Monday, November 16, 2009

Kiuchi in monochrome

A solitary figure stands silhouetted at the bottom of an expanse of gray, its back turned. Directly beyond, seemingly floating in space but presumably drifting through the waters of an aquarium, is an immense, languid whale shark, also solitary, whose shadow glides beneath. The architecture of the enclosing tank -- if a tank there is -- is barely suggested. There are no rocks or reefs looming behind the shark, and no clusters of fish circling past. Here and there patches of white stippling appear, and there is a suggestion of a diagonal band of white, a reflection on the glass, perhaps, or just a stream of light falling through the waters, but that's all. Nothing distracts from the stillness of the scene and from the lone figure's silent contemplation, or perhaps, from the mutual contemplation of man and beast.

The artist and graphic designer Tatsuro Kiuchi has issued a paperback volume, entitled Pen Still Writes, that is entirely composed of monochrome illustrations originally created to accompany serialized works, by several writers, that appeared in various Japanese magazines and newspapers. The book has no text, other than a brief description and biography (in English and Japanese) on the jacket flaps, as well as captions on the facing page (Japanese only) indicating where the illustrations first appeared. According to the flap copy all of the artwork was done in Photoshop.

Kiuchi is a versatile artist who has worked on a wide variety of commercial projects, ranging from children's books to postage stamps to ads for Starbucks, and he is perfectly capable of being warm and accessible when the occasion demands. But these serialized illustrations, especially when removed from their original contexts and viewed as a body, have an appealing mysteriousness. The human figures we see in them tend to be remote, their faces turned away or their features left blank; likewise the stippling effect adds a layer of distance between subject and viewer. Many of the pictures have a distinct retro feel, recalling vintage artwork from, perhaps, the old Highlights magazine of a few decades back, though they are far more subtle and ambiguous. I wonder just who is being caged in -- or out -- in the picture below?

Pen Still Writes is only available direct from the artist, who can be contacted through his website. I have written earlier about Kiuchi's fascinating (color) artwork for Hikaru Okuizumi's The New Journey to the Center of the Earth, which can be seen in a Flicker slideshow. More examples of his monochrome work, including several images not reproduced in the book, can be found at illoz.

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