Nico Salazar, the artist behind Future Fantasy Delight, recently exhibited one of his chaotic illustrations in Harajuku, one of the hippest neighborhoods in Tokyo. His eight-panel piece, Future Fantasy Pleasure, combines his lifelong love of Japanese pop culture with references that are 100 percent New Mexico. It exhibited at Design Festa for two weeks in April.
"It's a story about my life in the early 2000s," Nico said of Future Fantasy Pleasure. "It was mainly about raves, chat rooms and ditching high school with my friends."
The style should be familiar to anyone who has seen Nico's room in the Santa Fe exhibit— horror vacui chock full of references to pop culture and New Mexico. One thing many people miss is that Nico's work is highly narrative. Many of the characters he draws have their own backstories, which Nico creates as he works. Pleasure is similar, but it is autobiographical.
For example, the third panel in the top row has an image of his mom's track phone. When Nico was a teenager his chat room-obsessed cousin from Pecos introduced him to Yahoo Chat. Nico did not have the Internet at his mother's house, so he used her Cricket phone to get his chat fix. The next panel over has a reference to his love of window-shopping on the Internet. Nico was broke at the time, so he would browse online retailers for hours, filling up a wishlist with products he never purchased.There's also a nod to New Mexico rave culture in the piece. The second panel in the bottom row has three cascading faces, each with a tab on their tongue.
Nico's friends were jungle and drum n' bass heads who were always throwing parties. This reached a peak when Nico quit his job at a pizza shop and decided to take three weeks off before finding a new gig.
"All I did was party and play Sega Dreamcast," he said. "I stayed over for, like, a week. Took mushrooms and went to parties."
After one such party Nico and his friends ended up at Nico's dad's place in Santa Fe. He remembers running out to Jackalope to buy his dad a birthday present. When he returned he noticed that his stoner friends were transfixed by the fish tank. That's where the lungfish in the work come from. The title, Future Fantasy Pleasure, is another reference. Before translation was taken seriously in the industry, video games from Japan often had badly-localized text (ie: "a winner is you" or "I feel asleep"). The title is Nico's play on that memory. His studio is called Future Fantasy Delight, but the closest word to "delight" in Japanese is "pleasure." Hence, Future Fantasy Pleasure.
Nico made the trip to Japan with his friend Max and fellow Meow Wolfer Lindsey Kennedy. His description of Harajuku is enough to make anyone jealous. It's a neighborhood that is responsible for much of the fashion and trends from Japan that are exported to the rest of the world.
The streets are iconic, with grids of ceramic tile that are like a canvas for the locals.
"Everything has graffiti. Everything is covered with stickers or graffiti," Nico said. "It's like they're okay with that, like, 'This is what makes us cool.' It grows all over the neighborhood. I love grids. I love the whole look."
Harajuku's attitude toward the art scene is as different as their attitude about street art. The neighborhood doesn't have the gallery culture that Santa Fe does. Design Festa has a DIY approach to exhibitors. Artists apply to the gallery and are responsible for hanging their own work and promoting it. Nico described the approach as artwork hanging in an elementary school hallway. It fits with the aesthetic of the rest of the neighborhood. Nico released a digi-flyer over his Instagram account and was surprised when it started getting shares from people in Tokyo who responded to his work.
Nico's other mission in Japan was to get club kids to model some items from Future Fantasy Delight's clothing line. He made a post saying that he was looking to hire models for a day.
"I tried keeping it simple, 'looking to hire models in Tokyo. Paid gig.' Who knows what the fuck it actually said with Google translate."
He got responses from two people in the local club scene, Yuri, a fashion store clerk, and DJ Umpei. Both are fixtures of their neighborhood and the photoshoots were often interrupted by locals saying hi to the models. Nico described Umpei as "a cyberpunk androgynous bad ass," who spins a mix of techno and 1980s bubblegum pop in Tokyo's club scene. Yuri left with a bag of FFD merch for her store.
Max, Lindsey and Nico took in some of the stranger sights Tokyo had to offer. You may hear about themed bars and restaurants in Japan, but what you're picturing doesn't come close to the reality: glitzy, immersive locations that are proudly geeky. A place with a name as unassuming as "Robot Restaurant" was more like Mardi Gras meets Power Rangers. The backstory: water and forest creatures join forces to fight evil. Check it out.
Nico left with great shots of his clothing line, some toy Kaiju monsters and memories he feels grateful for. Japan was always on Nico's bucket list and he said he felt rewarded that it paid off for him.
"I think we got what we wanted, what we planned on happening happened," Nico said. "... I would say that Tokyo is my favorite city ever and holy fuck everyone should go."You can see more of Nico's work at Future Fantasy Delight or on his Instagram page. We have some exciting news in store regarding Nico and Future Fantasy Delight, but we're not quite ready to announce it. Keep an eye here or on our Facebook page for more information. — Billiam