Young Philadelphia Artist Paints Japanese Volcanoes!│Interview with Louis Claude Lafferty【英語版】



The editorial department of FFD interviewed Louis Claude Lafferty, who will have a solo exhibition at Hiltopia Art Square,  in Nishi-Shinjuku, from August 10 to 15, 2023 – please enjoy.

Hello Mr. Louis, nice to meet you today.

“Hello. Nice to meet you.”

Louis-san, you are going to have a solo exhibition in Tokyo. What were you like as a child?

“My mother is an artist. Because of her influence, I have been drawing pictures since I was a child. I spent a lot of my childhood in her studio.”

As a young boy, Louis loved to draw cars, ships, and lighthouses.

Louis’s mother, Ilene Pearlman, is a well known artist in the Philadelphia area.

‘I learned to paint directly from my mother. Her work is made by sewing fabric together, and that has influenced my art style to this day. My mother still works in Philadelphia, USA.”

Are you originally from Philadelphia? It’s on the East Coast, halfway between New York and Washington. What kind of city is it?

“My hometown, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, is a city with lots of art on the streets. It’s famous for its murals.”

That’s wonderful.

Murals are a common sight all across Philadelphia.

Back home, Louis salvages materials in order to reuse them. Here, he collects some old windows.

“Yes, but it is not as beautiful or as clean as Japan. There is garbage everywhere. It is not very pleasant in daily life. But it can be useful for artists. For example, when someone is demolishing a building, old pieces of wood are left on the street. Most of my paintings in my hometown were made from wood or other materials found on the street, which I used as canvases.”

This painting was made from an antique tire, which Louis found in a New Jersey swamp.

There is a connection between everyday life and painting, isn’t there?

“Yes, they are. For me, painting is like a diary. I paint to preserve memories. Whenever I have a place or an emotion I don’t want to forget, I can look at the painting I did there and remember the exact time and place I painted it.”

I see. You are such a painter, Louis, but when did you come to Japan?

Louis prepares for his first exhibition in 2018, entitled “Enter the Multiverse”

View from the Philadelphia Museum of Art

“I came to Japan in January 2020. I was a student at Temple University in Philadelphia, which has a Japan campus. So I came to Japan to study art.”

If you came to Japan in 2020, it would have coincided with the Corona outbreak. It must have been difficult.

“Yes, it was. In 2021, I was waiting for the Japanese border to open. That’s when I decided to drive to Mexico and live in my grandmother’s 1998 Mazda.”

While you were waiting, you traveled through Mexico. Did you go there to paint?

“Yes, I did. I drove from town to town and painted what I saw. There is not as much trash in Mexico as there is in the United States. In Mexico, there is not much trash on the streets. So it was difficult to make wooden frames for the canvases. I built my first wooden canvas stretchers during a trip to the town of San Blas in the Mexican state of Nayarit.”

Louis wears a hand-painted Halloween costume, in the town of Sayulita, Nayarit, Mexico.

“In my hour of need, I found a crate of fruit on the street. With a few modifications, I was able to turn them into stretcher bars for canvases.”

So you made your own canvases in Mexico?

“Yes. I made some crates and covered them with fabric that I used to cover the windows of my car. That’s how I made my first canvas.”

So you did a lot of creative things to paint while traveling by car through Mexico?

Louis painted his grandmother’s Mazda in Zacatecas, Mexico. Grandma almost scrapped this car, and never imagined the life it would go on to live.

“Yes, I did. This method worked for a while. But eventually I ran into some problems. Why do you think that was?”

Sierra de Organos, Zacatecas, Mexico

Todos Santos, Baja California Sur, Mexico. Here, some paintings can be seen on the rear dashboard, and a wooden stretcher bar is tied to the roof rack.

Didn’t you run out of places to put your paintings in the car?

‘”Yes! After about 30 paintings my car was completely full and I had no place to sleep. I started putting my paintings inside each other to save space. In other words, a ‘Matryoshka on Canvas.'”

The original set of Matryoshka canvases. Made from Mexican fruit crates, this set holds six canvases in the same amount of space as one. Louis assembled this set the night before his flight to Japan.
While in Japan, the Matryoshka canvas set has grown. It can now hold 31 canvases in the largest size frame at the top of this picture. Louis has also begun experimenting with different types of fabric to make more unique canvases.

The predecessor to the Matryoshka canvas required Louis to build a new frame from fruit boxes for each new painting. Louis was constantly looking for new wood on the street, which slowed the process down and took up a lot of room in the car. It required more time and space for each painting.

I see. So you nest them in wooden crates of different sizes, like large, medium, and small. It’s flat and saves space.

‘”As they say, “Necessity is the mother of invention'”. It was also difficult to find wooden crates to make each canvas. In Mexico, crates of fruit are not always available. I knew that when I returned to my house in Japan, I would no longer have my Mazda to store my paintings, so the space would be even smaller. So I decided to make a solid “Matryoshka Canvas” with the intention of taking it back to Japan. The first one was a six-tiered storage type. The canvas is made of a wooden frame on which the painted cloth is removed, and a new cloth is then stretched over the canvas again. The “Matryoshka Canvas” was made from a Mexican fruit box, and it was very well made. I designed it so that it could be reused over and over again.”

The “Matryoshka Canvas” is a good name. The name “Matryoshka Canvas” is a good one, and it conjures up images in my mind.

These were the first six paintings Louis made while in Mexico.

“Thank you very much. Since I came to Japan, I try to remove the painting from the wooden frame after it is dry. Then I reuse the same wooden frame. This way I am able to paint very efficiently. It saves time and space. In Mexico I painted about 30-40 paintings, but in Japan I painted almost 200 in the same amount of time. This is because I no longer have to make a new crate for every painting, and I use the same crates over and over again.”

Being able to paint a lot is a good thing for an artist. Earlier, you mentioned that your work is like a diary. What kind of motifs have you painted in Japan?

Mount Iwate (Version 1) 
Shizukuishi, Iwate, Japan, 2022
Oil on canvas
8 x 15.5 cm (3 x 6 inches) painting only, 17 x 21 cm (7 x 8 inches) full canvas

Sakurajima as seen from Kagoshima Harbour 
Kagoshima, Japan, 2020
Gouache on wood
10 x 30.5 cm (4 x 12 inches)

“I like volcanoes, and in fact I painted some in Mexico. Japan is a country with many volcanoes. I have traveled all over Japan to paint volcanoes. I have visited volcanoes such as Mount Komagatake in Hokkaido, Mount Iwate, Mount Mihara, Mount Fuji, Mount Omuro, and Sakurajima. I am very inspired to paint Japanese nature, especially the volcanoes that are with the Japanese people’s lives.”

I didn’t realize how much I took that environment for granted, but Japan is one of the most volcanic countries in the world, isn’t that right?

Street and Wires with Mount Fuji
Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan, 2023
Oil on Canvas
14 x 18 cm (6 x 7 inches)

Mount Fuji with Tall Grass
Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan, 2023
Oil on canvas
23 x 31 cm (9 x 12 inches)

“Volcanoes have great energy that attracts people. Not only do they produce hot springs and geothermal power, but the nutrients they bring from the earth’s interior enrich the soil and benefit both plants and animals. I don’t know all the scientific details, but perhaps it is this connection between the benefits of nature and people that moves me.”

Afternoon View of Mount Fuji from Michael’s Hostel
Fujiyoshida, Yamanashi, Japan, 2022
Oil on Canvas
30 x 24 cm (12 x 9 inches)

In your volcano paintings, you can see the mountains behind the stores and feel close to nature. I was fascinated by the indescribable uniqueness of Louis’s paintings.

By the way, can you tell us about any memorable moments from your trip to Japan to visit volcanoes?

“Yes, I did. One weekend I decided to try my hand at painting. I took a ferry from Tokyo to Izu Oshima Island and brought two sets of “Matryoshka Canvases” with me. My goal was to paint on all the canvases this weekend – ten.”

Ten canvases in just one weekend is quite a challenge, isn’t it?

“Yes, it was. I arrived at Izu Oshima at around 6 am. As soon as I got off the boat, I saw Mt. Fuji at dawn.

Fujiyama from Oshima (Larger Version)
Izu Oshima, Tokyo, Japan, 2022
Oil on canvas
12 x 12 cm (5 x 5 inches)

I spent the rest of the day painting boats and statues around the island, but I really wanted to paint Mt. Mihara up close.”

Fishing Boat with Fujisan in the background
Izu Oshima, Tokyo, Japan, 2022
Oil on canvas
15.5 x 22.5 cm (6 x 9 inches)

“From Okata Harbor in the north of the island, Mt. Mihara is blocked by sheer cliffs. After sleeping in a tent next to the zoo, I decided to get up early the next morning and climb to the top of the volcano to draw the top of Mt. Mihara up close.

It was a steep slope to climb by bicycle, and it took a very long time to climb to the top. The whole time I was climbing, monkeys were howling in the dense forest.

When I finally passed through the forest, Mt. Mihara appeared and it was like a dream. I stood at the limit of the lava flow from the 1986 eruption. From there I could see the volcano clearly and beautifully. I painted from that vantage point and made my way to the summit.”

1986 Source: Japan Meteorological Agency (
Miharayama as seen after leaving the monkey forest was very rewarding and inspiring.

The Ground has Broken!
Izu Oshima, Tokyo, Japan, 2022
Oil on sewn canvas
23.5 x 31 cm (9 x 12 inches) painting only, 33 x 42 cm (13 x 17 inches) full canvas

“Shortly thereafter, I painted another picture of the inside of the crater. The volcano looked like it was about to erupt, and as you can imagine, I was a little scared. So I hurried to paint it. After that, I painted a picture of Mt. Fuji seen in the distance from the top of Mt. That night I was preparing to camp near the top of Mt. Mihara, when a man passing by reminded me, ‘If there is an eruption in the evening, you will definitely be killed. I decided to bike down the mountain a bit, but it was starting to get dark. If I went too far, I would have to sleep in the monkey forest. But if I didn’t go far enough, I would be at risk if there was an eruption.”

This painting was made while looking inside the volcanic crater at the top of Miharayama. Occasionally, some smoke would come out. Notice that the blue in the sky is a bit less strong when pictured below. This is a result of the painting being stored inside a larger painting while still wet. Louis does not mind this, because it adds to the history of the painting. In fact, a faint impression of this painting can be found on the back of the previous painting. Thus, a story was inscribed in the art work.

Looking inside Miharayama Crater
Izu Oshima, Tokyo, Japan, 2022
Oil on sewn canvas
25 x 18 cm (10 x 7 inches) painting only, 33 x 25 cm (13 x 10 inches)

Fujiyama from Oshima (Smaller Version)
Izu Oshima, Tokyo, Japan, 2022
Oil on canvas
7 x 7 cm (3 x 3 inches)
I don’t know what to do !

“I found a small clearing near a closed hotel and pitched my tent there for the night. The next morning I woke up very early. It was cold, foggy, and monkeys were all around me! The fog was too thick to see the volcano from close up, so I decided to bike back to the ocean.

That afternoon I had to catch a ferry back to Tokyo. It took me less than 30 minutes to bike down the same road I had spent the day before climbing! I sprinted down the winding mountain road, passing by monkeys as I went.”

Fishing Boat
Izu Oshima, Tokyo, Japan, 2022
Oil on canvas
18 x 18 cm (7 x 7 inches)

“I returned to Okada Harbor and leisurely painted a picture of a fishing boat at a nearby dock. As the time of departure approached, I noticed that not many people were around. I found a port official and asked if this was the right place to board the ferry. He told me, “Due to the weather, the ferry leaves from Motomachi Port, 10 kilometers away.” The departure time was approaching, so I hurried to the port on my bicycle. The fog had already begun to lift. It was only then that I learned that from Motomachi Port, I could get a panoramic view of Mt. Mihara without having to spend a whole day climbing through the Monkey Forest!

I only learned this a few hours before heading home, but I was still pleased with what turned out to be a memorable experience and a cool painting.”

Miharayama from Motomachi Pier
Izu Oshima, Tokyo, Japan, 2022
Oil on canvas
23 x 30 cm (9 x 12 inches)

“I had time to do a quick painting at the port with the Mihara Mountain buildings in the foreground. This was my ninth painting of the weekend, and out of the ten I painted, nine were good, but I was sad that I did not reach my goal. Only the smallest of the “Matryoshka Canvases” still remained. A small rectangular one with a golden underpainting. The ship was about to leave, so there was no time left.”

Izu Oshima from Ferry
Sagami Bay, Japan, 2022
Oil and acrylic on canvas
9.5 x 6 cm (4 x 2.5 inches) painting only, 18 x 13.5 cm (7 x 5.5 inches) full canvas

The final view of Izu Oshima disappearing in the distance was the inspiration for the last painting of this series.

“The ship has left. From the boat I saw Izu Oshima from every angle. Dolphins were playing in the waves our boat was creating. It was magical. And I knew this was the perfect place to complete my final picture. Izu Oshima was still barely visible in the distance, but it was an incredible sight. I sat in the back of the boat and completed my tenth painting.”

It was a very engaging story. Thank you very much!

We look forward to seeing your solo exhibition.

Exhibition information of Louis Claude Lafferty

Young Philadelphia Artist Paints Japanese Volcanoes

~Louis Claude Lafferty Landscape Painting Exhibition~

Dates: Thursday, August 10 – Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Time: 11:00 – 18:30  *Close at 14:30 on the last day

Admission Free