Tatsumi Orimoto has a theory about his recent popularity. "After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, so many people wanted art that was warm and funny," he says as he shows me around an exhibition of his graphic art and objects at his hometown art venue, the Kawasaki City Museum.
Although it is not clear how Orimoto's work can serve as an antidote to terrorism, it is definitely cheerful and even life-affirming. After starting out as a conceptual artist in the late '60s, the 56-year-old finally made his name in the early '90s as a performance artist, traveling the world with bundles of bread tied to his face, delighting people not as Orimoto, but as "Breadman."
The various adventures of his crusty alter ego are captured in a series of posters and postcards, including one showing Breadman joining a bread line for street people in New York City. Such escapades in the name of art naturally provoked some hostility, but for Orimoto, even home is not free of negative responses to his work. "In Tokyo, they don't like my performance," he says a little sadly. "They give me dirty looks. Some ladies say to their children, 'Hey, don't touch him,' like I'm crazy. Also, people's faces never laugh. They're tight and serious."