In spring 2008, Tomoko Maruyama moved to San Francisco with no job or connections — just the goal of making a living as an artist and designer in the city that inspired her most. Three years later, Maruyama has achieved success as a commercial designer; her products, from T-shirts to calendars, are sold at museums, bookstores and festivals, and she maintains a thriving Web-based business. She’s also been given her first solo gallery show, “Spring of Happiness,” on view at the Market Street Gallery through Friday, May 27.
Maruyama is known for her warm, bright colors and cutesy designs that often depict familiar San Francisco landmarks. When first launching her fledgling business, however, she lacked confidence in her work.
“People told me that something cute doesn’t work here,” Maruyama said. “In Japan, our advertisements and everything is cute, and I grew up with that. Here, something cute is for babies. Customers looked at my work and told me, ‘This is good for a baby,” which was confusing for me. But it’s something I can’t change, because it’s a cultural thing.”
This trademark style, however, has found a strong customer base — and it’s also what got her the gallery show.
On a trip to Japantown, Robert Vo, the gallery’s curator, happened to glimpse her art displayed in the Japan Center Mall. “It just kind of grabbed my attention,” he said. “It has that Japanese feel, but having that local flavor is nice, too. When you look at her work, you know it’s her work. She puts her signature on whatever she does.”
Vo contacted Maruyama, and the arrangements were made. He requested that she create some new pieces for the show. She ended up designing 20 new works in one month, inspired by her chosen theme and the chance to do something other than commercial work, which had become a driving goal for her.
“With commercial art, you have to reduce your style,” Maruyama said, “I wanted to include what I really like, something I feel.”
For the works in this show, which feature some trademark San Francisco landmarks, along with lavish flower scenes, smiling children and Japanese gardens, she said she wanted to create images that give a sense of warmth and happiness. “I think that it makes sense that it’s about spring, when the season is moving from winter and people are becoming warmer and happier,” Maruyama said.
With this show, as with all her work, Maruyama says her main goal is to make people happy. After leaving a job she hated in Japan and pursuing her dream career here, she’s found satisfaction in her life, and hopes her work can inspire that feeling in others. “Many people do not enjoy their work. They could move forward, but they don’t because they are afraid,” Maruyama said. “I want to make people feel happy.”
From now on, Maruyama hopes to increasingly show her work in galleries, she said, moving beyond just designing commercial goods. Though she’s found great inspiration in San Francisco, she also said she’s excited about finding new ideas elsewhere.
“In the future, I plan to get my inspiration from other cities, places and people,” Maruyama said. “There are so many cities I want to visit and people I want to meet. I would like to be an artist of the world.”
“Spring of Happiness” is on display at the Market Street Gallery, 1554 Market St. (between Van Ness and Franklin) in San Francisco through Friday, May 27. The gallery is open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Sundays by appointment. For more information about the gallery, call (415) 290-1441 or visit http://marketstreetgallery.com. For more information about Maruyama, visit www.tomokomaruyama.com.