Monday, January 12, 2009

Visual Identity

Not a lot of time for a full blog entry but needed to get down some late thoughts:

I was looking through a book called "1000 Years of Manga" by Brigitte Koyama-Richard.

I noticed the lack of the individual in historic Japanese art.
I considered the prevalence of the individual in historic European art.

I considered the teams of The Super Sentai, Sailor Moon, Saint Seiya.
I pondered the singular efficiency of Superman, Spiderman, and the Batman.

It has been proposed by some that the New worldwide obsession with animé is the second coming of Japonismé. I'll agree, but why?

I think it has to do with the treatment of the identity. Oh yes- some american comics have teams (hello X-Men?) and loads of manga are singular-hero based (Ashita no Joe!)- but to what expent does the art history of a nation affect the identity of its fictional heroes?

Painting Above: 20th Century Otaku?

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Shoujo, Revisiting

I'm aware of how obnoxious that picture is, but I'm signaling my reentry into the fineart-manga-verse.

I'm studying up on shoujo manga, hoping to incorporate it into some of my new paintings, experimenting with screentones, reading a lot of Riyoko Ikeda.

Stay tuned.

But not too tuned. No timetable yet.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Western Sensibilities through Anime Object

Or Animé used in Fine Art (Present)

Animé, with
its own very heavy stereotypes and stigmas, is sometimes used as a tool by an artist. It avoids being the content by serving something loftier and more abstract. Its success hinges on assuming what the West recongnizes as "animé-ness" and what its implications are. The use of animé in the art can be mocking, or it can be of reverence to the media.

Pierre Huyghe and Phillipe Parenno's Ann Lee Project is well known for doing this. They purchased a retired animé character cel/design from a Japanese clearinghouse for $428, named her Ann Lee, and used her to create the collaborative exhibition "No Ghost, Just a Shell." Her visage became rendered in a wide variety of mediums, including CG 3D, animation, paintings, prints, posters, wallpapers, a neon light sculpture, and even fireworks. While the subject used was an animé character, and the title even referenced a well-known animé movie, the content has nothing to do with animé.

The work was about ownership and identity. Who was this girl, and what personality were they providing for her? What history? Who owns her? Ann Lee was a character with no name and no story, and now she was at the whims of fourteen artists, bought and used like a labor slave. They questioned the illegality of artistic deviations and modifications. When people are invited to change a character, who has no predetermined personality, to their own liking, is it their personality they're filling it with?

Animé only provided the subject, and people could view the work without any understanding of animé. This is directly opposite of the final kind of a
nimé art, the work that is very much about anime in both subject and content.

(Personally, I was not impressed by the project. I think the premise got a lot of hype, but in the end there was very little good looking work, and the message, while STATED a lot, didn't quite come through for me.)

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Anime Sensibilities through Fine Art Object

Or "Anime Revered Through Fine Art" (Past)
First, I'd like to talk about anime-style art gaining Fine-art status through legitimization.

Let's say that an artist is someone who groups things in order to create connections and new feelings and ideas. The past few years have seen an explosion in American comic and comic memorabilia exhibitions in the US. Galleries have staged numerous exhibits of actual comic artifacts, such as storyboards, original pages, and toys. As you can guess, the same has happened for manga.

In a Duchampian "If it's in the Gallery, it is art," manner, when the west puts your illustrations in a gallery, they supposedly gain the "importance" of fine art. But do they have to be something more than illustrations first?
Exhibitions like "Shoujo Manga:Girl Power" or "How Manga Took Over the World," seek to make fine art out of collections of memorabilia to talk about a social history. What does Shoujo Manga, as a trend, mean as cultural phenomena? What is the effect of Manga on the world? When you put all of Osamu Tezuka's work in one gallery, what is he saying about Japan and Culture? These questions, or rather, the answers generated by their respective exhibitions, are the work of art. The actual discreet objects never shake their "low art" status, but together, they add up to "high art."

So, manner number one in which animé-style art becomes fine art: Group it for Examination as a Cultural Phenomenon.

The only related exhibition I was able to attend was "Masters of American Comics" at the Jewish Museum New York. It examined comics artifacts from the 1950's onward. It was fascinating, as it depicted a change in American values, tastes, and tolerances over the years, as well as allowed for an appreciation of the individual comic artist's skills. It included work by Will Eisner, Jack Kirby, Harvey Kurtzman, R. Crumb, Gary Panter, and Chris Ware.

Image Credits:
Both photos from the Tour of "Shoujo Manga: Girl Power" at

Animé in Fine Art: Introduction

All around the world, (I'm venturing a guess here) hundreds of thousands of people, young and old, are making "animé-styled art." Now, while I understand that there are many different styles of animé, for this lecture to proceed we have to agree that there is such a thing as animé-style: work that bears stylistic influences by Japanese animation.
From the Japanese mangaka industry professionals, to
aspiring German mangaka, to the American hobbyist or illustrator, we are inundated with animé-styled art as it pervades as a legitimate art influence in our cartoon shows, media, and even packaging and marketing. As animé and animé-style gradually emerges as a cultural phenomenon, it becomes a subject of serious discourse. When one tries to examine the effect of something (animé) on a culture (ours), we turn to the artists and writers, who take the topic and translate it into something we can react to: Words and Pictures.

I'm going to talk about the pictures.

It's not uncommon nowadays to find an animé character on the wall of a gallery somewhere in the United States. But with all the animé-styled art in the world, how does an animé-themed work of art avoid being just a niche style or fad? How is animé used in intelligent social discourse through art?

I propose three main sorts of methods by which animé finds itself part of the fine art world,
progressing to shorten the distance between anime-styled art— and fine art about animé.

For Fun, the following was my original Outline for the lecture. Since my audience is probably a younger crowd, I decided to make it a little simpler. In the end, I like these headings better.

1. Anime Sensibilities through Fine Art Object
-Yoshitaka Amano
-Osamu Tezuka
-Shoujo and Manga Exhibitions
"Shoujo Manga, Girl Power!"
"How Manga took over the world."

2. Western Sensibilities through Anime Object
-Pierre Hyuhe
Ann Lee Project

3. Cultural Sensibilies though Anime Objects
-Chinatsu ban
- Takashi Murakami

Image Credit
Left:"Animé Style"by me, Right: "Anime Art"
V by Mr. (His name is simply "Mr.") See him here.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Anime in Fine Art: Past, Present, Future

I'm almost done writing my lecture for Fourth of July weekend at Portcon Maine.
Heres the jist.

In the western world, "Animé art" is a thing, but it's wholly removed from "Fine Art." "Animé Art" often refers to a style- animé styled art- functional in the massive leagues of amateur (and sometimes professional) mangaka, fanartists, and cartoonists. But there are numerous examples of animé appearing in fine art and fulfilling a role much greater than simply being "animé style."
I group them into three categories: Animé revered through Fine Art (Past), Animé used in Fine Art (Present), and Animé as Fine Art (Future).

Animé revered through Fine Art (Past)
Over the years, in the West, Animé has gained status as a legitimate art form. In turn, those marked as pioneers and champions of the medium come to be revered and honored, and their memorabilia, through their cultural value, attain the status of artwork. In a Duchampian "If it's in the Gallery, it is art," manner, when the west puts your illustrations in a gallery, they gain the "importance" of fine art.

Animé used in Fine Art (Present)
Animé, with its own very heavy stereotypes and stigmas, is sometimes used as a tool by an artist. It avoids being the subject by serving something loftier and more abstract. Its success hinges on assuming what the West recongnizes as "animé-ness" and what its implications are. The use of animé in the art can be either mocking or of reverence to the media.

Animé as Fine Art (Future)
Finally, there has been no shortage of late of artists using Fine Art to examine Animé, making Animé the unabashed subject of their work. A new school of Japanese artists in particular are declaring the implications and meanings of their native medium. Through work that emulates not only the style, but the spirit of anime, they call for the accountability of the culture and visuality of Otaku and Animé.

In My Work, I seek to approach animé as I know it: though Western eyes, and a fan's eyes.
I would fall then in group two, treating animé as a phenomenon of the present and using it as an aspect, not a subject, of my work. But I also seek to treat it with a mature reverence that goes beyond the animé stereotypes and draws on the aspects of the medium that have effected me, including the roles of females, the visual style of opening themes, and the visual flatness of color.

If you're in the New England Area, I recommend checking out Portcon Maine, a Four-Day Animé and Gaming Festival in Portland, Maine, July 3-6, 2008. My lecture will be on Friday, July 4 at 10 AM.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Murakami is Awesome 1 of 3: Superflat

I finally understand Superflat.

It's one of his older focuses, and pervades in the work even now. Since three years ago when I first laid my hands on his Superflat book, I had an idea of what he was getting at, but never fully understood it until I saw his work in person. Namely, his "flower" pieces are what made it click.

In his (c) exhibition, Murakami has a room dedicated to his happy, flashy, symbolic beauties. The wall is papered with bright flowers, and on the back wall is "Kawaii! Vacances d'ete" (2002). This six-paneled acrylic took up the entirety of the wall, but three moments caught my eye:

The flowers exist in three positions. Front, 3/4, and side. This is superflat. Even the 3/4 flower that may be assumed is dimensional is necessarily flat. It is as if the flower, drawn from he top view, was distorted on a computer. It is also as if an order and purity of position must be maintained in this world of flowers, as in the society in which he dwells.

Murakami was classically trained in nihonga Painting from Tokyo's National University of Fine Art and Music, and this image paired with that information made it apparent what Superflat meant.

Compare Murakami's flowers to these representation of Umé (Japanese Plum Blossoms) in Japanese Crests:

Here the formula remains the same. Umé are shown from strictly three positions: top, side, and beneath. In classical Japanese painting, this formula is never breached.

Murakami stresses that Superflat is not only a visual quality that pervades Japanese culture, but is also a cultural quality that is uniquely Japanese. He expresses the desire to show the pervasion of Superflat in the past as well as the present. So he represents Superflat in two ways, the representation of flowers in only a few angles, and the distortion of flowers in an illusionistically three-dimensional way. I think that the two are the past and present representations of the same Superflat. Modern and brighter, but the same Superflat.

What exactly does Superflat mean culturally? I'm not Japanese, there's not much I can say to it. It could speak to social and gender roles in Japan and their limited flexibility. To vapid, empty marketing. To a lot of things.

Below is the painting of an Umé branch that I based my Umé animation off of. It maintains the formula visually. But what does it maintain in the history of a national style?

1. "FlowerBall Blood (3-D) V," Takashi Murakami
2. Detail of "Kawaii! Vacances d'ete," Takashi Murakami
3. Book, "Family Crests of Japan." Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, CA, 2007.
4. Book, "A Grammar of Japanese Ornament and Design," Thomas W. Cutter. Dover Publications, Mineola, NY, 2003.