Green Day appear on the cover of the Winter 2023 Issue. Head to the AP Shop to grab a copy and buy limited-edition numbered prints of Wakiyama’s Green Day-inspired art.
Eri Wakiyama creates strange, surreal worlds within her art. Inside, angry-looking girls ride enormous pink birds and beams of light project out of eye sockets like the second coming. It’s all startlingly original. However unsettling her drawings may be, though, Wakiyama is the opposite, laughing frequently and apologizing as her cats creep across her keyboard during the call. “Growing up, it wasn’t that cool to be an artist. It’s nerdy, you know?” she says upon arriving home from her day job at Dover Street Market in NYC.
Read more: Every Green Day album ranked
The job is one of many on a CV bursting with high points. Over the last decade, the open-hearted eccentric has shifted from a fashion student at Parsons School of Design to a contender in the city’s vibrant art scene. She’s appeared in Marc Jacobs’ LA Heaven gallery and bagged collaborations with Miu Miu, Supreme, and Calvin Klein, whose collections and campaigns have been warped by her singular style. But through it all, Wakiyama remains a teenager at heart. She rocks bright orange hair and gushes over how she recently saw blink-182’s reunion tour with Tom DeLonge and “forgot how good they are.”
For this reason, Wakiyama was the ideal person to create a companion piece to our Green Day cover, where her juxtaposition between creepiness and cuteness shines. Like Green Day, her work appeals to those who feel misunderstood or struggle to accept their own contradictions. The result is absorbing, as both the cover of the band’s new album, Saviors, and her artwork include burning cars but share little else in common to the naked eye. That’s the allure of Wakiyama, though — she will avert expectations every time.
What were you like as a kid? Were you the type of person who was always drawing, or did that come later?
My first memory of drawing was when I was still a child. I wasn’t a bad kid, but I feel like I was just vandalizing things in the house, like dining tables. I clearly remember it — and this was before elementary. I was born in Japan, but I moved to California when I was less than 2. My first language was Japanese, and I was so shy, so I didn’t speak English properly till maybe mid-elementary. I wasn’t very social and didn’t have friends. So, because of that, I was always drawing on the side instead of running around during recess. Then when I was more into middle school, I bloomed socially, but I was still drawing all the time in my textbooks and everything. I feel like it was just an innate thing. You know when you’re in a lecture in school or something? And for me, my ADD is so bad, and I almost can’t focus unless I’m doing something else. But yeah, I have always been drawing.
I loved the painting you did with the woman in the rain. It looks like everything’s melting, and the raindrops resemble dripping honey. It’s really surreal and psychedelic.
Oh yeah, thank you. The raindrop thing was a very last-minute addition to the drawing. I kind of lost it in the middle of the night. Then I added it to add an element of chaos. It seemed too simple and peaceful without the raindrops. I wanted it to look like it was big raindrops, just melting things away, so I’m glad that you got that vibe.
That’s so wild to hear because that’s where my focus went.
I mean, a lot of the time when I start a painting, obviously, it’s a blank canvas, but it’s hard. The starting is always hard to decide what to draw. Oftentimes, I’ll start something and get midway, and then I’ll have to repaint the whole canvas white again and start again. I just don’t know what I exactly want. There’s always a certain point where it clicks all of a sudden. Then things that I never plan from the beginning start to come. I guess it’s emotionally driven or a random idea. I work a lot in the nighttime, so it just goes off.
Environment plays such a big role in art. How do you think living in New York affects your work? Do you feel like you would be making pieces with a different slant if you lived in Los Angeles or somewhere more desolate?
A lot of people sometimes tell me if I move back to LA or if I even move deep into Brooklyn to have a bigger space, I could focus more on my artwork or have a sense of peace. I think it would be good, and I can probably focus more and be more efficient with my time, and I could probably make a lot more work. But I think when I came to New York, that was in 2005 here for school, it was literally the best decision I’ve made because — and this is so cheesy to say — I really found myself here. New York almost gave second birth to me.
There’s just so much energy, and it’s so manic at times. But I do think I need that chaos because when I was back home, I felt like it was so [far] away from what is actually happening here. And then I did have a different sense of creativity. I almost wanted this environment, you know? So, it made me always be drawing about things like that. But it was a bit more darker, a different kind of darkness when I was like, “I wish it could be like that.” Then when I’m here, even if there’s still darkness, it feels like it’s very different. It’s powerful, I think. The chaos and the manicness and how I can’t manage my life, all this stuff, it’s good for my art. A lot of people describe it as, “It’s cute, but it’s creepy.” But it’s like peace. It’s innocent, but it’s poisoned a little bit. So, I think it fits my personality. [Laughs.]
Do you remember the first CD that you bought with your own money?
My parents are super Japanese, and what I mean by that is they’re very strict, so they didn’t let me listen to whatever was popular. My friends would be listening to rap or pop music. I wasn’t allowed to listen to explicit music, so if I was gonna buy something, they were there to buy it with me. I think it was a boy band CD. I almost don’t wanna say — I think it was *NSYNC. It was either that or No Doubt. I can’t remember which came first, but before that, it was my dad giving me CDs.
Tell me about the Green Day-inspired art you made.
I’m pretty obsessed with them. “Basket Case” is one of my go-to karaoke songs, and mind you, I’m a horrible singer. When you look at the music videos back then, they’re kind of genius because it was so lo-fi, and they didn’t have the technology like we do now. They had such distinct style, and, working fashion for so long, it’s like, “Oh, my God.” They just knew what they were doing, so I’m really stoked about this. I’ve been working on this, and I’m like 90% done, and then I don’t really know if it’s it, so I might make another one. I don’t know. I’m stressed out because I want it to be good.
What are some of your earliest memories of listening to Green Day?
We were hanging out with a bunch of our skater friends back in middle school. We were really stoked because — I don’t know if I’m mistaken — I feel like they started the band the year we were born. But it was just hard to access it all the time, the music, unless we got the CD. Downloading it from Limewire and Napster was the only way to have it, unless we had a CD. But depending on what group of friends I hung out with, they either were down with it or knocked it down a bit, so it’s like I secretly had an emo phase all my life, basically.