RICHARD WALKER / RWALKER@STARBULLETIN.COM
The artist Zakka, top, and his wife, Rae Huo, hold Zakka's vinyl-toy creation, Miao, behind stacks of boxes of the toy, which also comes with Miao's companion, Mousubi.
Artist tries luck with age-old cat
This decade may one day be remembered as the era of the makeover, with everything that could be refreshed, retouched or re-engineered -- from computers to vegetables to human bodies -- sculpted, colorized, modified, glamorized or otherwise improved for maximum visual appeal.
One thing that seemed tamper-proof was the maneki neko, or Japanese lucky cat that has been a fixture in homes and businesses here for at least a century. The figurine has one paw raised in a beckoning motion to summon money and/or luck. About the only innovation in the cat's design over the years has been the introduction of the battery-powered arm, perhaps for those who wanted to speed up the process of getting lucky.
Now, Zakkamono has come up with a version of the maneki neko for the vinyl toy generation, in the form of a stout, 7-inch blue cat named Miao. Zakka, a local artist, had long been a collector of comics, books and wind-up toys, "anything visual," he said, before moving onto vinyl toys at the beginning of the movement, about 15 years ago. Watching friends develop their own toys provided the catalyst for his own ambition.
"It had been in the back of my mind for quite a while," he said. "Seeing the transformation from 2-D to 3-D appealed to me."
COURTESY RAE HUO
Zakka with tokidoki creator Simone Legno, whose artwork graces Miao.
He came up with the cat form, and perhaps like all creators, he didn't want Miao to be lonely, so he designed a companion, Mousubi -- part mouse, part musubi. The two are packaged together for $80, and have already accompanied Zakka and his wife, photographer Rae Huo, to Tokyo and Hong Kong, where the toys have been photographed at markets and various sightseeing sites, the seed of a photo book and other fun, visual projects to come, solo and in collaboration with other artists.
Inspired by the D.I.Y., or do-it-yourself ethic, Miao was purposely designed as a blank platform that would allow other artists to add their own aesthetic to the design. The first enlisted was tokidoki creator Simone Legno, who's visited Hawaii several times over the past two years, the last time for a June 7 appearance at Nordstrom.
"Simone's an exceptional artist, and so friendly and giving," Zakka said.
"He has a passion for Japanese things, so right off the bat, when he saw it was a maneki neko, he got it."
Zakka and Huo plan to put Miao into the hands of 50 artists around the world to create a collaborative show at Subtext in San Diego this fall. It's a way of taking art out of traditional galleries for a new generation of fans who want, and expect, interaction with their heroes. The couple had observed over the years as hundreds lined up for a minute or two with Legno and other artists at signing events around town.
"Traditionally, artists have just been in the studio, working by themselves, Zakka said. "The artists in this world grew out of the street art scene. They're highly visible and keenly aware of the public in the things they do. Street art has become a force on the Internet and people have become more receptive to it."
Miao and Mousubi would fit into the category of toys not intended for children but for the childish spirit within adults. For Zakka and Huo, the challenge of developing the two figures fit with their philosophy of making the most of life.
"It's part of living fully," Huo said. "Zakka always says I have a sense of awe about the world. Everything is so interesting to me, like for a child. Everything is new and exciting. We never want to lose that sense of wonderment."
Miao and Mousubi and be found at Zakkamono.com and at Split Obsession in the Koko Marina Shopping Center.