Q&A: A discussion with Baton Rouge oil painter Isoko Onodera

Armed with an acute fascination with human nature and decades of intensive training, Isoko Onodera produces some of the most ethereal, moving pieces of art in the Baton Rouge, Louisiana, area.

Mixed Mantra sat down with Onodera to discuss her background and artistic journey, as well as the inspiration for her dreamlike depictions of what it means to be human.

You can check out her exhibit, “Synapses,” at the Baton Rouge Gallery through the end of December.

MIXED MANTRA: When did you first start painting and what inspired you to do so?

ISOKO ONODERA: I always liked drawing. I’ve been drawing since I was little. I came to the U.S. from Japan in 1997, and I started school in 2000. I decided to do serious training to be an artist when I took an oil painting class for the first time. I always liked the oil paintings of the old masters, the 19th century artists. That’s why I wanted to try it out.

Animals Dream in the Fickleness of a Bubble
“Animals Dream in the Fickleness of a Bubble” by Isoko Onodera.

MM: What artists influenced your style?

IO: I like John Singer Sargent and James McNeill Whistler. There are so many. I like the content of symbolism artists more, but I like the painting style of Sargent and Whistler a lot.

MM: How long did it take to develop the style of painting you currently employ?

IO: I would say since I started painting. Almost 20 years, I guess. I think it’s always developing. I don’t think it’ll stay the same, because I think all artists are always trying to get better. Every time we paint, we try to make a better image than the last one. We’re always studying, looking at other artists and experimenting. I think my style is still developing. But to get where I’m at took 20 years.

MM: How did growing up in Japan influence your art?

IO: I actually wanted to be a manga artist. That was my first dream, so I drew people a lot. People are still my favorite subjects. I think that influenced me a lot as an artist.

This is Molly, Not Isoko
“This is Molly, Not Isoko” by Isoko Onodera.

MM: What can you tell us about your exhibit at the Baton Rouge Gallery, “Synapses”?

IO: In my previous work, I focused on how people are intrinsically the same throughout time and place, but recently I started thinking about how different we are. We’re made of the same things, but we think very differently. I think the reason I started thinking about that is because people are so divided right now because of the president and his policies. We think about the same things so differently. You know, immigration, building the wall and detaining children and separating them from their parents. Some people are so against it, like I am, and some people are so for it. It kind of puzzles me how we become so different, how we build such different thought processes and ideas. That’s why I decided to do “Synapses.” I think that’s what makes us. How we are raised, what we experience as children, conditions and molds us into what we are. “Synapses” has a lot to do with that. It has a lot to do with memory and processing things.

MM: How does OCD impact your art?

IO: It takes a really long time for me to finish a painting. I’m not a prolific painter because of it. I focus on details and if something’s not working out… Some artists just walk away from it, but I can’t. I keep at it until I feel like I get it right. My OCD fortunately got better as I got older. I still have little habits, but not as bad as when I was younger. But I think it does affect my work a lot.

MM: What advice would you give to an aspiring artist?

IO: I just recently read an interview with an artist online, and she talked about how if something comes naturally to you, you should keep doing it. Sometimes, when we’re in school and stuff, we find stuff we’re good at. Landscape painting, still life, abstract art. She says what you’re good at is what you should really focus on. I think that’s true.