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Sunday, May 30, 2010

New Tablet

After sitting in the box for 4 months, I finally installed my Wacom Intuos 4 Tablet. I originally bought it for inking and coloring images. Let's see... How do you use this gizmo?

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Kondoh Akino: An Alternative Mangaka, Part 2

NEW YORK, April 21 – This is the second part of the transcript for the artist discussion with mangaka Kondah Akino (近藤聡乃).


Ryan Holmberg: [Referring to Rainy Day Blues] This is one of the works appearing the English AX anthology. Sometimes your relationships between object and spaces are so horrific. Especially after 2003, they didn’t have this gothic or horror elements to them anymore. So often objects like umbrella and bracelets are lost and found again. It deals with memories. As your career develops, you still have this attachment to objects.

Kondah Akino: As I’ve said before, the beginnings of my stories are inspired by particular objects. In this case, it’s an umbrella. The depictions of horror and Gothic themes decreased in my work because my artistic tastes changed. Since I haven’t published frequently, there are a couple of years in between works. So, my work might appear to be very different between the current work and the preceding one.

RH: This is kind of annoying, now, forcing the amity towards Garo. Hayashi Seiichi, who is a very significant Garo (ガロ) artist, wrote the afterward to your first book. Hayashi is in the show and is most well known for his major Garo serial, Red Colored Elegy (赤色エレジー). More recently Red Colored Elegy was published by Montreal’s Drawn and Quarterly a couple of years ago. It’s on the reading table in the show. In addition to the afterward of your book, I believe he is always the judge for the AX amateur submissions. So, can you tell me about your relationship with Hayashi and his work?

KA: I first met Mr. Hayashi as an animation artist, not as a manga artist. I’ve been told by others that my artistic style resembles his, but I actually haven’t seen his work until that time.

RH: You know, I think the things that look a lot like Hayashi are those flowers in this negative space [referring to slides]. Even this book that this boy’s reading that drops into the gutter on the top. It looks like the cover to one of the edition to Sekishoku Erejii (Red Colored Elegy).

Red Colored Elegy by Seiichi Hayashi

KA: You might be talking about the other cover he did for Emino Kusako (sp?). A small sized novella.

RH: Emino Kusako is a Gothic Fiction writer. You said it was a cover for one of his pocket sized books. So you are interested in Emino Kusako?

KA: I was really more interested in Emino Kusako rather than Edogawa Rampo - Tarō Hirai (平井 太郎).

RH: I’ve brought some comparisons. Your work, Beautiful Town (美しい町)(2001), reminds me of Hayashi Seiichi’s Town of Falling Flowers (1968). Some of the pages have a very similar use of space. Also in some other scenes of a running child, there are certain sounds emanating outward.

KA: I heard that Mr. Hayashi was also told by someone else that his style resembles Ryoji, the painter. Mr. Hayashi was also telling me that he had rarely seen his work. [These common influences] comes from growing up in Japan and seeing similar things. We happen to share a common source of inspiration. We don’t really know …

RH: This is kind of an insider thing for people who know about Japanese pop culture, but your girl runs like Arale-chan (則巻アラレ) from Doctor Slump. (audience laughs)

KA: That’s possible.

RH: It’s possible? Another thing I want to discuss is your fascination with insects in your manga.

KA: I’ve always like insects since I was a child.

RH: What about them?

KA: The shapes and colors. I like to position them in between objects and humans.

RH: [Referring to Beautiful Town] There’s a lot of transformation and metamorphosis in your work. In this case, one girl is tricked by another into thinking that if she looks at ants closely they will turn into butterflies. It’s not really clear if this is actually true of not. Here you have her squatting down and focusing really closely at the ants. And all of a sudden they burst into butterflies. It seems like insects often times use the trope of metamorphosis.

KA: Maybe you’re right about that… [audience laughs]

“Ladybirds' Requiem” (てんとう虫のおとむらい) by Kondoh Akino

RH: [Referring to Lady Bug Funeral (てんとう虫のおとむらい)] I think this is one of your most famous scenes. I think a lot of people know this work. What is she wearing?

KA: It’s just a story about a girl who sews hundreds of buttons onto the back of her dress. When I realize that buttons resemble ladybugs, I decided to make this work. In this case, the buttons transform into ladybugs and bites the person.

RH: Have you made this dress?

KA: No.

RH: Is this completely fiction? Now, this is another work on your left [referring to Grave of the Butterflies]. You told me that you like Umezu Kazuo, the famous horror girl’s manga author from the 50s and 60s. Often times Kazuo has insects appearing in his work. The girl is usually inflicted by insects. In this case, the girl is traumatized by a butterfly shadow that she sees in her youth.

KA: I don’t know this particular work by him. Regarding Kazuo, I consider myself a fan, but I’m not really influenced by him. I don’t really see any of his influence in my art work.

RH: Your work has many different connections to horror fiction. Whether it is Umezu Kazuo, you do have different themes with it and backgrounds…

KA: When I was in Junior High School, I read novels by Kazuo almost every day. I know it had a tremendous influence on me…

RH: Here is another Umezo. You have a lot of pattern in your work, but you always hand draw it. Where traditionally a lot of manga artists use lattice patterns and screen tones. You always hand draw it.

KA: I just don’t like screen tones. That’s why I didn’t use them. I just don’t like cutting them and pasting them.

RH: So, now, shifting gears. You have also been active as a painter.

KA: Painting has not really been a major element in my body of work. I’ve only started oil painting recently. This particular work was done as a school assignment.

RH: While you were in art school, you were doing painting, illustration, and manga at the same time.

KA: When I was in university, I really didn’t do much painting. I did study design and practiced a lot of drawing.

RH: In the United States and some Japanese schools, there are more and more classes for making comics and sequential art. Were there any comic art programs when you attended Japanese art school?

KA: I believe Kyoto Seika University in Kyoto has a manga department, but the Tama Art University, where I received my BFA, doesn’t have any specific manga programs.

RH: Was it acceptable to draw manga while you were in art school?

KA: Manga was totally created on my own as any independent work.

RH: [Referring to Menstral Flowers] I’m just going to go through the paintings and make comments. So, I’ve already made comparisons which are already unacceptable. They will really annoy you. To me… Something about your paintings remind me of post-war manga and neo-traditional painting with the use of floral patterns derived from old nippas. The girl is positioned in a certain way that really makes me think of a notorious screen from 1980 by Kayama Matsuo. We’ll just keep going… Obviously there are other connections. Specifically art historical. You have been doing some that are slightly Japanese art history versions?

KA: If you say so…

RH: This is not a definite reworking of Japanese art history?

KA: Maybe so…

RH: [Referring to slides] This is your recent work from 2008. Your work seems to get more and more psychedelic and abstract. You also do some sculpture. You described one earlier. This seems related to your first comic about the girl who has a hand with tadpoles on it. This was supposed to be interactive sculpture.

KA: This work was about touch and texture. This was about the tactile feeling when you touch a slug.

RH: What are the slugs made of?

KA: Sequins.

RH: People are supposed to wear these?

KA: No. It’s very fragile so you can’t really wear it anymore.

RH: When was it made?

KA: 2002.

RH: Now, here are some sketches for your animation. You’ve made two finished [animated] works. You’re making a third now. We’re going to screen both of those.


RH: When did you animate this?

KA: I did this in Junior Year [of art school].

RH: Was it a music video for a band?

KA: I first used the music without permission. A few years later, I officially obtained permission from the artists and remade the animation. Then, I became friend with the musician and writer, Tomohisa Hitoshi Ware.

RH: Is there anything you can say about the production process?

KA: I just drew so many drawings everyday in order to come up an image. Then I came up with a storyboard. Following the storyboard, I create large drawings and colored the animation.

RH: All hand drawn?

KA: Yes. The second animation required 15 drawing or images. Animation is a painstaking process. This work was also created while I was at university for my BFA exhibition. I didn’t like the finish, so I recreated it. The reworked version was finished in 2006.

RH: It received gallery distribution. Does the Asia Society owns the previous one or the next one?

KA: This one.

RH: This is not cell animation, right? You draw the figures and the backgrounds separately and put them together in the computer.

KA: It’s all done on paper. Then I sometimes cut them out and recompose them in Photoshop.

RH: So, I want to let people ask questions. Thank you very much. [applause]

Question 1: I was curious. Have you shown your work at any film festivals?

KA: I’ve never shown at any festivals. I’ve never been interested in that…

RH: Are you going to show your next animation at a film festival?

KA: No. I’m not finished with that one. So, it’s going to be a while. I’m actually wondering whether to show it in a festival setting or a gallery setting. Because if I show this in the gallery first, it would be difficult to go the other way. I still have to figure out how to sell and market it. The exhibition editions of my animations are priced very high. Regarding the animation that I’m working on now, I would like to mass produce it and make it more available. I would also like to make these available on the internet.

RH: You can see these on Youtube, right?

KA: [nods in agreement]

Question 2: When you start your films, do you have an outline? Because your work is multi-referential from a psychological stand-point, from an art historical stand-point, and in the sense of biology usage. I’m referring to insect imagery and mushroom imagery. Are you thinking about those issues and plot it out? All these reference and how you to put them in there?

KA: Regarding animation, I strictly follow my story board. I don’t really deviate from it.

Question 2: So it’s all structured out…

KA: The first work was made improvisationally. Are there any relationship between my storyboards and paintings? I actually became concerned myself that there is a gap in artistic style between my animation and storyboard. That’s because if the animation has too many details, it becomes too labor intensive. It would require you have to create thousands of frames. But I was shocked by the aesthetically low-quality of my animation, then I started doing paintings. I like to raise the artistic quality in my next animation.

Question 3: Growing up in Japan, have you read any shojo manga?

KA: Barely read any girl’s manga or comic books.

Question 3: Is it because you don’t like the style?

KA: It was mainly because it was not allowed in my household when I was growing up. That’s why I have brothers… [audience laughs]

RH: Is that how you read Garo when you were young through your brothers? It’s difficult to imagine you reading Garo when you were young.

KA: No. I actually never read Garo when I was young. I only start reading Garo in high school.

Question 4: Who is your primary audience for your animation?

KA: The first animation was shown on television in addition to the gallery. It had a wide audience. On the other hand, the second animation was only shown through galleries, so only people interested in contemporary art has seen it.

RH: You’ve shown your animation in shows in China, Singapore, and Europe.

KA: Yes, in Belgium and France.

RH: Museum shows?

KA: In the beginning, it was museums and festivals.

RH: Not film festivals.

KA: Not film festivals. The opportunities came about by themselves. I didn’t seek them. I was invited and went there to present my work.


Monday, May 24, 2010

David Choe's Nothing

As of the post date of this article, David Choe's Nothing to Declare has officially concluded it's run at the Lazarides Gallery. The exhibition had an amazing mix of figurative aesthetics, bio-morphic masses, and wild abstraction. Here are some of my photos from the Thursday opening:


In the center of the gallery, Choe presented a huge squid-like bio-mass. It was a partially filled balloon-like structure. Extremely playful.

Choe has a gift for mixing amazing portraiture with other styles and themes. This one combines female portraiture with a wave similar to The Great Wave off Kanagawa

Another great portraiture amalgamation by Choe. He mixes female portraiture with energetic abstract expressionism.

Choe's opening attracted an interesting crowd featuring Rob Sato and Martin Wong.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Kondoh Akino: An Alternative Mangaka, Part 1

NEW YORK, April 21 — In conjunction with their recent Garo exhibition, the Center for Book Arts hosted an artist discussion with mangaka Kondoh Akino (近藤聡乃). She has been widely published in AX magazine, which is the spiritual successor of Garo. Kondah also produced two books. Currently she is focused on her painting and short animation. [Interpretation by Midori Yoshimoto]


Ryan Holmberg: I’m happy to introduce Kondah Akino who is typically stationed in Tokyo. But, you spent last year in New York, and you are here for how many years?

Kondah Akino: One or two years.

RH: She only tangentially actually related to Garo. I thought more than she is… having read her work. She insists that the connections are thin, but I might push her on some of those [connections]. At any rate, we are lucky that she is in New York. She is a very active and well known alternative manga author who is in the trajectory of alternative manga that Garo(ガロ) founded.

So you made your debut in AX in 2000. Can tell me a little bit about your art practice before you started publishing manga professionally?

KA: When I debuted as a manga artist, I was a sophomore in university. But I originally started drawing manga as a senior student in high school. At the time, I was also going to prep school for university entrance exams. I was studying art there as well.

Actually when I was child I wasn’t really a big fan of manga. I wasn’t really reading a lot manga. I didn’t have any particular interest in it. I did hear about Garo as a child. I didn’t actually encounter it until high school.

RH: Your first work was self-published. Is that correct?

KA: Something like that.

RH: Can you explain it? When most people usually think about self-publishing manga in Japan, they think about amateur doujinshi, otaku culture, and ComiKet. Your first work takes a completely different trajectory in regards to self-publishing.

KA: I never participated in doujinshi or Comi-cons. I never participated in anything like MoCCA [Art Fest].

RH: What is the distribution of some of your early work? Self-published comics are fairly typical here, and there are a lot of outlets. In Japan, there are only a couple of outlets.

KA: For my graduation work, I made 500. I reprinted it for my school exhibition and made 100 copies. There was an assignment for a free style competition at my prep school, and I created my first manga with a stapler. I simply binded them together with staples.

RH: [Referring to slides: Girl's High School Life Bookmark(女子校生活のしおり)] Story is set in a Japanese girl’s high school. There are two main characters. One is always sleepy and a bad student. She’s always dreaming. The other one is a typical literary girl who is always spouting stories and making up stories… sometimes lies. There is a slightly erotic connection between them, and the art girl is an object of attraction for the sleepy girl.

KA: I didn’t particularly draw these erotic scenes or connotations. But there might be some depictions that might make you think that one is attracted to the other.

The Early Works by Saeki Toshio

RH: In this panel, she has tadpoles growing out of her hands, and she’s licking them. I’m interested in the stylistic influences. I mean I like the pattern in a lot of these.

We’ve talked about this. It reminds me of the work of Saeki Toshio (佐伯俊男). Saeki Toshio was a very popular illustrator who got big around 1969-1970. He started publishing erotic illustrations in Japanese magazines. [The illustrations] often times involved Japanese high school girls in sexual situations. They were molesting their toys or being molested by old men. There are rough thick lines.

What elements of Saeki Toshio’s work appealed to you?

KA: When I discovered his work, I was a high school girl. It wasn’t his erotic interests or erotic depictions that attracted me. Rather, it was the beauty of his line [work] and the formalistic aspects.

RH: We believe you completely, but... (audience laughs) Look at some [of her work], and there is an erotic element. The types of elements are very much Saeki based such as fluids dripping, licking, and some kind of biomorphic things.

KA: I was primarily attracted to his skills.

RH: Skills at what? (audience laughs) There is also the sexualization of Japanese high school girls. I mean his work is tied up with normative Japanese male sexual fantasies. Your work has a female subject. It was interesting that you appropriated Saeki and use it to talk about women’s issues.

Your first work published in AX for 2000 and won some prize for AX. It’s not the top prize…

KA: The Encouragement Prize. [AX Manga Newcomer's Award / Encouragement Award]

RH: [Referring to slides] It was published in 2000. It was called Kobayashi Kayoko (小林加代子) which is the name of the protagonist. It’s a little hard to summarize. There’s a girl name Kayoko who runs a slipper store. Running a slipper store is a pretty abysmal fate for a young girl. Then she gets a little excited because across the way there is boy. He’s running a light bulb store. Can you tell me a little bit about the story?

KA: This girl is running an unpopular slipper store. She can hardly sell anything, so she’s thinking of turning it into a candy store. Then a boy moves in across the street and begins a dialogue between them.

RH: So, it’s like a romance?

KA: No. It’s not a romance.

RH: I can’t remember the story exactly. She has various crises around her situation. Then later on, if remember right, the boy gives her a TV.

KA: The TV was hers. It was not a gift from the boy.

RH: So, she somehow gets electrified by the boy? What’s the course of the story?

KA: I can’t quite figure out why I came up with this strange story. I had a lot of things to worry about back then, and I just can’t figure out why. (audience laughs)

RH: If I remember right, at the end, she’s about to give up on the candy store. Then she finally decides to keep the slipper store. At the end, you see an expanded slipper outlet.

KA: She started selling the sandals that the boy made.

RH: If I remember right, he cuts out one of the slippers. It’s his invention. This is your first story. I noticed in a lot of your work, there is an interest in a certain retail space in Japan: shopping arcades (Shōtengai 商店街). There is a lot of signage, a lot of clutter, and a lot of specialized stores. What’s the appeal of these shopping arcades?

KA: It wasn’t just growing up seeing these old fashioned retail stores, rather I simply found enjoyment in drawing the details of old fashioned stores.

RH: It’s the detailed work of drawing so many objects packed in together? It’s a nice juxtaposition between the density of the arcade in the background and the simplicity of the figures.

The follow up story was not originally published. It only appeared in a book in 2004. It’s called “Around the Kotatsu” (こたつのまわりで). Kotatsu (炬燵) is a table with a quilt, and you put your feet underneath. Traditionally you put your feet down into a hole, and it’s heated. It keeps your feet warm. Modern kotatsu have a heat lamp on the bottom of the table to keep your feet warm. In Japanese households without central heating, typically this is where you congregate in the winter months. It’s kind of a social space. Tell me what happens around the kotatsu.

KA: This girl is similar to the girl who’s always sleeping. She’s always dreaming while sitting at the kotatsu everyday. The boy is simply emerging out of her imagination. It’s a similar story to Kobayashi Kayoko in that the girl is experiencing a bored life. She dreams of things that she can’t do in real life.

RH: In addition to your interest in dense shopping areas, I noticed in a lot of your work that you are interested in textures and patterns. You’re really interested in details. It’s also seems to be connected to an interest in objects. Objects have a real strong presence in your work in different ways. So much so that, [in one panel] the girl ends up merging with the object. It’s kind of a magical quality of objects.

KA: When I talk about story building, I’m referring to the Japanese expression: Kishōtenketsu (起承転結). It means beginning, development, twist, and the end. In the four part story telling system, usually my beginnings stem from my real life experiences. The beginnings are often inspired by specific things.

RH: One example is Box Garden (はこにわ). In one panel, the image is not a pen and ink drawing. It’s graphite, and it has a really strong independent presence which pushes everything out. In a work like this, you really pull out objects sometimes.

KA: I’ve always been interested in containers like boxes and dressers.

RH: What is the appeal of boxes, dressers, and cabinets?

KA: I don’t know why, but since I was a small child, I liked stuffing things into boxes or containers.

RH: [Referring to slides]In this case, your protagonist opens a drawing leading into a giant world. In the world, I think she sees herself in the past and decides to jumps into it. In a lot of your work, you have an Alice and Wonderland rabbit hole where an alienated woman finds a fantasy land.

KA: I think you are right, but I’m not totally conscious of it.

RH: Have you personally fell down a rabbit hole? (audience laughs) Do you think they exist? Seriously. Often times I see you. I always read the protagonist as you.

KA: My ideal girl is always the protagonist.

RH: The protagonist sometimes has her head in a box. In this case, little Maritians or little Moonlings crawl inside her head.

KA: Sometimes the head is a container as well.

RH: Sometimes the box is a scary place. Tell me a little bit about the story.

KA: In this story, this girl gets trapped in a dresser every night. In the beginning, those hands were snatching her from inside the drawers. They used to be a child’s hands, but they became an adult man’s hands in the end. The lower left panel depicts the moment when she tries to escape. She realizes that it’s not a child that is trying to keep her in the dresser. It’s an adult man.

RH: It’s obviously deals with female sexual aggression tied with these kinds of themes.

KA: It could be interpreted that way, but I’m not conscious of it either. (audience laughs)

RH: Sometime other types of spaces like under the bed sheets are filled with biomorphic and anemone type things. The protagonists are attacked by them. You’ll probably say that it’s not conscious either. The phalluses are coming from every direction. (audience laughs)

KA: It’s totally unconscious. (audience laughs)

RH: Where do these growths come from? Not in the story but the idea.

KA: One of my personal hobbies is researching catalogues of mushrooms and viewing them in botanical gardens. It might come from that hobby.

RH: It made me think of a number of things such as stories by Japanese pulp fiction author Edogawa Rampo - Tarō Hirai (平井 太郎). In one of his stories, the male protagonist takes all of the stuffing out of a chair and crawls into it in order to molest people sitting on him. In the Garo show, there's one based on it called “Cockroach Boy”. It’s about a deformed kid who hides between the folds of the comforter and molests the woman through the sheets. There seems to be a theme about things between the sheets.

KA: I didn’t know about Edogawa Rampo's work in particular. I usually draw manga without the intention to express something. I think of things that are visually interesting and start drawing.

RH: [Referring to slides] This stuff also made me think of other similar things such as this prune head guy on the ceiling. I also thought of this [referring to slides]. Midori Yoshimoto wrote a book about female Japanese performance artists. There’s a chapter on Kusama Yayoi (草間彌生). What do you think of it?

KA: Do you want to know what I think of it?

RH: In Kusama’s case… Do you know Kusama Yayoi’s work? No? She had a very comfortable, even obsessive relationship with these phallic themes. You’re a girl who is obviously less content. (audience laughs)

KA: I have a different version of my first published manga, the Box Garden. It depicted actual sculptures that sit in your palm. I made hundreds of them containing mechanical motors. I put the toys inside a set of drawers and presented it as an installation. It won the Kusama Yayoi award. Kusama Yayoi actually chose my work.

RH: Are you interested in Fluxus? It sounds like a Fluxus type of object.

KA: No. Not in particular