Alice Yumi is a Japanese-Brazilian artist and fashion designer currently based in Urbana. Through various mediums, she explores the body’s relationship to clothing and the environment, and blurs the line between fashion and art. 

After falling in love with clothing design while studying fashion and visual arts in Brazil, Yumi enrolled in a year-long intensive course at the Bunka Fashion School  in Tokyo. Her work—ranging from mixed-media collages to abstract illustrations— blends architectural Japanese aesthetics with eye-popping Brazilian colors. 

In 2016, Yumi relocated to Urbana so her husband could pursue his PhD at the University of Illinois. Recently, she teamed up with local artist, Sarah Grace Cofield,  to create Project Basement, a space for artists in the Urbana-Champaign area to collaborate and showcase their work. Answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q: When did you first get into art? 

Alice: I started taking art classes at a very young age. Although I feel like in Brazil, art class is not as serious as it is in American schools where you can really dedicate yourself. In Brazil, people don’t leave high school with a portfolio or anything like that. Even when I was 8 year olds, I was already asking my parents to let me take painting classes outside of school because I wanted a more serious environment. The clothing only came along when I was in university. I had always been interested in clothes and expressing myself through my clothes, but I didn’t even know how to sew a straight line before I got into college. 

Q: What are you most influenced by?

Alice: I just really like the idea of hoarding images in general. Before there was Pinterest, I would save folders and folders of images online not even in a way that made sense. 

I still do that today with computer images and magazine and newspaper clippings. A lot of my choices in texture and color come from that. 

I still get inspired a lot by fashion even if I’m just doing illustrations. I’m inspired by designers who cross that space between fashion and art and have a more conceptual way of viewing fashion design. 

Q: What designers have inspired you the most?

Alice: I’m often more inspired by artists that work in other fields such as fashion or architecture. One of my main influences is fashion designer Issey Miyake for example. I am deeply interested in the way he played with volume, shapes and color, and how his pieces take on different forms when laid flat or when worn by a person.

Q: How have you adapted your approach to making art during the pandemic?

Alice: In the beginning of the year, like many people, I was furloughed from my part-time job so I  suddenly had all of this spare time. I took it as a positive thing and that I could take this time to start doing personal projects again.

Having all that time stuck at home, in a way, it really inspired me to go back to my original personal interests. I started doing a lot of things I had been planning on for so long, but never had the time for. 

Q: You recently started an Esty shop AliceArtThings, can you tell me more about that? 

Alice: I’m taking things at my own pace, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. Something that is really important to me in my art practice is the accessibility of art. Sometimes in fine arts, you feel like there’s a barrier of entry. Even approaching fashion through an art lens is a way of trying to think about how art can be done in more accessible ways, and the shop is another manifestation of that. 

Q: Along with making art more accessible, what changes would you like to see in the fine arts industry?

Alice: Nowadays it’s much easier to find smaller artists and creators than before. I love that. Not only smaller, but people who are local to you.  I would love for there to be even more things where we live dedicated to up and coming artists in the community. I would love to see that distinction between outsider art and art not being so much of a thing. All of these barriers between fields of practice, between fashions and art are becoming less and less relevant. 

In Urbana there are definitely cool things going on, but there could be more. I think there is a lot of room to grow still. Being a student-spouse, I feel that distinction between what’s an event and space for the students and what’s for the community. There could be a lot more collaboration between those two. 

Q: What is your favorite kind of art to do?

Alice: I go through different periods. Lately, it’s been a lot about creating 2D projects like illustrations, collages, and stuff like that.  I also love creating clothes and wearable pieces. 

Actual fashion collections were something I did more when I was studying fashion in Brazil and Japan. When I went into my masters in Brazil that’s when I started thinking about how clothes can become a medium of visual arts. I started gravitating to that way of seeing clothing. 

Q: How has living and studying in Brazil and Japan influenced your work?

Alice: It influenced me a lot. I am Brazillian, but I am also half-Japanese. That itself dictated a lot of my influences, how I grew up, and my interests. In Brazil, there are communities with large populations of Japanese immigrants, but my hometown wasn’t like that. I didn’t grow up speaking japanese, it’s just something that I’ve tried to find out for myself. Even studying Japanese, it’s something I looked for on my own when I got much older. 

Even though I’m Brazillian, in Brazil if people look at my face, they see Japanese or at least half-japanese, not Brazilian.  There’s a lot of being in that in between space; maybe not Brazilian enough, maybe not Japanese enough. It’s hard sometimes, but it’s actually a really interesting place to be because there’s a lot of possibility there.

Q: How have you explored those possibilities through your art? 

Alice: One of  my biggest influences in fashion is Japanese fashion designers. Even in the wearable things I create, there is a huge influence of the Kimono and other japanese traditional and contemporary wearable things. As far as the way my wearable pieces occupy space, they have a lot more to do with Japanese aesthetics than Brazillian even. I think Brazil influences me a lot in terms of color and pattern and juxtaposition from Brazil being this melting pot like here. But as far as the shapes and design approach, I’m super influenced by Japan. 

Q: How did Project Basement come about and what is its goal?

Alice: Sarah Grace and I met at work and we really connected with being people who came from another place to live here and just trying to find a space in the art community even though we aren’t students or long-term members. 

We were feeling a lack of open and available gallery spaces for people like us in town so we wanted a space to at least place some pieces and photograph them nicely. We’re hoping that it will become a space that other community members can come in display their artwork and portfolio. 

The whole idea was just an open space in general. It could be for students to display their stuff, it could be for community members to display their stuff, it could really be for anyone.

Alice’s Website:

Alice’s Etsy shop:  AliceArtThings

Project Basement Instagram 

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