Seattle artist straddles cultural edges, comes up ‘cute’

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Ken Taya, also known as Enfu (Photo by Marino Saito/NWAW)

By Marino Saito
Northwest Asian Weekly

Ken Taya doesn’t fart rainbows any more.

The popular, bilingual web comic “I Fart Rainbows” can still be found on the web (ifartrainbows.com). It ran for three years until the artist, also known as Enfu, got too busy with other projects.

Enfu was born in 1977 in Chicago. He has lived in Delaware, Seattle, and Sendai, Japan. Most of his life has been spent in the Seattle area, and it’s still the place he calls home. He has worked as a game developer for more than a decade.

“Enfu” the artist was invented in 2005 as a creative outlet for Taya. “Enfu” is the Onyomi (Chinese reading) of the Japanese Kanji (sarukaze), which literally translates to “Monkey Wind.”

He chose “monkey” because “flying monkey” was a nickname given to him due to the way he used to fly around the basketball court when he played point guard in high school. Also, he said he always thought monkeys were cute animals.

His day job in the video game industry has seen him work on such games as Halo 3 and Scribblenauts Unmasked.

His commissioned illustrations can be seen in stores and restaurants across the Pacific Northwest. Though he loves his work, he says having outside personal projects allow him to express creativity on his own terms. “I can enter my world every time when I draw something. Reality is very boring, but thinking in my brain and entering my world by drawing is always a fun time for me,” he said.

Enfu’s early work explored the cultural paradigm shifts he encountered as a person who straddles Japanese, Japanese American, and American identities. But since he became a father, his daughter became his muse. His artwork turned “cuter,” he said, as he attempted to “catch the butterflies that are her imagination.” The whimsical and colorful content of his work, he said, is a result of his efforts to capture the child-like innocence adults lose, without losing sight of the edge of reality. Enfu describes his own work as “cute, edgy, and cool.”

“It is not difficult at all for me to have two different types of jobs,” said Enfu. “I wake up 4 a.m. every morning and draw something for a couple hours before going to work. It’s just switching from Japan to America. I grew up bicultural, speaking Japanese at home and speaking English outside of the home. So, it’s two different worlds, but for me, switching the world is easy, because I have been doing the same thing every day since I was a little kid.”

Both of Enfu’s parents are Japanese. They came to the United States to study. Enfu has only lived in Japan for one year of his life, when he was 12 and 13 years old.

“Japanese anime and games inspired me a lot,” Enfu said. “I especially liked Dr. Slump, Doraemon, and Dragon Ball.” After graduating from high school, he went to the University of Washington and majored in Japanese.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I graduated, so I started to work first,” he said. “But after working a little bit, I decided that I wanted to make video games, so I went to Digipen in Redmond and studied how to make video games for two more years. Finally, I started to work again.”

Enfu’s biggest challenge is promoting his artwork. “Working hard and making good art doesn’t mean people see it,” he said. “Getting publicity is the hardest point for me. When people see my art and recognize it as Enfu’s style, it makes me happy.”

In his spare time, Enfu usually plays with his 7-year-old daughter. Besides drawing, he also enjoys playing video games, basketball, boxing, and going hiking.

Enfu has many upcoming projects, including his first art book, Enfu: Cute Grit, due out in October 2014 (Chin Music Press). This collection of digitally rendered pop art is named for Enfu’s whimsical, yet edgy style. It includes more than 250 illustrations and photos that merge adult perception with childlike fantasy. The book contains “vivid re-imaginings of the cityscapes, cartoon characters, superstars, and cosplayers that chronicle the evolution of Enfu’s prolific career, uniting the cute, the warped, and the fantastic to build a digital universe both foreign and familiar.”

Enfu is a big fan of the Seattle Seahawks, and is currently designing a poster that will include 25 Seahawk players. He will be giving the poster away for free at a location to be announced on his Facebook fan page.

Much of Enfu’s work is featured at Kobo in Seattle’s International District and on his website, www.enfu.com. He attends several Seattle conventions, including Sakura-Con, Akimatsuri, and the Emerald City Comicon. He also sells his art at Giant Robot in Los Angeles and exhibits at Comic-Con in San Diego.

Enfu likes to encourage young people who are interested in becoming artists. “Keep drawing every day,” he advised. “I want to continue to get a lot of people, especially kids, to enjoy my art work, inspire their creativities, and support their imaginations for years to come.” (end)

Marino Saito can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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