One of the first things that one can notice when it comes of Vincent de Pio’s works is that they are all rooted in Japanese culture.

But the second that eventually stands out, beyond all the heavy textures and intricate details, is the fact that it may not be entirely Japanese at all.

Vincent de Pio (b. 1979) has always been recognized for his works that heavily feature this notable eastern aesthetic. There will always be sumo wrestlers grappling, dainty geishas peeking modestly as they stride, iconic anime characters, and samurais in their proud magnificence. There will always be that hint of Japanese fascination defining the canvas. Even his expressionistic brushstrokes are evident of a wabisabi practice—an appreciated mistake, all accumulated to embody a seemingly intentional narrative. De Pio’s works, however, are never just a singular character left clinging to the ideals of the east. They weave through a series of questions, tackle curiosities of cultural differences, and encourage a certain fervor to chase meaning.

Take the piece Heiwa Ga Hoshinara Senso No Junbi O (If You Want Peace, Prepare for War) for instance. Its dark and ominous rendering pierce through the samurai helmet’s emptiness and cast a silent threat. De Pio paints the five-foot-wide canvas by creating a seemingly symmetrical outlay—the crazed crows on either side gravitating to a central point which is adorned by a crest-like dragon in offense. The colors are controlled with only modest shades of reds and faint swathes of yellow. They are all limited and clarified to a point where one can see the ingenious amount of focus by the artist. There was no sense of freedom in the subject as the weight of the samurai’s helmet and its lack of identity are pushed towards its thirst to serve.

However, for the artist, liberation was inevitable; as if he granted himself his own freedom to choose, to navigate, and to plot where everything begins and ends.

Here, he sheds light on the universality of his works, where their recognizable Japanese traits are only secondary. And that his freedom to be able to resonate and retell their stories in his own free voice is the first one. The fascination is only the by-product of his journey, as if it wasn’t intentional to reimagine the foreign culture at all.

Somehow, de Pio portrays himself as the audience instead of the creator. Much like the philosophy of ikigai, he suggests looking at what we are passionate about in the plethora of details he presented, and only gravitating to those that matter. “Before I wanted to put a lot of subjects and a lot of colors,” de Pio shares, “But it’s also better to focus on the simplest subject matters and just enhance it.” While recognizing what is and is not needed is important, de Pio also muses that challenging oneself to get a sense of clarity of why these certain factors are or are not needed is likewise equally as essential.

notes by Grace Micah Oreiro