Discover Nikkei

Hope and Connection in the Giorgiko Artistic Universe

Darren and Trisha Inouye, the husband-and-wife duo that forms Giorgiko, celebrate the opening of Giant Robot Biennale 5 at JANM in March 2024. Photo by Kazz Morohashi.

Artistic duo Giorgiko is creating a universe. Giorgiko (pronounced JOR-jee-koh) is a collaborative effort by artists and married couple Darren and Trisha Inouye, who started developing the style and themes explored in Giorgiko’s pieces while still in art school. “The whole thing kind of started with a children’s book that I wrote and illustrated for one of my classes,” says Trisha. The book featured a pink-haired girl named Wonder, who became a main character of the Giorgiko universe. “Wonder is actually an iteration of myself,” explains Trisha, “so the way that everything started was kind of like a self-portrait in a way, but from there things have expanded and changed quite a lot.”

Though it started with just a few sketches and ideas for a class assignment, the duo has found in the Giorgiko universe a visual language to express their deeper values. “Coming from an illustration background, we’re much more storytellers,” Darren explains. “I think that’s why the language of ‘character’ is more applicable to the stuff that we create—there might not be a very chronological storyline that we’re trying to produce, but there is a universe that we’re developing constantly and growing. There are characters within the universe that have their own personalities and represent different aspects of human nature, so in that sense we see them as very much so personifications of people.”

The duo’s unique name is also a reflection of the nature of their work and the universe they’re creating. The name started as a mash-up of Darren and Trisha’s middle names, but while exploring alternative spellings they stumbled upon a name that expressed the deeper meanings in their work. The first part of the name comes from Greek, and means, Trisha explains, “farmer” or “earth-worker.” The “ko” at the end is reminiscent of the diminutive for child in Japanese. “It was very serendipitous,” says Trisha, “that the meaning is ‘a little farmer,’ like a child worker of the earth, and we just found that it perfectly fits into the themes and subject matter that we tend to explore in our artwork.”

While any collaborative artistic endeavor has its challenges, Darren and Trisha believe that their strengths as individual artists combine well in their Giorgiko projects. Darren notes that as Giorgiko has progressed, “it has become much more of a collaborative vision, so we’re both exploring the themes that we’ve explored in the past, and we’re building off of that now. In a sense it feels like we’re able to both pour into this collective pot.” Trisha adds, “Darren and I have very different strengths and weaknesses, so we find that we’re able to complement each other well when it comes to the work itself, but also the process of art making.”

Working together has required a lot humility, which Trisha feels is vital for aspiring artists to cultivate: “Especially for us as a collaborative duo I’ve had to be ok with a lot of things,” she said, “and just lower my defenses, and be more ok with receiving constructive criticism. When I’ve done that, that’s when I’ve grown the most, as an artist but also as a person. Being ok with failure, being ok with constructive criticism, and finding a voice you can trust so that you’re ok with hearing hard things, is really key to growth.” “Growth” is a good word to describe the Giorgiko’s path.

Giorgiko’s works on display in Giant Robot Biennale 5: Far From Home 2, Broken Sakura, and Far From Home 1.

The duo currently has three pieces showing as part of the Giant Robot Biennale 5 exhibition at the Japanese American National Museum (JANM) in LA’s Little Tokyo neighborhood. Giorgiko’s history with Giant Robot and its curator and producer, Eric Nakamura, predates the exhibit. Darren notes that Nakamura and Giant Robot “played a crucial role in the existence and the history of Giorgiko and our collaboration,” initiating the duo and their work into the exclusive fine arts world.

Not only has Giant Robot served as a launchpad for Giorgiko’s success, but it has also created a community of artists and creatives that Darren and Trisha enjoy being part of. “Giant Robot is just such a legend,” says Trisha, “it’s such a pillar of the Asian American art scene, the pop culture scene. It’s such a huge honor that we get to be a part of their lineage, that we get to be a part of their family.” Darren adds that they have quickly become friends with other artists at current and past Giant Robot shows, and Giant Robot “has been huge in creating a space that feels familial.”

The pieces Giorgiko created for Giant Robot Biennale 5 have a special resonance, as the exhibit’s location inside JANM gave Darren an opportunity to explore his Japanese American heritage. The three pieces deal with Japanese American identity, the history of Japanese American experience—including forced internment in WWII—and Darren’s personal family history.

Giorgiko, Far From Home 2, 2024, Oil on canvas, 48" x 60". Giorgiko’s work mixes historical styles and modern elements, especially through clothing. Courtesy of the artists. 
The piece titled Far From Home 2 is based on the story of his grandmother—whom he affectionally calls ‘Bachan’—working for a Jewish American family as a live-in housecleaner and babysitter in order to make it through the tough post-WWII years. The piece sparked connection beyond the space of the museum when someone saw the painting on Giorgiko’s Instagram account and commented on it.

Trisha explains: “Someone commented and said, ‘oh my gosh, my grandmother went through the exact same scenario, she also ended up in a Jewish American home, and was also working for them and keeping house for them.’ We don't even know who this person is, but somehow our grandmothers share very similar stories. Seeing those opportunities for connection and shared experiences is really cool.”

Darren and Trisha note that showing their work in a museum space and framing their canvases for the first time has added a new dimension to their work. “There’s a sense, like a feeling of solemnness that I think we wanted from this show,” Darren explains, “where people were able to look at the pieces not just as illustration but really something to contemplate.” Though the pieces may feel “more reverent and somber,” Trisha adds that “at the same time there is very much a connection that we’re feeling, or that it seems like other people are feeling through the pieces, so it’s not too elevated to where people feel detached or that it’s unapproachable. One of our favorite things about doing art is just seeing how it connects us to people, and connects people to each other, so even though the stories are specific, we do tend to see these connective moments that are really special.”

Darren adds that having Giorgiko’s work displayed in the museum gives important context for the pieces, and a different way of engaging with history and the past. At the show’s opening, the line for the exhibit snaked through the museum’s permanent exhibitions. That meant before seeing the show, visitors walked through displays that gave context to the artwork. He reflects, “There were people who came in and told us, ‘oh I’ve never heard...’ or ‘I learned about this in history class but I got a real education through this.’ So that when they approached our work they were able to see the direct connection. And they were able to understand the imagery and the symbolism.”

Darren recommends that visitors to the Giant Robot Biennale 5 view JANM’s permanent exhibits first—“to understand not just the Japanese American experience but the Asian American experience in general, and for that to be the context to view the work. I think it will give way more weight, not just to our work but to the other Asian American artists that are there. It’s a great museum–it’s really well curated, the people there are wonderful and great, and we hope that this institution continues and is valued, not just by the Japanese American community but by our society at large.”

Though Giorgiko’s pieces specifically address Japanese American identity and experience, the artwork is resonating with a variety of audiences. “It’s been cool, we’ve heard different reactions,” says Darren. “People are like, ‘oh, that looks like my friend!’ or ‘that looks like my brother or sister’—and that’s always neat to hear. We've heard at least one story from a person, I think she had Japanese American heritage as well, and she cried when she saw the piece, because she was like, 'this feels like the stories my grandma used to tell me.’” While some viewers have reacted to the historically-specific inspiration for the paintings, others connect with the broader themes the three works express. Darren explains:

“Especially that center piece [Broken Sakura], which deals with a duality of identity, and having to kind of carry two different identities, within one person. I think with these pieces one thing that’s been kind of cool is we have those people who are Japanese American and they have those stories and they can directly relate to the situation, but there are others that are coming in and our hope is, they’re able to see themselves in the work as well. It’s like, ‘oh, I know what it feels like to not be understood.’”

Giorgiko, Broken Sakura, 2024, Oil on canvas, 96" x 72". Courtesy of the artist. 

One way Giorgiko encourages these connective moments with their art is through the imagery they employ in their paintings. Much of their work features a mixing of historical and modern elements and styles. As Darren puts it, “We have a lot of those tiebacks, at least in clothing, to more modern times, and we also throwback with mixing different outfits across different time periods and across different cultures, and it’s very intentional why we do that. We’re pointing to this idea or concept that people have been the same throughout time. I think that a big fallacy that we see today is that people think, ‘oh, we’re smarter, we have way more access to information and therefore we’re better than people of the past,’ and I think right now, geopolitically, we’re seeing play out that it’s not true.”

Yet Darren and Trisha still believe that their work is imbued with a sense of hope. As Darren says, “There are certain things that are so valuable to Trisha and I, that they’re almost inseparable in the messaging of our work—like what kind of messaging comes out. So although my description of history being 'we’re all the same, we’re repeating the same mistakes’ is a pretty pessimistic view of humanity, there’s also—I think for us both being people of faith—there’s elements there where we believe that there is hope. I think that that is sprinkled into the work in a way that is very subtle.”

For Trisha, a core goal of the work is to create art that will spark emotional responses. “If it evokes some sort of emotion or feeling, in other people but also in myself, then that’s a winner for me,” she says. “And sometimes it doesn’t have to be too deep. Even if in the most lighthearted sense, or in a deeper more introspective sense, if it evokes something in us then that’s always going to be a favorite, or it’s going to be something that I’m happy to have created.”

The duo hope to use their work to tell more stories and spark more emotions in the future. Darren says there is much more to explore through Giorgiko’s artistic lens.

“I feel like so much of what we’ve created so far, it just feels like the tip of the iceberg,” he adds. “And that just comes from looking into Trisha’s sketchbook, at how many stories there are, how many characters there are that we haven’t explored yet. There’s so much that we want to tell. And I think we've been getting closer to being able to share their stories. But none of these stories that we’ve done are the pinnacle. We're constantly pointing towards something else, and we’re kind of expanding and deepening the universe that we’re creating.”

Though the artistic market can have its ups and downs, the duo hopes that the universe Giorgiko is building and the emotional relevance of their work will continue. “Regardless of what our career looks like,” Darren concludes, “there’s still a lot to say and share through our work.”

* * * * *

Giorgiko's work will be on display at JANM in the Giant Robot Biennale 5 exhibition through September 1, 2024. 


©2024 Amelia Ino

arts California Giant Robot Giant Robot Biennale 5 (exhibition) Giorgiko graphic arts Japanese American National Museum Japanese American National Museum (organization) Little Tokyo Los Angeles painting United States visual arts
About the Author

Amelia Ino is a PhD student at UCLA, where she studies Comparative Literature. Her focus is on the field of Memory Studies, specializing in immigrant and migrant stories and storytelling. In her free time she loves exploring Los Angeles, learning Japanese, and hanging out with her cat, Yoji.

Updated August 2023

Explore more stories! Learn more about Nikkei around the world by searching our vast archive. Explore the Journal
We’re looking for stories like yours! Submit your article, essay, fiction, or poetry to be included in our archive of global Nikkei stories. Learn More
New Site Design See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon! Learn More

Discover Nikkei Updates

Nikkei Names 2: Grace, Graça, Graciela, Megumi?
What’s in a name? Share the story of your name with our community. Submissions now open!
Episode 16
June 25 (US) | June 26 (Japan)
Featured Nima:
Stan Kirk
Guest Host:
Yoko Murakawa
See exciting new changes to Discover Nikkei. Find out what’s new and what’s coming soon!