Estere, An Artist in Tokyo: Everything Is Connected
Everything is connected, everything is moving fast. The world we are living in is changing rapidly. Social media and globalization are firing up a new generation of young people and creatives. Besides the many negative side effects that this connectivity and global machinery of consumerism has brought to our lives, there are also many new doors that have opened up.
The lifespan of an artist has completely changed. The traditional ladder many artists have had and still have to climb is slowly crumbling under the heavy weight of follows, likes, overnight social media fame and many new ways to share art and visuals in an algorithm-driven digital world. What sounds like an unromantic programer vision of digital art is still a wild world inherited by a real artist, real passion, dreams and stories.
Being an artist is not bound to age, location and time any more (It actually never has been). But in this day and age, these indicators have become even less critical. Young creatives are flooding the timelines and content streams of our mobile phones and social media applications; from young designers and brands that skyrocket into our fast moving fashion world, to rappers that jump from Soundcloud into the charts, and visual artists that begin with Instagram and end up with worldwide exhibitions
It's an exciting time, and still many people choose to look down on these young creatives. The "shortcuts" some of these young artists have found are scary to traditionalists. The older generation is used to taking the long way. Apprenticeships, internships, assistance time, study paths are the painful yet accepted ways that can and still bring you somewhere. It's not easy for everybody to respect this fast generation of artists, but getting from A to B was never supposed to be so “easy”.
That's at least how it might look like for the older generation. But the real life, real hustle of an artist in this day and age is, of course, another story. Being an artist in young years in a world of a million artist that share a million pictures - all at the same - is the scary new reality of "everything now, everything fast". The speed has changed, and so has the pressure.
To be fast in this world requires every step to be considered wisely, and not every step is an easy one. To make it in a world of a million artists takes and drains a lot. These "shortcuts" are more than just an easy way to get from A to B. If you want to make it in this world you need to be fast and deliberate. To free yourself from the old ways of thinking, social constructs and rules is not a straightforward story, not an easy life, not an Instagram moment. It's a real hustle and struggle. An artist in this day and age that goes these ways has his or her own ladder full of obstacles.
Estere, a leading symboli figure in this fast world, is a perfect example of a real artist in our generation. The artist from Tokyo and Berlin has just started to discover her energetic levels of creativity, visual communication, and design. With only being 18 years old, she has lived her life in many countries, cultures and societies to now paint and strive through Tokyo to find her vision and style; 18 years and many stories.
In order to follow her dreams, the young artist left countries, school, and social constraints behind to focus on her art and her life as an artist. From leaving Venezuela, to living in the Ukraine and Latvia, to moving to Berlin and Tokyo, there are many cultural layers in her life that start to unfold in her art and mind.
Estere paints. On cardboards, trousers, fashion, and paper. Her art and characters are vivid, and in many ways nostalgic, demonic, deep and sometimes sad. She’s painting a world rooted in the many realities she has seen, and the many people she has met and talked to.
To find out more about the many layers of her work, and to look deeper into the the life of a contemporary artist in the mist and chaos of this new fast world, Biancissimo teamed up with Estere to present you an interview and editorial straight from Tokyo and her dreams.
Everything Is Connected: A Tokyo Editorial
Dear Estere, can you please tell Biancissimo more about your life and work? There are many countries you already lived in to now being in Tokyo with only 18 years. How can we follow and track your story to Tokyo?
So I was originally born in Latvia, but when I was four years old my mother made the decision to move to Venezuela with my then 3-year-old sister. We were always moving around between Latvia and Venezuela, and I also spent a big part of my childhood in the Ukraine with my grandparents. Venezuela was always a very special place for me. But sadly I only realized that when it was time to leave it and everything in it behind, after Maduro became president and the economy got completely fucked. I'm not even sure anymore if Venezuela will ever completely recover from the Chavista government, but I have a lot of hope to go back to my childhood home someday.
Around 2015, my family and I moved to Berlin. It was the very first time I had been there, none of us spoke any German, so we got enrolled in an international Spanish school. I think the move was the hardest on my dad (step-dad). He never really left the country before, except when he got married to my mom. Speaking only Spanish his whole life, he still struggles with German, especially when people don't take him seriously just because of his accent. You feel very powerless when you can't express exactly what you want to say, and people take you as a joke. But they don't realize the effort behind learning what they already know. And how much hard work is being put into it, just for people to treat you as a child, and they know you can't defend yourself, so they make sure to use that against you.
After 2 years of going to a German school and learning German, I felt like I was wasting my time. I know, pretty bold coming from a 16 years old, what do I know about life right? But hear me out. I hated it so much. I felt miserable having to listen to all the lectures day in day out, it was increasingly impossible to stay focused, and even harder to care. I couldn't deal with the fact that some random person has so much power over "my future" just because they have some random diploma. Like why does a piece of paper mean so much in our society?. I felt very trapped in a system that I don't believe in. So at the age of 16, I left high school without doing my A-levels. I had a feeling there's something better for me outside of those walls, and I was too impatient to start living my life. And I was right. I got a job as a sort of a store manager at some Russian boutique on Ku-Damm. It was the best job. I could take off as much free time as I wanted, and I was travelling very often because of it. I hate being in one place for too long; I am not very used to it.
At that time I got really into the whole trap/hip-hop scene, and it was love at first sight. I started being more creative with my fashion and my art. I met some truly amazing people, one of them being Itohan; she was my biggest inspiration. She inspired me to be confident, to be sure in myself and where I stand. She is truly an incredible person who keeps me inspired and in check to this day, even thousands of km away.
Before that, I was a very "colour in the lines" type of artist. But I wasn't having fun with it. I was making art that I thought was conventionally good, and I was really scared to ruin it if I added colour or whatever detail. I was being very contained. Then I realized that there was no point of making art if I'm not doing it for myself and letting go of everything else. That's when it got colourful. As soon as I stopped caring what others thought of every aspect of me, my art grew better and stronger. But after a year of working, travelling and partying I realized that I was once again stuck in a cycle and not moving forward. It was the same thing every week, and I grew sick of it. A bit depressed and wondering if it was the right decision to leave school if I'm not doing anything "real".
As a child I was very obsessed, as my mom says, with anime and Japanese animated movies, such as Spirited Away. Apparently, I would watch it on repeat, not understanding anything but fascinated with the visuals. I always loved cartoons; I think that must have had some kind of influence on me in terms of visualizing the world and everything around me, I don't know. I sort of forgot about anime for a really long time. Then one day 3 years ago, I decided to watch Cowboy Bebop. I saw it on my recommendations on Netflix and thought I should give it a try. I was sooooo in love with it, from the first episode. I never finished it though, ‘cause I didn't want it to be over, so I left the last couple of episodes for some other time. From there my obsession with anime just grew, and so did my must-watch list, which just keeps growing and I can't keep up with it anymore. And with that, a love for Japanese culture was sparked. I could tell that whatever I was seeing in anime was a glimpse into how Japan actually is, and if this place actually exists, and this universe is real, then I have to see it for myself.
So in 2018 - 17-years-old at this point - I saved enough money, and that's how I ended up in Tokyo for the very first time. I was here for a month, and it was the happiest month of my recent life. It was amazing. And nothing that big happened per se, but I was so fascinated by everything. Konbinis, shrines, big bright buildings, all coexisting with the tropical nature. I love how you can see a tropical forest in the centre of a concrete jungle and 60 story high buildings. That's some contrast.
After the month was up and I had to pack my bags, I knew there was no way I could forget about this place and go back to my life in Berlin.
Fast forward to 2019, I saved enough money again, and I'm spending my 18th birthday in Tokyo. Who would've thought?
With Berlin being one of the most exciting and most loved creative hubs in Europe and the rest world, what made you leave this city to try your luck and find you creative love in Tokyo?
Say what you will about Berlin, it can be a very toxic city. And I was definitely unhappy there a lot of times. But without Berlin, I wouldn't have become me. It was the best place I can think of, where to spend my teen years and develop as a person. Especially with all the fantastic people I got to meet there. They taught me a lot, like just how easy it was for me to travel the world. The open-mindedness of it all. I went to so many exhibitions, ‘cause they were free for my family for some time. I was at every new opening at the Helmut Newton Foundation, and I was always collecting fliers for other exhibitions, out of which I made a massive mural on my wall, ‘cause I just wanted to look at all the art every day. Seeing legendary photographers is also something that fueled my love for modelling. I love photography, and if I can't be behind the lens, I can be in front of it (I very lowkey do both now). The city gave me a lot of free room to just be me. I don't think it would have been the same in Venezuela, to be honest. So in a way, it wasn't all that bad we had to leave. I just wish it was due to different circumstances. I guess you could say I developed/bloomed in Berlin, but discovered my full potential in Tokyo.
It has been just recently that you started to share your art more widely. Can you tell us a little bit about your ongoing way of expressing yourself?
I just have an urge to create, and so I do. I feel like there's a lot of stuff building up inside my head and then sometimes it comes out in weird ways.
I also feel like the way I'm expressing myself helps me grow. I don't know how to explain it. But it also grows with me, and I see that when I start to compare my older work to my more recent. And I can make a clear connection between the art I used to make with the person I used to be. So that makes me realize that my art is just a reflection of myself, and I got to capture that in time without even realizing.
Looking at the different cities you lived in already, what role does Tokyo play in your creative process? What does it mean for you as an artist?
I'm a very visual person. I get inspired by my surroundings, for the most part. I think it because I've always had to assimilate to a new culture, new places, new people, new everything that I became so good at it that I barely even noticed anymore when I'm doing it and how quickly my locations impact me directly. That's why I love Tokyo so much. So far it has had my favourite impact on me. It's not really something I can control anymore. And inspiration is everywhere I look here. It's hard to stay still and not do anything. The city keeps you motivated, and motivation is something I struggle to keep. But things move so quickly here, sometimes it's even hard to keep up. But I love the chase, ‘cause it feels like I'm going somewhere finally, and never stuck in the same place. I love it. Being here makes me want to create more and more, and not just with painting. I want to try a lot of different things, you know? I want to combine my passions, and I've thought about doing that in the past, but now I feel more driven actually to do it than ever before.
Tokyo is art in and of itself; every building, house, street, billboard, just everything has so much detail and thought put into it. Even the alphabet: inspired by shapes of nature, how beautiful is that? Art is everywhere, and everyone so driven to do what they do. It's tough not to want to create here.
Can you tell us a little bit more about your art and paintings? What are your basic, original thoughts when yu start painting? Where do they come from?
Usually when I'm about to start painting, my head is pretty much blank. But when I just really wanna paint something, I won't know what yet, but I'll see it once I start. Sometimes I just know what colours I want to use. So I'll sit down to paint, and I’ll think "I'm feeling green and yellow," and I always start with the eyes and just build everything around them.
Sometimes I paint how I'm feeling at that moment. So if you see a face that looks a bit sad or has tears, then I was probably sobbing as I made that. But most of my drawings I did in Tokyo are very ecstatic and energetic which is exactly how I felt.
But yeah, in general, nothing is ever planned. I just start with the eyes, then my feelings, mood, and colours guide me. Then at some point, I don't even know what I'm doing, my hand is just doing a thing, and I just keep track of the colours. I just let go and don't think about it too much. So I guess everything comes from the depths of my brain, and whatever is in there is impacted by where I am? That could be a conclusion. But to be completely honest, I don't know where it comes from (the audacity of that sentence after I literally wrote 5 paragraphs on things that inspire me).
What made you choose to paint on trousers, and what are the other non-obvious ways you want to express yourself?
You know, I am a very long-legged person, so I think it’s a bit unfortunate how people tend to forget about pants a bit, even though it’s like 60% of the outfit in my case. So I was always imagining some cool designs I could print out on some trousers but I never really got to it. Then I thought I could embroider them, but then that was taking too long and I kind of gave up. Then I thought, “Okay fuck that, why don't I just paint them?” And so I did. And it looked dope, so now that's kind of my thing. But I don't wanna stop with pants. This is definitely just the beginning. I also don't wanna just paint on them; I want to customize and create something entirely new. I want to start playing with photography more and incorporate that into my paintings. I want to paint a lot of different things. I want to design things. I just want to create as much as possible, ‘cause I know that's what I want to do for myself. I guess I just want to paint on everything in sight, create content and a small world of mine along with it. Who knows where this will take me.
What do clothes mean for you and your art? What is one able to tell through their clothing?
I don't think clothes are something you just wear for practical reasons, to not be naked 24/7. To me it’s a way of giving a glimpse of what's happening inside your head to strangers. It’s a conversation starter. I've made a lot of really good friends just by complimenting each other’s outfits. It connects you to people. I want to set myself apart. I like to see myself as my own creation. ‘Cause in all the chaos happening around I can always have control over myself. And I like that.
I like to put myself outside of my comfort zone a lot. It gives me more confidence in myself, and then once I get used to the first layer, I make another step out, and then another. I’m always pushing myself to be comfortable outside of my zone, ‘cause that's when you really stop caring about opinions, and life is bliss when you only listen to yourself.
People also ask me a lot why I only do faces, and the simple answer to that is just ‘cause I like them. When I first started taking my drawing more seriously, I was studying the human face a lot. And I began to notice all these invisible lines that connect the seemingly separate facial features. I found that very interesting, how nature can be so perfect. And it made it very easy for me to draw realistic faces just by looking at the shapes of the lines. And now that I have practised that enough I can get more creative without completely losing realism.
Since you choose fashion as one of the "homes" of your art, clothing seems to be a way for you to express yourself. How important is the connection between fashion and art for you in a time world of fast fashion and trends?
The connection between fashion and art is everything. This is what keeps individuality alive. It leaves room to be creative with yourself. So that connection is crucial, in my opinion. It’s what allows the creation of timeless fashion and not something you will throw out in a month ‘cause it's not trendy anymore.
Fast fashion kills individuality and steals from creative minds. I can't respect that at all. These companies have more than enough money to do everything the right way, but they choose to be cheap and to steal ideas instead of paying the artist. They don’t want to pay workers what they deserve. And they decide to pollute the planet along with it.
So the connection between fashion and art is what fuels creative minds to stay different and innovative despite the challenges of making it through this kind of industry and harsh opinions. It's leaves room to stay true to yourself.
It allows you to be your own creation and your fashion to be an extension of yourself instead of a cookie cutter reflection of celebrity culture.
Looking at your characters, there is a certain nostalgic, vintage vibe with them. Is this something you would agree with, or did you get your inspiration from elsewhere? You style somehow seems to be heavily influenced by another time.
I think all fashion is timeless in a way. I mean, they're just clothes. How we present them and the image we make out of them is up to us.
I'm a pretty nostalgic person, ‘cause time flies by incredibly fast. It feels like only yesterday I stepped out of the plane and felt the warm Caribbean air on my face for the first time. But we can't live in the past. So I create my now and my future through my memories of that past and make something new out of them. At the end of the day, we are our memories and what we choose to do with them.
I get influenced by cartoons, too. I loved them as a child, and then it switched from Russian children's cartoons like Cheburashka and Prostokvashino, to Spirited Away, to Catdog, The Regular Show, Gumball, to Psycho 100 and Evangelion. I just love how the possibilities in cartoons are endless. You can create any kind of world you could possibly imagine. And you can only live in it for the time you're watching. That's amazing. And it's what I love about anime, too. It's the same, but the characters are not a bird or a racoon, they're pretty realistic people in this whole other universe, and somehow they seem realistic to me. I just love how you can create absolutely anything with cartoons.
Instagram has inspired me a lot, too. I know that we see it as this platform for influencers, IG models and endless campaigns. But once you look past all that and dig a little deeper, you can find a lot of cool shit. There's some crazy content out there, and an abundance of insanely talented artists. There's also a lot of archive-types of pages. They show you the side of history you don't learn in school. A lot about the fashion and art world from the past, too.
The thing is, I don't know what influences me until I look back on it. Does that make sense? I can look back at pictures and paintings and point out exactly what was inspiring me at the time. But I can't do the same while I am working on it.
I get very inspired by music too. It's a huge part of my brain processes. I'm fascinated by how I can play Manu Chao and I turn into 6-year-old-Estere again, back in Venezuela when it was always playing from this big red Sony stereo. Or “Parachutes” by Coldplay, and I remember all the night car rides we had in the yellow Toyota. Music is pretty much the only thing that unlocks my memories. Otherwise, I forget. I also like how timeless the effect of music is on us, and how it has this weird overlap with fashion.
I definitely get a lot of inspiration from my mom, and an incredible amount of support, too. I'm so lucky to have her. I honestly don't know where I would be without this beautiful, strong ass woman. She inspires me to keep pushing, she taught me to stand up for myself and stay strong in what I believe in. And she never ceases to surprise me with how much trust she has in me. I am so lucky to have this machine of support, and I genuinely hope I can pass it on to my children in the future. I love her so much. And seeing how random her life has been and how many times she’s had to start over from 0 and how we did it together (the 3 of us with my sister). I learned from a very young age how insignificant distance actually is. I kind of never had that fear of it. And that's why it was so easy for me to just come here without thinking about it so much. I owe everything to her.
Age seems to have become completely irrelevant when we look at creatives and art worldwide. With only 18 years, you are already "out there". So what do these numbers mean for you? Does age play any role in our universe?
Well, age should be irrelevant.
I think age definitely plays a massive role in our society, but that's just because that's how we made it out to be. When people tell me things like, “Wow, you're so young, and you came here alone? I would be so scared at your age,” or “I'm too old for that, too young for this…” I just think: what would those couple of years actually change in you? Like, to be real, time isn't even real. We’re just these bodies of cells that are continually deteriorating, what does it matter in which stage they are, and why should that influence if we do something or not? You know what I mean? I feel like we're all gonna die soon anyway and nothing really matters, so you might as well just do what you want, when you want.
I also feel like people tend to judge you based on those numbers, which blows my mind. Age doesn't equal experience, it doesn't equal life lessons, it doesn't equal anything. Because a 15-year-old can be going through the same things as a 50-year-old.
I think my best example for that is my mother, sister and I. We both experienced Venezuela together for the first time when we were 3-4 and she was 35, and we moved back to Latvia, back to Venezuela. Then starting from 0 in Germany. And we all went through everything together. And we learned all the new languages and just went through this crazy journey. And it didn't matter that I was 5 and she was in her 30s; we both had to learn Spanish and adjust to this new culture.
Life doesn't discriminate on age so neither should we. I hate how I get treated like a child so often when people hear my age for the first time. And don't get me wrong, I know I'm not a grown ass person, and I still have a lot to learn and experience, but that doesn't diminish all the things that I do know and have experienced.
So basically what I'm trying to say is, it's never too early nor too late to follow your dreams and passions and just do whatever you like. We have only one life, so just go for it.
You had your first small exhibition last month in Tokyo, and your work and art are slowly gaining attention in this city. What would you say are the main differences you witness between Europe, especially Berlin’s art scene, and in Tokyo?
I think the main difference I've noticed so far is that people are more work/business oriented here as opposed to Berlin. So everything kind of flows faster and more concrete than in Berlin. I think it could have something to do with the fact that there's so many people in Tokyo, and all of them are always working and doing things, so it's inevitable that everything happens a lot faster here.
I think Tokyo definitely has some similar art scenes to Berlin, but Berlin will always stay Berlin and Tokyo will always stay Tokyo.
If you could picture yourself in 5 years and see that everything went according to your goals and dreams, where would we find you and what would you do?
I think that’s the hardest question to answer. The reason being I'm too inconsistent with what I want in life. I mean, 2 years ago it would've never crossed my mind even for a second that I would be living Tokyo trying to make it as an artist. 5 years ago I never even imagined I would be living in Berlin. So to be completely honest, I have no idea where I could end up even in the next 2 years. Life really comes as a surprise.
But considering my dreams and aspirations as of now, I hope to be working with magazines and creative people. I hope that my brand has already grown a bit, enough for people to have heard of "Estere." I hope I am still here in Tokyo making a living off of my art. I want to be known in the art world and for people to not take my word for granted. I want to be able to survive in the corporate world by insuring myself with my love for art.
So if everything goes as I dream it, I’m probably chilling somewhere in Tokyo, eating red bean buns and painting as I plan my next editorial for i-D, taking orders for custom anything.
More than anything, I just hope that I'm confident in whatever I do and, most importantly, in myself. I don't ever want to lose my creativity; it's one my biggest fears. So, whatever happens, I hope that part of me never ceases to flourish. I hope nothing ever breaks my spirit.
Can you please tell us something about your creative process and these 5 trousers you painted for this editorial?
Since the only thing I know when I start painting is the colour I want to use, my creative process was a bit different for the pants than for my "regular" paintings. Since I already had a background colour, I had thought of what colours would match that, while at the same time pop off the "canvas" and still match with the other faces on the same trousers. I try to picture where the face would look better when wearing the pants. Then I do a very loose sketch of the face in my notebook, just so the image starts to have a presence in my head. And then I just start painting and don't stop until I like what I see.
More importantly, where can we buy these trousers and how can possible buyers get in contact with you to get their own customized pants?
I guess the easiest way is just my Instagram, @nastja.estere or @estere.art. That's where I usually receive my orders. Or you can also buy the pre-painted ones on my depop @saintestere. You can also send a request to my email: email@example.com. I promise I'm friendly, so feel free to write to me!
What's next for you in Tokyo?
As of now? I want to create as much as possible, and absorb as much of the Tokyo energy as possible. I want to explore all kinds of different mediums and grow as an artist. After all, I just got started.
Thank you Estere.
Thank you for everything Biancissimo!