For Hisham Akira Bharoocha, art is life. It’s how he processes the world around him, channeling his experiences and impressions into a rich, multisensory world of color and sound. Born in Niigata, Japan, this Brooklyn-based artist, musician and prolific Instagrammer doesn’t let labels hold him down—he makes art that crosses genres and mediums. His intricate, hand-cut collages and paintings form the bright backbone of his Fab-exclusive collaboration of tees, umbrellas, trays, yoga mats and throw blankets.
Tell us a little bit about growing up in Niigata. What were you like when you were young, and when did you realize that you were interested in art and music?
I was born in Niigata but went immediately to Tokyo after that so I didn’t spend any time in Niigata until I was about 8 years old. I moved around a lot as a kid because my parents (my mother is Japanese and my father was Burmese) had the “American Dream”, so when I was two my family moved to Toronto, Canada. That was the first step to getting to America, so then we moved to LA, then to San Diego. I moved back to Tokyo at the beginning of 8th grade. I had to deal with the cultural differences of having grown up in America when I went back to Japan, but it was a good experience in hindsight. My father died of cancer when we were in San Diego so the reason to move back was for my mother to be able to make a better living for me and my older brother. That whole process made me wonder, ‘what is life for if we are only here temporarily?’ That was the question that I carried around throughout my teenage years but I’m not saying I was always serious or depressed. In fact after dealing with the experience of losing a parent early on in my life I felt much more positive about things as I knew I was the only one who could bring myself into a positive mind state. I feel I have a more accepting viewpoint on cultural differences between people based on my childhood upbringing. I moved back to the U.S. to go to art school here, graduating from RISD with a BFA in Photography.
I always was a creator. I started drawing as a small child, then got into music when I was in elementary school. I did the usual piano lessons which I was terrible at so I quickly stopped with that and started playing clarinet, but when I discovered heavy metal I moved to the electric bass. I was self taught on that and all other instruments I learned to play after that.
When you look at your career path, was it deliberate? Did you visualize it unfolding the way it has?
I definitely wanted to be a creator but of course I had no idea what making a living as an artist entailed until after college. I was unrealistic about how it would all go down but soon realised there were many elements aside from having a creative vision that came into play when you needed to pay the bills from what you did. Long story short, I didn’t see it unfolding this way but I think teenage me would be proud of where I have gotten to through my art practice. I feel blessed that people are still interested in my work and there isn’t one day I take that for granted.
Can you talk about the mural you created for Fab?
I first started making these abstracted organic shapes early on in my career. They started out as cut paper shapes, and were much more figurative initially but I quickly started to abstract them as I didn’t want people’s minds to be restricted by figurative shapes. I feel the viewer is part of the creative process, that they create in their minds when they are viewing something. I love the notion that one has to imagine artists make work, try to understand how their minds are working, how their senses are taking information in and translating it through the creation of art.
I originally started making murals like this by gluing cut paper directly onto walls at galleries, but this was the first time for me to paint these shapes. I use these shapes in a lot of my smaller scale collages.
I wanted to create an image that lent itself to creativity and could continuously give inspiration to the people going in and out of that space. One thing I always think about is creating movement in a still image, so your eyes can move around the image and feel like the still image is alive.
What’s it like to create art that is applied to objects, like the pieces you’re making with Fab?
I like the idea of people getting to take home something that inspires them for day to day use. I love seeing my work on the streets and people’s apartments. Not everyone can afford to buy artwork, or have the space to hang artwork in their apartments or houses so it’s awesome to have people get something that is aesthetically pleasing that they can use in day to day life. It’s great to get out of the white wall gallery and inspire people as not everyone feels a connection to the art world, to visiting galleries and museums. I want people to have fun with what I have created.
Can you talk about your approach to Instagram?
I started out at art school wanting to be a photographer, and I did that for a decent amount of time after school to make a living. I’ve always loved photography and shooting in a journalistic way, without creating a setup image, as I feel most inspired by what I come upon in the streets or in nature. I find inspiration in happening upon situations I could not have imagined. I can imagine and make things using my visual art, but I find the real world to be way more psychedelic than what my mind can imagine sometimes.
I sometimes post my artwork on my Instagram but I like showing photos I take on my iPhone for the most part, as I use that platform as a type of journal, a way to show my love for photography and how I happen upon things just walking around, running errands.
How do you conceptualize your work? Do you feel that there is a duality between your music and your art, a dialogue? What speaks to what?
My work is conceptualized often times when I am trying to figure out what is going on in my mind, which happens when I’m walking around town, in the studio, or during my meditation practice (Vipassana). In my process I am trying to figure out why I am attracted to certain things in nature, or what I see on the streets of New York, everywhere I go. I try to recreate the feeling of inspiration I get from my experiences to show how I am in awe of the human mind, this complicated world of rules we have created. I am fascinated by how each human being has a different mental architecture which makes for a different way of viewing the world. Everyone is wired differently based on their cultural background, where they grew up, sexual orientation, race, what they are attracted to, what they have aversions to. Sometimes it’s hard to understand how one could view something as differently as you do, but I feel accepting as many viewpoints as possible is important for societal growth.
You can often see how strange your minds wiring is when you dream, or daydream. You can start at one place in your mind and end up with an image of an experience you haven’t thought about in years. I love that thought process and my work is often a visualization of my fascination of how thoughts and physical sensations move through one’s body. How that manifests visually or as a sound based work.
There is most definitely a dialogue between my sound work and visual work. Rhythm is the most obvious connector between them. I found that my visual work creates a rhythm, a non-linear version of what I do in my music. There is no start and stop point with experiencing a object. I like making work that emphasizes cyclical movement.
Your work is kaleidoscopic, shifting, mutable; it generates trances and contemplative states in the viewer. How does it feel to create it?
It feels like a way to clarify the visions I have in my mind. I’m trying to make sense of what I see and feel by creating work about it. I’ve been asked by people, ‘how do you see this stuff in your mind’ and that’s the funny thing, it’s really natural and doesn’t feel like I am trying hard to visualize things this way. It actually looks that way in my mind. I see things in flashes, patterns, movement like the images I make. It’s fun to try to make it look as good as it does in my mind by using my hands.
What is your relationship to sound? To light? To color?
Sound – I can’t live without sound. I often think about space and how that affects sonic vibration, how people understand space, the environment they are in at that moment. I’m fascinated by how sound is created by the vibrations of fluid in your ear drum which are translated by the mind into what we feel as sound. I love music and always have since I was a child. I don’t think I could survive without music. Sound in space is the most mysterious and wonderful thing to observe.
Light – I try to recreate the feeling I get from certain types of light I am in awe of. It could be the way light shines through spring leafs, summer haze, the way autumn and winter light seems more blue than in the summer, how pollution changes light etc. One cannot expect to make anything more beautiful than what exists in nature or in an urban environment but I like to try to show how much I am inspired by what I experience day to day.
Color – I feel color is a very personal thing for everyone. For me certain colors may remind me of a piece of clothing I loved when I was a child, or the color of the ocean when the sun has just set, and so on. Everyone has a relationship to color even when there is a lack of it in their lives. Each person has a reason for liking a color, whether they are aware of it or not. I love playing with color based on my fascination of affiliation people have with certain colors.
What inspires you?
Everything. Friends, family, artists I look up to, music, the sounds of the streets. Cities, nature, traveling. Good experiences and bad experiences. People from all over the world.
What are you listening to these days?
I listen to a lot of club music. A lot of UK bass music, techno, American bass music, global bass. I still listen to metal, a metal head can’t completely extract that from their from their system. I listen to whatever I can get my hands on but club music gets me through the day for the most part.
What does a day in your life look like?
Take my pre-meal supplements. Meditate. Possibly eat breakfast, and if so it’s a light meal. Coffee and email usually at the same time. Possibly hit the gym. Go to studio, go to a rehearsal with my band Kill Alters or work at home on the computer. Make dinner at home for my wife. Possibly binge watch shows. If it’s the weekend I’ll go to a dance party or a rave. I go to gallery shows and museums regularly.
Do you have any questions for the people who are reading this interview?
Are you someone who likes to fit in, or stand out? Are you afraid to stand out because you don’t want to be judged? Why do you care about other people’s opinions so much?