By MIKEY HIRANO CULROSS
Rafu Arts & Entertainment Editor
To passive eyes, the chicken on the skewers at Kokekokko in Little Tokyo is a simple yet tasty treat.
To Sean D’Anconia, watching yakitori master Tomohiro Sakata prepare the dish was an inspiration.
“He has a sense of a rustic, master artisan style. This guy was doing with chicken what I was trying to do in art,” D’Anconia said. “He was a hero to me.”
D’Anconia was a new resident to Little Tokyo, having relocated from Hong Kong, specifically to absorb as much of the local culture as possible. Having grown up in Montreal and Toronto, his exposure to anything Japanese was basically limited to imports of cartoons, mostly dubbed in French.
“I was obsessed, since I was six, with cult cinema, comics, Dr. Who, that kind of stuff like all nerds,” said the 30-something artist, during a recent visit to the Rafu Shimpo offices. “Even though I didn’t understand French all that well, I could see a heroic, stoic idealism, and realism in some of these cartoons. In many of these shows, characters could actually die, whereas in many American shows, like ‘G.I. Joe,’ for example, a character could get hit by a thousand bullets and still be okay.”
D’Anconia has been chosen to create artwork and characters to promote this year’s Nisei Week Festival, and his diminutive yet confident Mayumi can be seen all over Little Tokyo.
His work began to attract attention locally in 2010, when several of his pieces were part of an exhibit at the (now closed) Pop Up Art gallery on Second Street. His style caught the eye of Carol Tanita at the Rafu Bussan gift and housewares store down the street, and she introduced D’Anconia to some traditional kokeshi dolls.
“I had really had a bad day,” he recalled. “I was sitting at Kouraku, feeling sorry for myself, and some of the art on the walls there inspired me to try to make something new. I went home and there were Carol’s kokeshi dolls, so that’s when Mayumi was born.”
After finishing university in Montreal, D’Anconia moved to Santa Barbara, with the goal of making it big in movies, only to soon become disillusioned with the Hollywood norms.
“I realized no one was going to make the kind of films I wanted to see,” he explained, “I started putting my own movie concepts onto art and clothing, bags and shoes, and little by little, that evolved into a career.”
After bouncing around in Italy, Canada and the U.S., he settled in Hong Kong, where his sense of Japanese pop art was readily absorbed into fashion and design. In his boyhood, his mother often took him for dim sum in Toronto’s Chinatown, where he first made the connection between anime characters and Japanese culture.
“I had a feeling, even then, that Japanese and Asian pop culture was going to explode worldwide,” he said.
One of his first substantial tastes of success came at the MAGIC convention of apparel and accessories manufacturers in Las Vegas.
D’Anconia said his fine art career really began to take off when Brian Lee of Hold Up Art noticed some of the artist’s designs on an iPhone case.
“He believed in me and gave me an opportunity, and people in Little Tokyo have been extremely supportive,” he said.
The official launch of the Mayumi character was last year, at an event held at Downtown Disney in Anaheim. Original art, clothes, handbags and other items were all made available.
He has created art for Disney Theme Parks, Hanna Barbera, the estate of Bob Marley, Hawaiian Tropic and Sanrio, among others. His products can be found at stores including Saks 5th Avenue, Fred Segal, the Atrium and Virgin.
D’Anconia is currently working to bring Mayumi – who can speak French and Japanese, never tells a lie and weighs “7.6 apples, 3.6 pears and 8.8 oranges” – and her friends to television.
Although as a child he didn’t understand the connection between the cartoons he loved and Japan, he later realized many of them displayed much of the style and sensibilities of 1960s Japanese films, and the idea of “heroic idealism” was a shared strength.
“It’s a concept I could see in some of the old anime – ‘Kimba,’ ‘Candy Candy,’ even Hello Kitty – there was always something there, this – kind of Shinto idea of objects having a soul,” D’Anconia explained. “There is a Japanese politeness and civility, whether cleaning up after a picnic or after a disaster. To me, this was the pinnacle of human achievement. They had developed this culture, and I wanted it to be a part of me, and in Canada, there was no one to tell me that because I didn’t have this ethnicity, I couldn’t touch it.”
More information on Mayumi and Sean D’Anconia can be found at www.mayumi.com and www.danconia.jp.