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Otaku Subculture History

A wide range of youth subcultures have appeared in Japan since World War II, many of them shocking polite sensibilities and subverting mainstream society with behaviors considered self-centered, hedonistic and deviant.

Among the subcultures that attract the most attention, both among the public and in academic circles is the otaku, the notoriously obsessive fans of anime, manga, video games and other forms of Japanese popular culture.

Otaku: The Social Phenomenon

Since their emergence in the 1970’s and 1980’s, otaku have become a major social phenomenon, engendering widespread fascination as well as fear, disapproval and misunderstanding.

The rise of an otaku identity in Japan has inspired films, books, and art movements, that both demonize and celebrate fervent fan subculture.

Generally styled as “geeks” or “nerds’”, otaku are pictured in Japan’s collective imagination as socially maladjusted young men dressed un-stylishly (often sporting backpacks and anoraks), physically unattractive (usually overweight and gawky), and unnaturally fixated on some narrow corner of mass culture.

Otaku is a vernacular term used by amateur manga and anime fans and artists to refer to themselves. Otaku is a polite, almost stiffly formal way of saying “you” in Japanese.

Combining the honorific prefix o- with taku, meaning “house”, it literally translates as “your house” and carries connotations of detachment and impersonality.

In English, the equivalent might be referring to someone as “sir” or “ma’am”.

How this word, generally associated in postwar Japan with the kind of scrupulously polite language housewives would use with neighbors and acquaintances, came to describe obsessive, introverted young fans of popular culture is uncertain and continues to be the subject of much speculation and debate.

The first publication of the term “otaku” outside of the fan culture is generally credited to Akio Nakamori, who, in 1983, adopted the term to describe the social phenomenon of hardcore fandom in Japan during this time.

Nakamori chose the term otaku to describe what he identified as the particularly driven characteristics of fandom, in preference over the more conventional term, nekura ( maniac or enthusiastic fan).

Nekura means ‘black’ and ‘dark’ and evokes the quality of a melancholic and extremely introverted character.

Miyazaki Tsutomu AKA The Otaku Killer

The widely publicized arrest of 27-year-old Miyazaki Tsutomu in 1989 was a key marker for the negative perception of otaku in public discourses.

Miyazaki was arrested for the abduction, murder and mutilation of young girls. Searching his home, police found evidence that he had murdered four young girls. They also found a collection of 5,763 videotapes and pornographic and pedophilic anime filled from floor to ceiling.

Public debates focused on Miyazaki as a socially alienated youth who was disconnected from reality and immersed within an otaku fantasy.

Japanese media persistently associated Miyazaki with otaku and dubbed him ‘’The Otaku Killer’’; the image of his room-unoccupied and windowless with videotapes stacked to the ceiling around a small, rumpled bed – became the dominant impression of an entire otaku subculture.

The outcome of his trial hinged on the question of his sanity, with the court concluding he understood the consequence and severity of his crime and sentencing him to death. He was executed in 2008.

The figure of Miyazaki still haunts the public perception of otaku.

Degrading Values over the Decades

This subculture associated strongly with antisocial fantasies and habits both violent and sexually perverted became a lightning rod in intense and histrionic public debates over social decay and the deteriorating values of Japanese youth.

For many Japanese, otaku meant an increasing number of sullen youth who would voluntarily taken leave of reality.

In 1960, youth were involved in radical political movements and new popular cultural activities such as manga consumption.

In the early 1970s in parallel with the expansion of these culture industries, youth were considered to be self-consciously immature, regressive, and dysfunctional, because they emphasized individualism and a lack of affiliations with organizations.

In the 1980’s, the mass media and culture industries were criticized for encouraging youth culture for its individualism.

For example, the ‘crystal tribes’ who were considered to be passionless cultural connoisseurs.

In the mid 1980’s, a new term emerged to differentiate a new generation of affluent, consumer oriented youth – shinjinrui ( new human race).

Otaku culture emerged within these contexts, and came to embody in the public imagination a particular section of youth who were considered the embodiment of fragmentation, individualism, and infantilism.

The interpretation of fans as symbolizing the decline of community, with audiences being passive consumers of mass media, resulting in pathological fans who are unable to differentiate between fiction and reality, is also considered to be an unacknowledged critique of postmodernity.

Trivia Addicts

From the start, what seemed to characterized otaku, beyond their apparent social ineptitude and isolation, was the compulsion to amass huge amounts of trivial information on obscure, narrow and often juvenile subjects from animated television series to pop music idols to tropical fish.

What set otaku apart from previous generations of devoted fans, was the power and connectivity afforded by the Internet. It provided new means for collecting information and sharing it with like-minded enthusiasts.

What was also striking about this new social formation of highly wired and technologically adept fans, was its sheer size: from the 1980’s on, Japan was said to have a population of at least 100,000 (and perhaps as many as one million) hard-core otaku.

Some scholars describe a long-running power politics surrounding the subculture. The ‘bad’ otaku shuts off from society, in a room with the objects of consumption, not participating in ‘normal’ forms of social formations.

Miyazaki embodied this stereotype and his prominence strengthened it.

In addition, we think of otaku as a male, but before 1989, they were often describes as both women and men behaved in ways the older fans or outsiders found unacceptable.

Before the killings, the otaku men were often portrayed as failures – economically, socially and sexually.

The term came out of the subculture as a negative self-description, but only after Miyazaki did it take on the stronger implication of social pathology.

Roots of Otaku

Many social critics and psychologists have argued that the roots of otaku behavior lay within Japan’s highly structured, even oppressive, educational, and social systems.

They have suggested that the information fetishism of otaku stems from the rigid routines of Japanese schooling, which emphasize rote learning and the memorization of vast quantities of fragmented facts.

The social awkwardness and reclusive tendencies of otaku, meanwhile, were widely understood to be reaction against the pressure for conformity, emphasis on the group, and elaborate standards of decorum that characterize Japan society.

Japan has always been known to be a strict culture, with high suicide rates compared to other countries, especially in modern times.

Japan’s otaku subculture has evolved in a variety of new directions. While many early otaku were fixated on science fiction, the imaginative and visually rich realms of manga and anime soon became the most widespread obsession.

Gyaru-Ge

By the start of the new millennium, otaku interest became overtly sexualized. There was a proliferation of gyaru-ge (‘girl games’, dating simulation software) and female fantasy characters introduced in manga, anime or as collectible plastic models.

The characters are generally depicted as cute, vulnerable and sexually alluring.

Otaku adopted the almost indefinable term moe (derived from two homophonic verbs meaning ‘to burn’ and ‘to bud’) to describe a kind of profound infatuation for these fictional female creation – perhaps platonic, or rooted in frustrated sexual desire.

The discourses around otaku culture shifted as intellectuals such as Otsuka Eiji and Okada Toshio began to emphasize otaku culture as a symbol of Japan’s information society.

This shift also contributed to and was influenced by a transformation in defining manga, and the promotion of certain forms of manga artistic lineage, as part of national culture within and outside of Japan.

Surging Into The Mainstream

The long-term transition in otaku tastes, from science-fiction and animation to pursuits viewed by the larger society as perverted, pornographic, and pedophilic, was driven by the mainstreaming of anime and manga in the 1900’s.

As the Japanese public came to accept forms like anime, otaku felt compelled to move on to more outrageous and offensive obsessions in order to maintain their distance from polite society and their resistance  to its niceties.

Today, the image of otaku in Japanese media is quite consistent in general. The label has lost some of its sting.

The Akihabara district of Tokyo, known as ‘electric town’ for its high concentration of stores selling household appliances, has become a well-known otaku destination since the late 1990s.

Akihabara now has hundreds of businesses, including ‘maid cafés’, where young female waitresses costumed as servants or anime characters wait on costumers, which cater to fan obsessions.

Local authorities have embraced that identity, welcoming fans and holding frequent festivals.

Increased public recognition has helped broaden culture; no longer confined to the image of a person-less room overstuffed with pop-culture cargo, otaku can take on more positive meanings.

It’s not just the obsessive, withdrawn loner, although that picture may never completely dissipate; now it can be the passionate expert.

Despite the positive image of otaku that is emerging, particularly in relation to the export of manga and anime, attention needs to be given to the persistently negative images of otaku and its continued marginalization within Japanese society.

Otaku are also often linked in the public imagination with hikikomori (reclusive shut-ins), chronically unemployed NEETs (‘not in employment, education or training’) and freeters ( youth floating between dead-end, part-time jobs).

All groups are stigmatized in public discourse as symbols of the alienation and drift of Japan’s younger generation today.

The positive image of otaku conflicts with otaku self-definition that emphasizes, as matter of positive subjectivity, their social unacceptability.

Whether it is conceived positively or negatively the continual emphasis is still identifying otaku as different to other consumers of media forms.

Related Videos

Here are two videos related to otaku you might like to watch.  First there’s Akihabara Geeks, the 2005 documentary.

Also, check out the 1994 documentary, simply called “Otaku”.

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The World According To Bosilj

It’s hard to understand life, but it’s easy to paint. You only need to start, afterward it goes with ease. When a picture is finished, you see everything in it is vivid as it is in life, and you realize that every truth has two faces. – Ilija Basicevic Bosilj

Nothing is predestined and impossible in the world of art.

So it wasn’t predetermined and was completely possible for someone who didn’t have the intention of becoming an artist to become one in his old age and to be remembered for being an artist more than for anything else he did in his life.

The richness of spirit and imagination is the essential condition for art to arise and so the opus of Ilija Basicevic is unique and undeniable proof of it.

Life Before

Ilija Basicevic Bosilj (in Serbian – Ilija Bašičević) was a Serbian painter, a classic example of Serbian naive and outsider art. He was born in 1895 in Sid, Serbia (then Austria-Hungary), and died in 1972, also in Sid.

His parents were respected peasants. He was born as the youngest, the ninth child in the family. He finished four grades of primary school (for comparison, nowadays, pupils are required to finish at least eight).

When finished with the education, he started helping his parents in fields and on the farm. He was 19 years old when World War I began. Despite his young age and inexperience, he wanted to go to the army – to see the world (Galicia, Carpathian Mountains etc.).

He tried to switch with his brother who didn’t want to go to war because he had wife and children and didn’t want to leave them. But, it didn’t work for him. He was returned every time, once because of his horses (he wanted the foal to come with him and the mare, but superiors didn’t allow) and twice because of his health.

The war was over and he didn’t go to the army and didn’t see the world. When World War II started, he was married with children. They had to escape to save their lives.

They were in a labor camp near Vienna. There Ilija’s health condition got worse, he got ill of tuberculosis. When the war was over, the authorities took the fields from Basicevic family.

Bad health condition and loss of his fields lead him in a situation where he had a lot of free time that he needed to fulfill somehow. So, he started painting.

The beginnings and The Bosilj Affair

He made his first painting in 1957 when he was 62 years old. He painted an icon of Saints Cosmas and Damian.

His son Dimitrije, respectable art historian and artist himself, later known as Mangelos, didn’t approve his work at first. He even tore up his father’s first paintings.

But it didn’t discourage Ilija. He was persistent and continued to paint. In the beginning he was creating drawings and gouaches and later started painting on different materials (wood, glass, canvas, cardboard etc.).

Dimitrije showed these paintings to his colleagues. Because he wanted an objective opinion, he didn’t tell them whose work was that. They were delighted with a new artist in the world of naive art and decided to invite him to the exhibition.

In order to avoid idle gossip because his son was connected to art, he chose not to publish his name and biography. He was exhibiting under the pseudonym Bosilj.

But, journalists uncovered who stood behind the pseudonym. It was claimed that the author of the paintings was not actually Ilija but Dimitrije and that they did that to make a profit because naive art was then in expansion.

It was named Affair Bosilj and culminated in 1965. In 1965 in Zagreb, he had to paint in front of eminent commission to prove that he is the author of the paintings.

As soon as he began painting, it was clear that they were wrong, that he was unjustly accused. He received apologies from both journalists and respected artists. As a result of this affair, galleries all over Yugoslavia didn’t want to exhibit his works.

But the world recognized this unique artist and appreciated his uniqueness, so his paintings went all around the globe, from Paris, Rome, Milan, Amsterdam, Munich, Dortmund, to New York, Mexico City, and Japan.

Characteristics and motifs

While most naive artists paint social, usually rural life and the environment around them with sublime simplicity, Ilija takes us in his inner world.

Ilija’s opus can be classified in several major thematic units. Most numerous are paintings with motifs from the Bible, mainly from The Old Testament.

Then there is a series of paintings inspired by Serbian folk epic poems, myths and legends. Next comes cycle Iliad (meaning “the world according to Ilija”) that is named after the artist – Ilija, not after Homer’s epic poem with the same name.

It represents his clash with human stupidity, duplicity and hypocrisy. Furthermore, there is a cycle with numerous paintings of animals, especially peacocks, but there are also unreal creatures with human bodies and animal heads, and reverse – with animal bodies and human heads.

In the end comes a cycle connected to flying and astrological creatures.

Complex allegory is the main characteristic of Bosilj’s paintings. This allegory is best represented through two-faced and duplicity of the figures, both animal and human. It represents his understanding of the world and living creatures.

The artist himself used to tell that all creatures created by God have two faces, they show one in front of the outside world, while the second one is being hidden deep inside them.

People who were close to Ilija exactly knew what animal was representing which neighbor. It was possible to know because Ilija was convinced that the nature of that animal and the nature of that man are matching, and people knew that.

When it comes to interpretation of his work, titles that he gave to his paintings are of a huge help, because we’re never sure what is it we are looking at, is it angel or cosmonaut, wild animal or apocalyptic creature.

Legacy

Rich in age, but poor in health, two years before his death, he donated his painting to his hometown, Sid. In 1970 Museum of Naive Art Ilijanum was founded.

It is still opened and there we can see around 300 Ilija’s paintings as well as some paintings of other naive artists.

His granddaughter is a president of the Ilija & Mangelos Foundation, organization dedicated to preservation and promotion of Ilija Basicevic Bosilj and Dimitrije Basicevic Mangelos.

His work was more appreciated in the world than in his homeland.

In 2007, the magazine Raw Vision included Bosilj into 50 most influential art brut artists of the world. His paintings are spread in galleries all over the world.

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The Superflat Art Movement And Its Purposeful Absence Of Depth

It can be seen that embedded in the apparently vivid Superflat works, with their total absence of depth, are a variety of cultural, political, social, and historical contexts concerning the relationships between high art and subculture, between Japan and America, between contemporary art and capitalism. If we place these contexts within brackets and pretend to ignore them, the strength of the high quality, super flat surface is most apparent, but the moment we summon up these contexts, the picture starts to hint at endless meanings. Smoothness and complication, beauty and high-functionality, Murakami imbues his paintings with unparalleled structure, a structure that resembles an incredibly carefully planned, highly-functional cyborg.

                               Minami, 2001.

Superflat

Superflat was launched in Tokyo, 2000, through the Superflat exhibition which was designed to travel globally. An elaborate, bilingual catalogue Super Flat was produced to accompany the exhibition which included Murakami’s “A Theory of Super Flat Japanese Art”.

It was the first in a trilogy of exhibitions curated by Murakami. According to the artist, the trilogy of Superflat exhibitions were constructed to provide a cultural and historical context for the new form of Superflat art that he was proposing, and which was specifically exported for Western audiences.

The theory of Super Flat art is a manifesto for Murakami’s concept of a new form of art emerging from the creative expressions produced in Manga (graphic novels), video games, anime (Japanese animation), fashion and graphic design.

In this theory Murakami identifies Superflat as a genealogy of aesthetics tendency in which contemporary Japanese culture has inherited a spirit of artistic innovation and creativity from the Edo period, 1600-1867.

The concept of a Superflat aesthetics lineage draws significantly on Japanese art historian Tsuji Nobuo’s Kisō no Keifu (Lineage of Eccentrics, 1970).

Nobuo identified a common disposition among six Edo artists to ‘the production of eccentric and fantastic images’, and also identified a tendency toward playfulness and eccentricity in contemporary forms of manga and anime.

Murakami extends Nobuo’s argument by presenting Superflat as an aesthetics that reinforces the two-dimensionality on the surface, a feature which he also recognizes in the paintings of the Edo Eccentrics (these include Iwasa Matabei, Kanō Sansetsu, Itō Jakuchū, Soga Shohaku, Nagasawa Rosetsu and Utagawa Kuniyoshi) and anime texts such as Galaxy Express 999.

The Superflat planar emphasis is achieved through a composition structure that directs the viewer’s gaze across the surface of the painting, rather than drawing it in through the conventions of Western linear perspective.

In addition, Superflat can also be used to describe the visual style of Murakami’s works.  In his own sculptures, paintings and other assorted productions Murakami appropriated the kawaii character icons and two-dimensional aesthetics of manga and anime and combines these with compositions and techniques derived from the traditions of Japanese painting.

Modern Art?  No, Modern Edo.

By connecting Edo forms of Japanese painting with the contemporary commercial expressions emerging in manga, anime, fashion, video-games and graphic design, Murakami presents Superflat as a merging of art and popular culture and a questioning of the culturally and socially constructed definition of art, especially in Japan.

In his own work, the artist reinforces this merging of art and commercial culture by producing sculptures, paintings, handbags, snack toys, key-chains, t-shirts, buttons, stickers and bandanas which are all based on the same Superflat iconography.

Murakami presents the production of his art as a business strategy and challenges the conventional avenues for the exhibition of art Japan.

Therefore, Superflat theory is also driven by a more politicized commentary on the modern institutions of bijutsu (fine art) in Japan.

Murakami rejects the modern institutions of kindai bijutsu (modern art) which he considers to be an incomplete importation of Western concepts and institutions of art since their adoption in the Meji period (1868-1912) as part of the process of modernization and westernization.

To Murakami, the innovation and originality of contemporary forms of commercial culture represents a continuation of the innovations introduced by the premodern eccentric artists.

Murakami argues that these qualities of creative invention and avant-garde spirit were excluded from the practices and institutions of bijutsu, and that it is the texts and practices of contemporary consumer culture that offer the re-emergence of what he considers to be authentic and original Japanese expression.

POKU

The concept of revolutionizing art was drawn from Murakami’s early aim to merge Pop Art with otaku production-consumption practices in order to create a new form of popular art, POKU.

Otaku refers to groups of manga and anime fun communities who are conventionally described as ‘hard-core’ and are prevalent throughout Japan.

While the aim of POKU was to market art in otaku cultural institutions, Murakami declared this project a failure and decided to focus on transforming the consumption of art in Japan and to bring a new form of art in Japan, although one that was still influenced by otaku culture, to Western art world.

Thus POKU was superseded by Superflat’s intention to harness the creative expressions being generated in the production-consumption of commercial culture more generally.

A critical component of this strategy is Murakami’s art studio/factory Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., formerly known as Hiropon Factory; the studio produces Murakami’s works and associated products which are sold  through the studio website and stores, but also provides exhibition opportunities for emerging artists.

Western Invasion or Eastern Affirmation?

However, Murakami’s concept of Superflat art, and the artworks that represent it, attracted significant media and gallery attention leading to an important turning point in Murakami’s profile in Western contemporary art worlds.

The subsidiary politic in Superflat is the affirmation of its Japanese identity in an almost recalcitrant swipe at Western art. Murakami presents it as a type of post-Pop, an indigenous expression of Pop Art.

At the same time, Murakami acknowledges the transformations of Superflat expression under the influences of Western culture.

This position is even more complex because Murakami also explicitly emphasizes his strategy to successfully sell work in the United States and European art markets- around 70% of his paintings and sculptures are sold in these markets.

Therefore while a key aspect of his project is to affirm the Japanese identity of Superflat art, it is also self-consciously presented in the codes of Western art worlds and art markets.

At the same time, Murakami is using Western art markets, and the popular appeal of Japanese consumer culture both in and outside Japan, in order to propose alternatives to the institutions and practices of bijutsu in Japan.

It is this tension and dialogue between the commodification of Superflat and the simultaneous challenge to existing forms of art production-consumption, through the merging of art and commercial culture, which makes the analysis of Superflat complex.

This complexity arises because the meanings of commodity, art and cultural identity are themselves contested concepts in contemporary culture, especially in the context of globalization.

Contemporary culture can be defined by the multidimensional relations that constitute the economic, cultural and political processes of contemporary globalizations.

Art, as a central mode of human ‘expressivity’, defines and shapes culture. As the interaction between social groups has become increasingly globalized, the meaning-making and expressivities associated with art have also become engaged through national and transnational gradients.

Murakami’s work and Superflat theory are significant as they expose the key debates in contemporary culture regarding the relationship between art and commodity which are part of broader debates on the meaning of art in relation to consumer capitalism and the production of art in the processes of contemporary globalization.

The formation of identity and expressive modes within a national genealogy becomes particularly problematic within a globalizing cultural sphere.

The articulation of a particular kind of ‘national identity’ in Murakami’s work problematizes the global-local compound and a cognition which celebrates hybridity and postmodern open identities.

The analysis of the concept and expression of Superflat demonstrates the potential for diverse interpretations which challenge and move away from Murakami’s own presentation and understanding.

Particularly, Murakami’s works and Superflat can be understood as expressions of the complex relations between cultural identity, art and commodity in the contemporary cultural context in which they are produced-consumed.

Trading Faces

The Japanese identity of Superflat is pretty complicated. Superflat echoes conventional constructions of a Japan/West binary which obscures the connections and power relation in this structure.

Secondly, while Murakami acknowledges the Western influences on the Superflat aesthetics, his simultaneous transposing of this hybrid identity into a reinforcement of a Japanese identity, characterized by cultural assimilation and hybridization, reinforces a unified national-cultural identity.

This identity is supported by the references between Superflat and already existing discursive constructions of Japanese culture and as flat.

Also, Superflat is part of ongoing trade relations and cross-fertilizations of visual culture forms between Japan and the West since the late nineteenth century.

These complex relationships demonstrate the need to locate Superflat in a global context and to critically interrogate Murakami’s concept and aesthetics.

Murakami’s work and Superflat art can be understood to articulate a postmodern aesthetics and conceptualization of art; the flattening of the distinction between commercial commodities and art and expressing the hybridizing effects of global cultural interactions.

The Superflat is terrain of contestation, making both the absence of hierarchical divisions between art and commercial culture and the presence of multiple structures demarcating the various social, political, cultural and historical contexts in which Superflat engages as it circulates globally.

This fluidity is often negated by the responses to Murakami’s work illustrated in the introductory quotes, which continue to affirm an art/commodity distinction: Murakami’s work is either defended as an aesthetic critique of the socio-cultural condition of commercial consumption or decried as a celebration of the lack of distinction between commercial production and art.

This simple dualism limits the understanding of Superflat and reveals the persistence, through debates, of the concepts autonomy, authenticity and aesthetic value in relation to definition of  cultural identity and art.

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Naive Art – The Art Of A Brighter Reality

There is a colourful world filled with fabulous details, where everything seems peacefully flying and takes a person back to his childhood, evoking coziest memories. That’s the world of naive art.

Term naive refers to something that lacks experience, judgment or wisdom, something natural and unaffected, innocent.

In art, it doesn’t change the meaning. Naive art includes almost all of these. Naive artists have no relevant education, they paint without any awareness of anatomy, technique or perspective, and their paintings are simple, vivid, childlike – innocent.

Naive art is any form of visual art created by individuals who lack or reject conventional education and guidance that professional artists receive. It disagrees with dominant trends in art of their time.

These artists shouldn’t be confused with “Sunday artists”, who paint for fun. Also, it’s wrong to take naive artists for those who don’t know what they’re doing. They create with the same passion as educated and well-trained artists, just without formal knowledge of methods.

Beginnings and Henri Rousseau

It is hard to determine when and where this genre exactly originate. End of the 19th and beginning of the 20th century is the time when this genre started getting more attention and appreciation.

The 20th century was a century of experimentation when traditional ways of expression were left aside and artists were experimenting with new ways of seeing the world and were representing it in an original way.

In that time naive art was discovered. The main figure in naive art was French painter Henri Rousseau, who was discovered by Pablo Picasso.

Henri Rousseau (1844-1910), retired toll and tax collector (that’s why he got a nickname Le Douanier – the customs officer), started painting as a middle-aged man and was self-taught.

He had been exhibiting since 1886, but nobody gave value to his work.

The first person who really paid attention to his work was young Pablo Picasso. He was amazed by Rousseau and considered him a true brilliance.

Rousseau’s works are the most frequently reproduced examples of naive art. He was painting portraits, exotic vegetation and jungle scenes, although he had never left France or visited a jungle.

He found his inspiration in children’s books and the botanical gardens of Paris. The magical world of his paintings doesn’t need any explanation (nor is it possible) in order to be understandable, to speak to the audience.

Maybe precisely because of that, its magic becomes so real.

In his works was finally gained a frank virtue of emotion that Gauguin was trying so hard to achieve. Picasso and his friends considered him as the father of 20th-century painting.

Rousseau influenced many avant-garde painters, including Picasso, Jean Hugo, Surrealists and others. They adopted the artist’s sense of freedom and instinctive approach to the composition.

Characteristics of Naive Art

Colorful, childlike simplicity and frankness are words that best describe paintings of naive art.

This genre turns the reality of adulthood into weightless joys of youth. It creates an altered, lighter reality. This is reached in different ways.

Often, there is an inconvenient relationship with the formal standard of painting. For example, artists ignore three rules of perspective which say that the size of objects must decrease proportionally with distance, the colour must be muted with distance and precision of details decrease with distance.

Breaking the rules is essentially what naive artist does, probably unconsciously, producing works that are geometrically inaccurate with crooked perspective and uneven shapes, as a result.

Also, details appear equally rich, no matter if they are in foreground or background. This makes an illusion that figures are floating or positioned in space without anything solid anchoring them in place.

The absence of perspective is one of the most important characteristics of naive art. Paintings convey a sense of frozen motion and deep, calm space, which contributes the feel that objects are floating.

Naive painters use beautiful, vivid, saturated colors that aren’t matching reality, rather than subtle mixtures, tones and shades.

Figures in paintings are usually shown full face or absolutely strict profile. They rarely cover up much of a face and almost never paint figures entirely from the back.

Intensity and passion are communicated through the figures, especially their staring eyes and preciseness of line and color.

Details are remarkably well-defined, which, besides bright colors, adds to the liveliness of a painting.

Most common motifs are live creatures, people and flora, nature, folklore motifs, and lives of ordinary people, especially rustic scenes.

The focus is on lively characters and rarely on lifeless objects. They paint exotic places, even if they’ve never been there (for example Rousseau’s jungle), fantastic creatures, wild animals, everyday-life scenes, rural life scenes (farmers, mowing the fields, shepherds, pets etc.), landscapes, landscapes under snow, sledding and much more.

Naive Artists

Rousseau is undoubtedly the most influential naive artist, but there are other artists of this genre who are worth mentioning.

Antonio Ligabue, an Italian painter, was one of the most important naive artists of the 20th century. He gained recognition for his work during the 1940s.

Russian painter Nikifor created over 40 000 paintings. Sidney Nolan created landscapes that aimed to celebrate Australian history. Grandma Moses started her artistic career at the age of 78 and was known for her take on American realism.

Serbian painters from Kovačica (most famous is Zuzana Halupova) create great panoramic paintings.

Ilija Bašičević Bosilj, outsider and naive painter, uneducated Serbian farmer, started painting as a middle-aged man, and despite that had solo exhibitions even in New York.

 Connection to other art genres

Naive art is often connected to primitivism, primitive (tribal) art, and confused with folk and outsider art.

Primitive art refers to tribal art from Africa, the South Pacific and Indonesia, prehistoric and very early European art. Primitivism is used to describe any art that imitates or is characterized by primitive art.

Folk art is utilitarian and decorative art that expresses national identity. Usually, folk artists are uneducated, as well as naive artists. It’s obvious why folk and naive art easily confused.

Outsider art represents any work of art that is created by socially and culturally marginal people – undereducated, mentally ill, prisoners – unconnected to the conventional art world.

Appreciation of naive art has increased over years. Today, it is completely recognized art genre that is spread and represented in galleries all over the world.

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My Chat with Wolverhampton Artist Stephi Konstantinou

Today I speak with artist Stephi Konstantinou, a painter out of Wolverhampton, England, who originally hails from the island of Cyprus.

Stephi has been creating art from a young age, and, these days, she specializes in a pleasing variety of paintings and artworks.

I’ve heard through the grapevine that as soon as she began to take an interest in art as a precocious youth, teachers and fellow students alike began to take an interest in what she was doing, drawn, as they were, to her for her rare artistic talents.

These various artworks that Stephi has been creating, for many years now, range from ephemeral watercolours of landscapes, which feature romantically rich colour palettes and evoke different moods, to pure abstract works, to representative illustrative works featuring people and animals that show a more whimsical, fun side of life.

Her work is very wide-ranging in terms of style and content, but Stephi is the kind of artist who embraces the freedom within the artistic process, which I feel is evident in her work.  To someone who has more self-imposed mental and spiritual shackles, she seems infuriatingly free of such barriers. 🙂

In the art world at large, which is often so serious and snobbish, Stephi is one of the few artists I’ve encountered who seems to draw and paint for the sheer joy of it. She paints what she wants when she wants, and how she wants, yielding some very interesting results.

This is why I was very interested to chat with her, to see what drives such an artist to continue to create.  It can’t simply be inspiration and wonder, can it?

In these days of the trying to wring a penny out of every single moment, I was curious to see if behind Stephi’s radiant, smiling countenance was actually the gateway to a blazing furnace of raging ambition.

Here is my little Q&A with Stephi Konstantinou – enjoy!

I read that your dad was a big influence on you artistically.  Can you tell me more about him.

My dad was definitely a big influence on my creativity when I was a child.  I grew up watching him create stonework and he was also a wood sculptor.

You also mention somewhere that your first art teacher, Marie Constanti, taught you a lot of skills.  What would be the most important skills she taught you about art?

Miss Marie Constanti taught me some basic artistic skills, and I progressed from there. The most important thing she taught me, I think, was how to focus, and, most importantly, to create with your heart, rather than with your mind.

You are clearly influenced by nature.  What do you think is special about the nature in Cyprus?  What is it like there, in terms of geography, and also what is the mood like there around the nature?

I live near a forest, and the trees there bring me great inspiration!  In general, Cyprus has very nice greenery everywhere which I find very inspiring.

Also, hearing the birds or the wind blowing while creating is tugs at my creative impulses and leads me on to some new creative journey.

Do you think that politics have any effect on your artwork?  Although your art seems to be not about politics that I can tell, I wonder if you feel like some of the political unrest in Cyprus or elsewhere has influenced the way you work at all?  Maybe not in style, but perhaps in method?

My artwork is not political, in my opinion.  Rather it is simply about letting your imagination see another way to live, and to continue following your dreams.

I would say you have a very romantic style of painting.  It comes across in your landscapes and color choices.  Would you agree with this label – “romantic”?

Yes, I would say so.  I create with my hands moreso than with brushes, as I love the feeling of connecting my hands to the painting directly through the paint itself.

Related question…Are you an idealist?  Do you try to see things in a positive way, most of the time?  Or are you secretly a nihilist?

I believe through my life experience that I am an idealist.  I want to contribute something positive to society and I want to improve the lives of others through my art.

How long have you been in Wolverhampton and how has that affected your artistic style?

I have been in Wolverhampton for 4 years now. The journey there has inspired me and affected my artwork deeply, in both logical and more mysterious ways. 

My education as an artist really intensified there.  I had my studio in Chapel Ash.  Also, I have been participating in different kinds of exhibitions, and even volunteering to work on various murals. 

Overall, my artwork has seen a lot of development while I’ve been here. 

When it comes to mounting / framing your artwork, how do you do it?

When it comes to framing and mounting my own artwork, I have always done this myself, from chopping the wood for the frames, to stretching the canvases.

Some of your art is in black and white.  What materials do you use for that, and why is it some of your art is in black and white?

The black and white work I have done has grown into a sizeable collection by now, and, mainly, it has been inspired by traditional Japanese music.

All of my work has been created using acrylic paints, with some of them having been sold to Japan, while others to private collectors in America and Canada.

Your earlier work seems to have a more cartoon or caricature style.  Do you still work in that style?

My earlier work was like this, but it has since changed.  I have spent years developing my craft and finding my own style that is a merging of some of the previous incarnations of my art from over the years.

What’s your studio like?  Is it organized?  Messy? 

My studio is tidy sometimes, but it can get a little messy.  I am an artist, after all.

Is there an artistic medium you’d like to try sometime which you haven’t tried?

I am always into learning how to use new materials or other new methods, but, at the moment, I’m happy creating with acrylic paints.

When you paint a scene, are you basing it on a picture or just from memory?

Sometimes, I’m basing my work on a particular landscape, or I will mix reality with my imagination, and let the creative moment guide me.

What are your favourite animals?  Do you have one particular favourite, and why is that?

My favourite animal? I love all of them, but some I particularly enjoy most are cats, rabbits, and my dog.  Honestly, I just have a love for all animals.

Do you see art as having any elements of magic, or are you a hardcore realist who thinks magic and wonder are foolish pastimes?

There are definitely elements of magic in art. Also, I love dancing while creating. I feel like an actress in whatever I do.

You have a way with painting trees.  Do you know a lot about trees?  For instance, did you know that trees talk to each other?

I tend to paint a lot of trees, as there is something about them make them special to me.  Many times I do feel like they are whispering to each other.  Sometimes, when I walk amongst them, I feel like I’m going in slow motion and I am filled with a feeling of joy.

How long does it take you to paint a picture, on average?

It can take half an hour, to an hour to finish a work of mine, but there is no set time.  It depends on the process and the materials I am using.  I like to simply go with the flow.

Do you have a preference between paper or canvas?

Paper is my favourite material at the moment to work on, but you never know when that may change.

When is your next show?

Nothing in this life is certain.

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Sava Šumanović – A Tragic Painter In A White Suit

Life is only one sad nothing. – S. Šumanović

Sava Šumanović’s life was brilliant, joyless, inspiring, sad, noble, tragic – all at once.

This artist was born in 1896 in Vinkovci (then in Austro-Hungary) as an only child in a respectable and wealthy family. When he was four years old, the family moved to Šid, a small town in West Serbia.

Sava’s father wanted for his only son to be a lawyer, but young Sava had different wishes. He had been fascinated by art since his school days. So, he resisted his father’s wish and went to Art Academy in Zagreb, instead of Law School.

He organized his first exhibition in 1918, at the very end of the studies. He earned great reviews and his popularity and influence had been gradually increasing since that moment. Symbolism and secession made a great impact on these paintings.

In 1920, he went to Paris, which is one of the most important points in his career. He spent six months there, painting and studying from French painter and teacher Andre Lhote, a cubist.

Rising Star

Lothe made a great impression on Sava, a young rising painter, who started to express himself through cubism and constructivism, just like his mentor.

Thanks to that, Šumanović became a pioneer of modernism in Serbian, Yugoslav painting. But introducing the Yugoslav audience to modernism wasn’t easy.

Namely, after returning from France, he organized an exhibition in Zagreb, but was deeply disappointed for criticisms being highly negative.

In his opinion, the problem for this outcome was the unadaptable Zagreb audience that wasn’t ready for anything new. He wasn’t an exception. He was rejected because he brought something new.

After coming back to Serbia, he started painting females and landscapes from around Šid. These motifs will dominate his paintings till the very end of his creation.

In 1925, he went to Paris one more time, but this time it wasn’t so bright and satisfying as it was when he first went there. He made some of his most famous paintings then – Drunken boat, inspired by famous Arthur Rimbaud’s poem with the same title, and Breakfast on Grass.

Struggle and Joy

Also, he participated in The Salon d’Automne (1926). Despite all that, he was coming across divided reviews, and those negative ones had a negative influence on his mental health.

His entire life in Paris in 1925 was a fierce struggle in himself, fighting against regret, against sentimentalism. Therefore, he painted pictures in a bright tone with a joyful coloration.

But it didn’t help – the real life was too damned, ugly and sad. Difficult working conditions, unsatisfying criticisms, a humiliating situation with a visa and a series of personal events made him psychically exhausted.

In order to get some rest, the painter returned to his homeland. In September 1928, he organized an exhibition in Belgrade which met excellent reception with the audience. 

Later that year he went to Paris, again. It was his last stay in The City of Light. Paintings Red carpet, Lying female act, Luxembourg park in Paris… But his health condition soon got worse, and in 1930 he came back to Belgrade for treatment.

Two years after rest cure he returned to beloved Šid, this time for forever.

Knowledge and Experience

That decade (1932 – 1942 after he came home till his tragic death) was the most active period of his artistic creation. This period is considered the most important phase of his work and is called Šid’s phase.

Sava came back as a mature artist, full of knowledge and experience. He had ideal working conditions there. He was completely dedicated to painting. He had realized that he could fulfill his highest aim, which was to come up with his own style.

He didn’t want to be a Cubist, or Symbolist, or Impressionist, or anything else, but himself. And he succeeded it, he named his style as I can and ken.

This painter spent a lot of time in nature, enjoying Srem landscape and finding inspiration and motifs for his future paintings.

He was always going for a walk at the same time, wearing a white suit and carrying an umbrella. He was carrying his umbrella even in Summer, to protect the white suit from mulberry stains.

During this decade, Šumanović painted over 600 paintings. The most significant are two cycles – Šidijanke (which means women from Šid) and Grape harvesters.

The first cycle was completely presented at the exhibition in Belgrade in 1939. Grape harvesters is considered the beginning of a new cycle that was interrupted by the tragic death of the painter.

Murder

He was murdered during World War II. He had just finished Grape harvesters when pro-fascist collaborators came and took him in the dawn, 28 August 1942.

Two days later, 30 August, Sava Šumanović and 120 people from Šid, were unknowingly convicted, tortured and shot and then buried in mass grave in Sremska Mitrovica.

His mother succeeded to save his paintings during the war.

She also succeeded in creating a gallery in one of the family houses and gave the works of her son to Šid town. Gallery Sava Šumanović was founded in 1952 and Savas’s paintings still live there.

Here is a video that talks about Sava Šumanović. Unfortunately, it is not in English.

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Takashi Murakami – Everything’s Melting

“In Japan, the line (between high and low) is less defined, both by the culture and by the post-war economic situation. Japanese people accept that art and commerce will be blended; and in fact, they are surprised by the rigid and pretentious Western hierarchy of ‘’high art’’. In the West, it certainly is dangerous to blend the two because people will throw all sorts of stones. But, that’s okay- I’m ready with my hard hat.” – Takashi Murakami

Murakami’s Early Life and Intro to Okatu

Born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1962, Takashi Murakami grew up in a household that placed a high value on art. His mother, who designed textiles and studies needlepoint, had a huge influence on his interest in the visual arts.

Equally, the omnipresence of devastation and the presence of the United States in Japan after the WWII had a tremendous influence on Murakami’s artistic evolution.

During his childhood, Japan created a national identity that revived traditional Japanese culture, and put huge pressure on its workforce to produce in order to compete with the West, both culturally and economically. 

The hybrid emphasis on traditional Japanese culture and Western influences was reflected in Murakami’ childhood activities; he developed an early appreciation of both modern European art and traditional Japanese culture.

Murakami engagement with the Japanese subculture of otaku – a large group of fanatical geeks obsessed with the fantasy worlds depicted in manga, comic books, and in anime, animated cartoons, and the concept of kawaii is pretty evident during his formative ages.

As a young artist Murakami immersed himself in this world and began to draw stylistic inspiration from it and presents to viewers from a distanced and cynical stance.

Early 1980’s to 1990’s Work

In the early 1980s, Murakami enrolled in Nihonga, a nineteenth century style of Japanese painting that combines Japanese subject matter with European painting technique at Tokyo National University of Fine Art and Music, where he stayed for master’s and doctoral degree (1988,1993).

Murakami’s early works reflect the realities with which he had grown up, exploring the post-war relationship between United States and Japan (Polyrhythm, 1991, Sea Breeze. 1992.)

These works demonstrate his early development of a playful and seemingly light style that refers to a more cynical stance.

In 1994, Takashi Murakami traveled to New York to participate in P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center’s International Studio Program on a fellowship from the ACC (Asian Cultural Council).

In New York, he was surrounded by the pressures of the gallery system and American art market.

In order to succeed in this world, he realized that he had to abandon his overly-intellectual Japanese preoccupations and to present a more simplified brand of himself and his art as typical Japanese. This was a radical breaking point for his career.

In this regard, he decided to re-engage with his Japanese identity and strengthen his work’s engagement with both the pop culture forms of manga and anime and the high art form of nihonga.

The Arrival of Mr. DOB

At that time, Murakami came up with the figure of Mr. DOB, a mouse-like creature with a round head and large, circular ears, based on a cartoon character originally created in Hong Kong.

Mr. DOB would go on to become the artist’s signature character across his diverse array of artistic media.

In the center of the triptych named 727 (1996) is Murakami’s avatar Mr DOB.

The maniacal smile of Mr DOB can be seen as Murakami’s laughing stance towards the art world, but also toward the West.

The title 727 is a reference to the Boeing American airplanes that flew over his childhood home, as a direct reference to the U.S. presence in post-war Japan; Murakami is so keen to both critique and explore in his art.

The stylized wave upon which Mr DOB sits is a reference to the 19th-century Japanese woodblock artist Hokusai, who was influential for future Japanese artists and manga comics alike due to his flattened compositions and bold colors.

The abstract background is reminiscent of a Japanese folding screen done in the nihonga style.

Fine Art?

Beginning in the mid-1990s, Murakami’s works were featured in solo exhibit at museums, galleries throughout Japan, United States and Europe.

Art critics were unsure what to make of these unusual creations; they are highly original, beautifully executed, visually appealing- but can they be considered fine art?

Some dismissed Murakami’s work, suggesting that they are lovely, but lack substance, but many others have applauded Murakami’s adventurous approach, especially his ability to bridge the worlds of high and low art and to create works that appeal to a broader audience than most fine art.

In 1996, in order to produce his otaku– inspired sculpture, Murakami founded the Hiropon Factory, modelled on both Andy Warhol’s Factory, as well as on traditional Japanese art workshops- such as the ones that produced the woodblock prints from the Edo period.

At Hiropon Factory assistants trained in various areas of expertise collaborate under the artist’s supervision for large-scale, mass-market projects. In this period, the artist went on design a series of major sculptures inspired by otaku subculture including Miss ko² (1996-1997), Hiropon (1997), and My Lonesome Cowboy (1998).

Hiropon (1997) is a part of Murakami’s anime-inspired characters, which also include a masturbating sculpture of boy named My Lonesome Cowboy. 

The title itself alludes to the darker aspects of Japanese culture- hiropon is Japanese slang for the narcotic-crystal methamphetamine. This literal connection to the drug culture reveals artist’s examination of otaku subculture as an illicit form of entertainment.

This sexualized sculpture, with voluminous pink pig-tails and her tiny waist, has breasts that are so large that they burst out of her bikini top to spray a jet-stream of milk that encircles her figure.

Combining a shocking perversion and feminine cuteness this sculpture reflects Murakami’s deep engagement with otaku subculture and its pornographic underbelly known as ‘loli-com’, Lolita Complex, in which girlhood and innocence are paradoxically prized, as well as fetishized.

Kaikai Kiki Co.

In 2001, the Hiropon Factory evolved into Kaikai Kiki Co., a highly organized corporation settled in Tokyo and New York. Besides marketing and producing Murakami’s work, the corporation promotes new artists, organizes collaborative projects with individuals and companies in music, fashion and entertainment, operates art fairs, and develops animated films and videos.

The company represents a shift in the production of modern artwork where fine art and commerce are integrated, and where the artist’s physical hand in the making of the artwork no longer determines the financial value, but rather the symbolic value is created through the artist’s association with the art-commodities produced in his business-oriented factory.

In 2000, Murakami presented the theory of Superflat. The name refers both to the merging of art and commerce and the flattened compositions that lacked one point perspective of historical Japanese artistic movements, Nihonga, for instance. 

In his historic essay ‘A Theory of Super Flat Japanese Art’ he articulates desire to produce a uniquely Japanese art form that is directly related to the shadow cast by Japan’s trauma after the humiliating defeat of WWII.

Murakami explains the concept of superflatness as an original concept of Japanese, which has been completely westernized.

This theory swept across the contemporary art world, becoming a landmark movement in contemporary Japanese art, the latest major style to reach international recognition in the art-world, since the 1950s Japanese Gutai group.

Despite his art-historical and culturally-rich referents in his manifestos, art, essays, people are often immediately drawn to his work for its seeming superficiality and dazzling explosion of colors and characters.

Takashi Murakami’s projects have explored unconventional artistic media including music, fashion, public installations, films, animation. The shift between roles and disciplines reveals his ambition of redefining what a postmodern artist can be.

Mr. Pointy

In the fall of 2003, Murakami installed a public art display called Reversed Double Helix at the Rockefeller Center plaza in Midtown Manhattan.

The display featured two thirty-three-foot balloons, a number of jewel-colored mushroom sculptures that doubled as seats for visitors, and a twenty-three-foot tall sculpture of Murakami’s character Mr Pointy.

Sporting a large round head that comes to a point, multiple arms, and a brightly colored body, Mr. Pointy was described as the whimsical love child of Hello Kitty, a Buddha, and a portabello mushroom.

Two years earlier Murakami had startled and delighted commuters in Vanderbilt Hall, part of New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, with Wink (2001), a display of mushroom sculptures and huge helium-filled balloons hovering thirty feet off the floor- all of which were decorated with brightly colored eyes of all shapes and sizes as well as spirals and other designs.

This installation creates a paradoxical and ironic co-existence of the Japanese Neo-Pop and the formal elegance of the classical Beaux-Arts architecture of Grand Central Terminal.

Roberta Smith, an art critic, argues against this public project, suggesting that it was compromised by its inappropriate setting, a vast former waiting room bereft of its wood benches, which felt all wrong for contemporary art. Anyway, this strange cultural mash-up is exactly what Murakami intends.

Luis Vuitton Collaboration

In 2002, the artist began his long-term collaboration with the Luis Vuitton, the elite fashion brand. This collaboration made Murakami widely known for further blurring commercial boundaries, elevated his status to celebrity and raised economic value of his art to one that is highly prized among Western collectors.

One of Murakami’s design features The LV signature monogram in 97 different colors with his own signature jellyfish eyes repeated on white or black background.

Shortly following the launch of his line at Louis Vuitton, Murakami re-appropriated the same images printed onto bags into paintings meant for prestigious art institutions and collectors, blurring the distinction between commodity and art (Eye Love Superflat , 2006)

In Blue Flowers & Skulls, 2012, youth and death collide as smiling daisies and large-eyed skulls overwhelm the picture plane and bland together with the aid of the work’s blue color scheme.

The mix of cuteness and death are the artist’s way of engaging with the Japanese obsession with Kawaii, but also his way of critiquing it.

Everything is Transient

According to Murakami, Kawaii culture has become a living entity that pervades everything. With a population heedless of the cost of embracing immaturity, the nation is in the throes of a dilemma: a preoccupation with anti-aging may conquer not only the human heart, but also the body.

In that sense, the artist reveals a darker engagement with these juvenile flowers that takes its aim directly at contemporary society.

Throughout Western art history, the role of the skull has functioned as a memento mori, a reminder of one’s own eventual death; the Japanese Buddhist conception of Shogyo mujo is roughly translated as ‘everything is transient’.

Blue Flowers & Skulls is reflective of many of Murakami’s installations, paintings and sculptures in which smiling daisies and skulls repeat across his large oeuvre; in the obsessive repetition of these motifs his darker and more subversive themes are expanded and re-contextualized over and over to the point of visual exhaustion.

Murakami’s astronomical rise to fame in the contemporary art world has been met with both criticism and celebration.

He brings together Japanese pop culture referents with the Japan’s rich artistic legacy, effectively wiping out any distinction between high art and commodity.

Critics have mocked him as a sell-out and as playing into the art market’s increasing demands for trivial, easily consumable art from Japan.

Post-Nuclear : What Did You Expect Would Happen?

Murakami’s work must be understood as deeply critical to Western intervention.

He grew up in Japan that then faced heavy sanctions and a permanent U.S. military presence, and also was raised by parents who experienced the devastating nuclear bombings.

In his writings (differ wildly from his essays written in English) he reveals a deep cynicism toward the West, considering Japan’s contemporary obsession with youthful innocence, cuteness, violence and fetish are the product of U.S. intervention that began with the bomb.

In that sense, many believe that Murakami considers his thrusting of this art concept onto the U.S. through his elevation of it as high art as a form of some revenge.

Visit: http://www.takashimurakami.com/

Oh, and he has worked with the American provocateur himself, Mr. Kanye West.

Here’s an interesting interview video with Murakami that touches upon how he thinks about things.

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Discussing Watercolours With Candice Leyland

As an artist myself, I like to know what makes other artists tick. There are so many different mediums an artist can apply to their work, with each having its own distinct characteristics.
 
Watercolour paintings have always been of interest to me because of the relatively light touch they require. I’ve done them, and they are not easy to get right, especially for an OCD-having person like myself.
 
Maybe it’s just me, but I think that watercolours are quite easy to “ruin” or overwork, generally. To produce a stunning watercolour work, I would say is no easy task.
 
Now, for an artist like Candice Leyland, who is specializes in watercolour works of art, she makes it all look rather easy.

Candice is an independent artist who produces and sells her work in my neck of the woods, which is to say south-western Ontario – Kitchener-Waterloo region, to be precise, although she was born in Palmerston.
 
She is a teacher at the local landmark Homer-Watson Gallery, and she is also represented at the Uptown Gallery in Waterloo, ON.
 
As it mentions on her website’s About page, Candice is known for her rather moody, ethereal but at the same time slice-of-life style of painting, featuring very warm-looking and inviting paintings of everyday things like animals, scenery, and flowers.
 
Sort of a cross between Edward Wesson and Norman Rockwell, maybe
 
Speaking of flowers, here is one of her pieces simply called “Tulips” – rather self-explanatory.

In the hands of a lesser artist, these things might seem boring, but as we know from the countless artists from history who have done well with their craft, a great artist can make anything look interesting if it is captured the right way, with the right timing, colours, and, of course, the mysterious X-factor!
 
I could start listing off the many artists who have made the ordinary into extra-ordinary, but I digress. The point is, Candice has that gift herself, and I think you will see it is evident in the work.
 
She has an eye for the little details that makes a piece of art
 
I had a chance to ask her a few questions about how she approaches her work, and her thoughts on watercolour paintings in general. Please enjoy my little chat with Candice Leyland! 🙂


When did you start painting and why?
I had very little interest in art before high school. I remember we had to choose one “arts” course. Since I was shy and was already intensely studying piano, I didn’t want to take drama or music, so I defaulted to fine art class.
 
I had planned to get my “arts” courses out of the way so I could focus on science and math for the rest of high school. It is kind of funny that that one decision had such a huge impact on my life.
 
In art class, we started drawing and the teacher insisted that drawing was a skill that took practice.
 
Many people, even as adults, believe that being good at art is some kind of god given talent that people just “have”, but once I learned that it was a skill I could master and improve, I was hooked and motivated to improve.

I spent every spare minute I had practicing in my sketch book – I loved creating things and experimenting. I did sculpture, pottery, silkscreening, photography, and I devoured every book on art history I could find.
 
I fell in love with the impressionists. I spent lunch hours in the art room listening to music and making art.
 
Are you partial to creating any other types of art?
I play piano and guitar and sometimes draw, but I mostly work in watercolour. I feel it is the best way to express myself. I am addicted to colour.
 
In the past, I’ve worked extensively in photography (both commercial and artistic) and have tried oil and acrylics. I keep coming back to watercolour.
 
When did you start watercolour painting, specifically? What drew you to watercolour?
In Spring of 2016, I picked up watercolours. It felt like forever since I had been creative and I wanted to get back into making art.
 
I was always drawn to the lightness and simplicity of watercolour, but its non-toxicity and portability were the biggest draw factors for me at this point in my life.
 
I had a medically fragile child and lived in a relatively small home. Watercolours allowed me to paint from the kitchen table or even the couch safely and relatively mess free.
 
When I dove into it, I taught myself through books from the library and youtube videos. My colour theory and drawing skills from university were a solid foundation and learning watercolours came relatively easily to me.

Where do you buy your paints and do you have a preference when it comes to brands or quality of the paint itself?
I shop at a lot of places in Kitchener Waterloo. I like to support the small shops like the Artstore on Caroline Street.
 
I tend to use QOR watercolours by Golden. This is a relatively new brand (although Golden has been making Acrylics for decades). I love the vibrancy and flow of these paints. I’m pretty much obsessed with them.
 
Locally, QOR Watercolours are only available at Curry’s I tend to get my paints there. I sometimes use Holbine watercolours or Daniel Smith.
 
What is involved in the process of you sitting down to paint?
I have a very minimalist set up for a studio. My process usually involves printing my reference photo, taping a piece of paper up and getting fresh water. This is one of the biggest benefits to watercolour.
 
There is hardly any set up and take down. No barriers to creativity.

What style of art do you consider yourself to be doing?
I struggle with describing my own work or fitting myself into a mold. I feel like impressionistic florals is an accurate description. My work is moody and ethereal and focuses on light and colour.
 
What type of surface do you generally paint on?
This is where I get snobby. Only Arches brand paper, Only Cold Press: 140 lb or higher.
 
What size of brushes do you generally work with?
Round Sables between 4 and 8 and a big old mop to wet the paper.
 
Do you feel there are any drawbacks to using watercolour you’ve found in your experience using that medium over the years?
The main drawback to watercolours is the expense of framing, but good framing makes a significant difference in preserving and presenting your painting.
 
I have experimented with modern mounting methods such as adhering paper permanently to board or using ground watercolour mediums, but in my opinion, the best way to display a watercolour is to have it professionally matted and framed.

Other than that, I mostly see advantages. People always tell me how “unforgiving” watercolour is. I always hear comments like, “watercolour is so hard!”
 
I will admit that once a painting is ruined it can be hard to go back. But to me, this is not a drawback, it is a strength.
 
Watercolour paintings are often faster to make and can be less expensive to produce other mediums. If a painting isn’t working, you have the opportunity to start fresh.
 
The nature of watercolour forces you let go of control. Don’t get me wrong, with skill and technique you do have a great deal of control over the medium, but the freedom and chance of painting in watercolours is what draws me.
 
It frees up the creative process tremendously.
 
How do you decide when a piece is done?
Someone gave me a great piece of advice about this. He said to sign your painting when your close to being done, and then give yourself a limit to how much you can fiddle with it afterward.
 
After I sign my painting, I allow myself a few tweaks, then walk away. Watercolour paintings are so easy to overwork. When the painting is signed and complete, I post it to social media.
 
I love the relationship I have with my followers. I did have a teacher that once told me, “If you hate a painting – Do it again! If you Love a Painting – Do it again!” which is great advice.

You are always learning and improving. A painting might be done, but you are never done learning.
 
Would you recommend any other watercolour artists for people to check out?
My best friend Lee Angold and her botanical illustrations amaze me.
 

Visit: https://candiceleylandart.ca/

 

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Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia Multimedia Artist Živka Suvić – An Interview

As an artist myself, I am drawn to other artists. When I come across an interesting artist, I look at their work and imagine what caused them to create it. In all cases, the time and place of an artist influences their work, even if it is doing so unconsciously.
 
We are all influenced by our country, our upbringing, experiences, and so forth. Every artist has a story, and it informs their work in intimate ways. This is an obvious fact, but that doesn’t make it less interesting, because seeing an artists’ work is like seeing into their life in some way.
 
When I came across the work of Sremska Mitrovica, Serbia multimedia artist Živka Suvić, I was very interested in her creative process, because there was so much work and it has an intensity and energy that myself, as a Canadian, finds very different from the art I tend to see around here in Canada.

This is only logical. Every country in this world is different, and Serbia certainly has its own character. What that character is, I don’t know exactly, having not been to Serbia.
 
I know Serbian-born people who are living here in Canada right now, but it is not the same as visiting the country or knowing their history in detail. Clearly, Serbia has had its share of unrest, and like it or not, this often breeds great artwork.
 
In my own rather uneducated way, I could sense
 
Working in multiple mediums including assemblage, portraiture, landscape, and even incorporating video, Živka’s work seems to me to be of the sort that comes from a dark, restless soul. At the same time, there is hope in her work.
 
In her portraits, eyes stare back at you, some
 
After checking out Živka’s website, I wanted to ask her some questions about her work. Art speaks for itself, but if you have a chance to talk to the creator of that work, why not?
 
And so, I spoke with Živka recently and got a better idea of what makes this Serbian artist tick. I hope you enjoy our chat!


Q: What inspires you to make art these days?
Art is my path, my way of communicating, my way to express myself. Since I was a child, I enjoyed painting or drawing. Later, I choose art to be my life’s occupation, or maybe art chose me.
 
I don’t know, except to say that this is the way I function. Inspiration is around everywhere…
 
Q: What descriptive words come to mind to describe your own artwork?
Collecting, expression, time, materials…these are some of words. Also…consistency…etc.

Q: How much does Serbian culture influence your artwork?
I’ve finished my studies at the Art Academy in Serbia, and during that educational process, we students were well informed with the world of art history.
 
Art history also covered the national history of art, but the focus wasn’t necessarily on national works. On the contrary, we had the freedom of choice to choose our models.
 
Probably, the national culture has an impact on my work today, perhaps unconsciously, and certainly that social situation plays a big role on my life…
 
Q: How often do you show your work publicly?
I would say often. Last year, I had five independent exhibitions, and this year I have two. In addition, I exhibit in group shows.
 

 
Q: Has a secret patron ever emerged from the shadows who wants to give you a vast sum of money to support you in your endeavours?
No, there was no secret patrons. I have customers, buyers, but patrons…no.
 
Q: Why do you like creating artwork which has a tactile surface?
I use specific materials, and their nature allows me to create artwork which has a tactile surface. I use papers, different thickness, cardboard, and decoupage technique. That’s why the surface is tactile.
 
Q: Do you consider your art messy?
No, I don’t consider my art messy. There is a certain order within what I am doing. Every act of creation requires certain a chaos around it, but within the work there is a line.
 

 
Q: Do you consider some of your art to be “dark”?
Yes, I do, they are probably dark. But they are just some of my works. I think about the effect my work could have on the observer. I can control what I want to exhibit.
 
Q: When painting your landscapes or your expressive portraits, do you paint from memory or prefer to do the work live?
I usually combine the two. Sometimes, I start live and finish my work from memory….or vice versa.
 
Q: What is your special connection to New Zealand?
I spent a year and a half there studying, and New Zealand remained in my good memory. I met wonderful people and made friends there.
 
Q: What is the purpose of an assemblage, in your view?
Specifically, assemblages that I’ve made in New Zealand stayed in the Art school in Dunedin, as an exhibit and demonstration material for future students.
 
I created them through a process of collecting discarded materials which were put in pillows and boxes. Each pillow symbolically represents a dream.

Q: How often do you like to visit the ocean? Do you prefer oceans to lakes?
I’m fascinated by water, in general. Right now, I don’t have any opportunity to see an ocean, but there is a river passing trough the city I’m living in.
 
Q: Do you have any artists from the past who serve as inspirations to your work now?
Yes, I have many artists who are my inspiration, even though their work has no direct impact on mine, like Robert Rausenberg, Roy Lichtenstein, and Arman. These are some of artists who inspire me.
 
Q: What are your artistic goals for the future?
Goals…I’m working on my new paintings and maybe, in the future, I will develop a story about assemblages. I have a goal to continue working, exhibiting, and selling my work…
 

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Animation in 2018 – It’s Not What You Think

For most of the medium’s history, animation meant thousands of hand-drawn and painted transparent cells flashing on-screen 24-times (or less) per second, just the way Uncle Walt used to do it

Nowadays, animation isn’t just hand-drawn Disney films and saturday morning cartoons, it’s computer-generated 3D blockbusters, it’s the dances in Fortnite, it’s Thanos and Iron Man in The Avengers.

The digital age has created plenty of new industries that call for animation, but we’ll focus on the big 3 industries most people think of when they think animation.

We’ll start with the grand-daddy of them all.

Film

What happened to hand drawn movies like The Little Mermaid or Snow White? Pixar.

Pixar is responsible for both pioneering CG animation and popularizing it. We all know Toy Story, Finding Nemo, and The Incredibles.

3D-animated family films are nothing new to us but whenever someone hears “animator” they think of someone drawing pictures. A lot of animators in 2018 can’t even draw, and they don’t need to.

Why spend years perfecting a skill that’s not even required to have a successful career? An animator working in film is going to be using their CG skills much more often than their drawing skills.

There’s another aspect of film animation you may have overlooked: VFX. The amount of computer generated visual effects on major Hollywood releases is staggering.

Consider that Avatar met the qualification for a “Best Animated Feature” nomination. Consider that without VFX, The Life of Pi would have been a movie about a boy talking to an empty boat in an old pool.
 
Iron Man would be a series about Robert Downey Jr. making wisecracks while wearing spandex and pretending he was shooting lasers out of his hands.

 

Consider that the upcoming Lion King remake (https://www.cartoonbrew.com/feature-film/get-right-disney-animated-not-live-action-remake-lionking-143343.html) is not a “live-action Lion King” movie, it’s likely a 100% CGI film, even more so than the “live-action Jungle Book” remake which featured an entirely 3D-animated cast with the only exception being the protagonist.

Television and Tweening

Think television is the only safe bastion for hand-drawn animation? Think again. Television studios have ditched a lot of hand drawn frame-by-frame animation in favour of “tweening”:

Drawing each body part separately and having the computer drag that part across the screen from Point A to Point B.

Compare the early 1990s seasons of Arthur to the newer 2010s seasons.

Arthur Season 1:

Arthur Season whatever:

Arms pivot from the shoulder and heads pivot from the neck instead of being redrawn over and over in a slightly-different position each time.

So why use tweening?

Tweening means that animators with poorer drawing skills can still animate effectively. Tweening is faster than doing an entirely new drawing every frame and time is money.

Tweening means you can have the best artist draw out all the body parts you need and then that character will always appear consistent.

In the hand drawn days there was always the risk of someone drawing a character “off model”. A large group of different people all trying to draw the same character several thousand times throughout a project would inevitably lead to a few frames where that character didn’t look like themselves.

Sometimes there’s a nice mix between hand-drawn and tweened, a recent example being Rick and Morty. Sometimes hand-drawn still lives on strongly in Adventure Time and Legend of Korra (animated in South East Asia), but it’s done digitally now.

Animators are drawing in ToonBoom animation software instead of on paper.

That means artists can be more accurate in drawing new frames, colours don’t flicker due to paint-mixing, and you can always throw in a 3D car (because 2D animating a car is a job no one wants to do).

Video Games

If you’re at a AAA studio (Think Grand Theft Auto or Call of Duty) it’s 3D animated and motion captured with a few exceptions like Overwatch’s delightful hand-keyed cartoony animation.

Despite some Andy Serkis controversy stating otherwise, motion capture is not just a matter of an actor moving around and then the animation is done.

After an actor’s movements are recorded, there is a lot of cleaning up to do. Sometimes the motion capture camera isn’t able to see one of the markers on the suit. You’ll have arms spasming in 3D space or maybe a head that’s offset from the neck by a kilometre.

You also rarely have any animation on the fingers, and facial animation is recorded separately but more commonly the face is animated manually by animators in 3D software.

If you’re an indie studio, 2D animation is much more common. Cuphead is every animation nerd’s dream right now as it was drawn onto animation paper (a huge rarity in film much less in video games), but even then it was scanned into Photoshop and traced and coloured digitally.


 

Conclusion

So what is animation in 2018? Ditch the image of the man in the suspenders drawing with a pencil and replace it with the image of someone working in front of a computer using a drawing tablet.

Animation is found in the 3D films of Pixar and Disney, but it’s also hidden in every major modern Hollywood film in the form of VFX.

The weird-looking 16-frames-per-second (or less) saturday morning cartoon is gone and has been replaced (for better or worse) by digitally animated, sometimes handdrawn kids’ shows that aim to appeal to girls and boys instead of only one or the other.

Animation is your gun firing in Call of Duty, your candy exploding in Candy Crush, and even the way a window expands on your OS.