Fanboys and fangirls will line up before galleries open to catch a glimpse of unusual takes on familiar characters. They'll race to score limited edition prints. Those who can afford it will plop down hundreds, maybe even thousands of dollars for the originals. For local artists, both up-and-comers and established ones, tribute shows have been great for exposure.
Liz Ohanesian One of Misha's recent Kowai Kawaii Yokai pieces
Misha is one of many who have seen the benefits of such events. She estimates that her work has appeared in between 20 and 30 such group shows over the past few years. Most recently, she contributed a piece called My Date with the Doctor to the "Geeky Glamorous" event at JapanLA. In the Doctor Who homage, a young woman dressed in a take on Matt Smith's Doctor costume wipes tears from her eyes as she sits on a sofa that resembles a Dalek.
Shows like these can be good for business. "They definitely move faster," says Misha of the pop culture paintings, in comparison to her regular work. They tend to garner a lot of attention online as well and that's something that can also translate into sales. Whether or not these types of homage manage to capture a wide audience is dependent on a lot of factors. The biggest one, of course, is what entertainment properties you're referencing.