perjantai 30. marraskuuta 2012

Artist of the Month: Shimizu Yuko.

Konnichiwa guise!

November's artist is yet another Japanese. At first it looked like nobody was really interested in my Murakami Takashi post, but it has been climing up steadily.

I think I reviewed Shimizu Yuko twice in college. But the review from my first year is much better than the review from my second year. I read about her in an illustration book. Her work captured me immediately. I like that she can work both, modest themese and really sexed-up themes. And as some of you may have noticed by now, I really like sexed-up art (but yeah I can appreciate non-sexual art too).

Target and New York 2005.

Even without knowing that she was Japanese, I could have guessed it by the way she draws. The brush marks and the black ink makes it so obvious (even after all the computer editing). Like so many other Japanese artists, Shimizu combines fine art and comic art. It's up to you to decide whether it's totally tacky or not. Is it tacky to draw inspiration from the only excisting art form left in one's society? Well I'm a huge sucker for Japanese art/manga so of course I love Shimizu's work.

Shimizu's illustarations are something completely different from to the other illustrations (mostly commercial) one sees out there. The way she narrates news and hot topics in her work is rather remarkable. She addresses the topic from her point of view, rather than just illustrating the magizine's/writer's opinion.

Maybe it's not such a bad thing that Shimizu is drawing inspiration from Japanese drawing techniques. In 'Target and New York' we can see rather traditional Japanese calligraphy. Okay well maybe not exactly that traditional, but if you study the soles of the girl's shoes and the tyre of her bike you can see how very Japanese Shimizu's brush strokes are. She uses black ink like a manga-ka would, but in some way, her illustrations are more expressive than any manga I have ever read (gasp). I have read a lot of manga and yes I have seen some pretty extraordinary talents, but manga is still very restricted and there are a lot of rules about how one should draw and construct manga. Whilst Fine Art is more liberal. Even illustration leaves some room for the artist to be creative. I'm having a bit of a hard time trying to understand how Shimizu has managed to publish so many illustrations. I just don't see a big market for an illustration about a girl shaving her pubic hair and making a teddybear out of it, drawn in Japanese style (you wanna see that illustration). But then again maybe this style was popular back then. Never the less, Shimizu is a natural talent and that mirrors her work. The show stopper of 'Target and New York' is without a doubt, the angle. The angle is very dynamic, and don't you feel like you are lying on the ground and the biker girl is about to run you over? The angle is clearly made to address the viewer directly. 
The only colour in this piece is red, but it's very well thought over. The article is targeting New York, so Shimizu put a red target over New York. I imagine that that bridge leads to NY. That's all NY we need to see, the article will tells us the rest. Shimizu is just referencing to NY with the bridge and the city on the background. I prefer colourful art, so this is not one of my favourite pieces from Shimizu, but I like how the biker girl is sticking her legs out and how her hair is flying freely in the wind. Very dynamic piece, plus I hadn't seen an illustration like this before.

I'm just contemplating whether it's a good thing that Shimizu is making a commercial thing out of Japanese art or not. Murakami Takashi is doing exactly the same thing, but a little differently. Well anyway, illustrating is all about stories and commercialism. 'Target and New York' accommodates all the rules of good, commercial illustration: simple colouring, strong lines and an eye catching angle. And this piece works for both ways, it's an ad but it can also be Fine Art. In my opinion what could make this fine art, is the Japanese drawing technique. Shimizu clearly has drawn on both damp and dry surfaces to give the image some 'special effects'. Her lines are very clean and simple, it looks very Japanese to me. Personally I think that Japanese calligraphy and Indian ink, can make any art piece look fancy. Personally again, I think that most of Shimizu's pieces would work better as Fine Art pieces than simple illustrations. Most of her works are too detailed and decorated to be 'official' illustrations. Illustrations, especially for commercial purposes, need to be simple yet eye catching. Shimizu's pieces are way too fancy to be simple images ment to promote something. However perhaps it's a good thing that Shimizu is doing her fair share of showing what Fine Art can be like to the masses

Fujiyama Sakura-Fubuki 2006.
This next piece Shimizu made for a calendar to promote B&A boutique. Luckily Shimizu isn't all about calligraphy and manga-style, she can use colours as well. And she uses them rather well. She has downloaded her whole portfolio on her website and if you browse through it, you notice that Shimizu's pieces have become more colourful over the years. I'm especially fond of the pieces that don't have black lines anymore, now they are pink or blue for ex. They remind me a little of Disney Renaissance films. 
'Fujiyama' only has 4 primary colours, but add them to the dynamic image and you get a surprisingly vibrant piece. Grey and light pink go surprisingly well together. And those partly erased black ink lines just add to that Avant-garde idea this piece seems to be going for. I think it was rater cleaver to erase the outlines a little, especially the clothe's outlines. Makes them look more soft and vabric-ish. If Shimizu had kept the black lines really strong I fear they would have disturbed the look of the image because the rest of the colours are already so tender. The image itself is a lot of fun and in a way very cheeky. Here we have a sort of a Japanese Geisha-rock star who has come to spread her music throughout the Western lands. She is very proud of her heritage and country, but as a rock star she can also make fun of her culture and take advantage of it to make her look more exotic for the Westerns. I would definately wear this image on a shirt.

Blow-Up Nr. 1, The Bubble 2010.
 'The Bubble' is a good example of Shimizu's imagination. As I understand, this is her original idea, and not an illustration. Blow-Up was a show arranged by The Society of Illustrators. I got this quote where Shimizu explains how the Blow-Up pieces came to her:
"AD gave me a lot of freedom so I was able to play around and experiment with coloring, composition and imagery itself. Using this image as a starting point, I decided to create new pieces that play around with the definition of word ‘blow up’: bubble, storm blowing and explosion".
Overall, Shimizu's take on things is interesting. It seems to me that she would be able to take any subject, and create something of her liking from it. I'm not quite sure what the idea behind 'The Buddle' is, but the image looks great. I'm guessing someone is in a rush to orgasm and the others are holding them back. But this is just a wild guess, the image is rather suggestive though, in a modest yet obvious way. Shimizu must have spend hours, maybe even days drawing this image. Naturally the result is a-may-zaah. This piece is a superb illustration, but I could also see it blown-up and framed, like Fine Art. In 'The Bubble' we see some classic presention of Shimizu's detailing in the clouds and characters. It must have taken some training to get one's eyes to properly focus on the characters one is drawing. At least my eyes start to hurt when I stare at the thing I'm drawing/detailing  for too long. However I'm sure one gets used to it after one does it on daily basis. Anyway, this is not my favourite pieces from Shimizu, again, but I'm trying to direct your attention to the details and concentration Shimizu presents in this piece. It is a very powerful and detailed piece, and if I hadn't seen her portfolio, I'd say this must be her most detailed piece. However I have seen her portfolio, and I know that she is capable of doing even more detailed and fancier illustrations than this. 'The Bubble' is a great piece among the others, it's just the subject that baffles me. What the hell is going on in this piece!? Maybe that's why I like it so much, because it's so Avant-Garde and so, so Japan!

Playboy. Sex Story 2011.
I'm quickly showing you this. It's an illustration Shimizu did for Playboy in 2011. Again a piece that expresses Shimizu's attention for detail and it now has that colour outlining I was talking about previously. Really the girls are outlined with different shades of pink! Genious! It really reminds me of the 1990's Disney films (even though the concept of this illustration is so not Disney!). If you look at any Disney film from the 1990's, you'll notice that not once did the artist outline the characters with black! They always used colours, and the colours were always a shade darker than the character's skin tone, or the clothe's etc. Personally I'm really interested to try this one out, outline characters with colours. As for this illustration, it's very much for boys.

Butterfly Hunting 2012.
 And lastly, what Shimizu has been doing in 2012. Oui, this is not my favourite piece from 2012, but I like the etymology of this piece. It's very simple, girls are like butterflies, you want to catch them and preserve them so you can look at them for the rest of your life. Or is that it? If you look at the illustration closely you can see children playing on the background. So it's a play, the children are playing and trying to catch butterflies. It's a very sweet and actually rather nostalgic illustration. (Although I personally don't like the fact that the kids are trying to catch butterflies =/ I think all living creatures should be left in peace). But anyway, it is a nostalgic picture because who hasn't been chasing butterflies. The image's colours especially stress out the meaning of time and decay. Even the reds and the greens are all vashed out. Only the yellows are left vibrant.
Perhaps Shimizu wanted to direct the viewers eyes to the butterflies specifically. I just find it really charming how the person holding the net, caught the other kid too. Or perhaps they weren't aming for the butterflies at all, but for the kid. That's a funny idea, but in my opinion, kids would try to pull of something like that xD
In case you were wondering what technique she uses, Shimizu draws the image first with pencils and ink on watercolour paper. Then she does a little bit of shading and colouring until she scans it, and applyes the rest of the colours with photoshop. She does all the final touch-ups with photoshop too. This piece is just another example of Shimizu's photoshopping skills. It's beautiful, but I feel a little bit cheated that she didn't actually paint the piece herself, but resorted to multimedia. I like multimedia art, but personally I appreciate Fine Artists much more because they do everything by their hands and from scratch. Personally I think multimedia is cheating, you get all these wonderful effects and results with photoshop etc, but basically you didn't make the image yourself, a computer program made it for you.

If you go through her portfolio, you can see that Shimizu is not 'a one hit wonder'. Her themes are interesting and her palettes are interesting. The colours and the themes seem to be in perfect harmony in every piece of hers (and sometimes it seems like it's the colours that make the whole image look interesting. That the theme wouldn't look interesting without the innovative palette). Shimizu expresses a wonderful sense of fantasy and imagination in her works, but she also continues to drawn inspiration from reality. Her technique and style never changes, but there's a variation there, and that variation keeps the viewer/fan wondering what's yet to come.

I hope you enjoyed my review on Shimizu Yuko. Next I'm thinking about doing either Henry Darger, which would be really interesting, or Hergé O_o Although Hergé deserve a big review, like Tove Jansson, and I haven't done that much research on him yet. We'll see..

See you in Decembre! Thanks for reading!


tiistai 27. marraskuuta 2012

Autumn book club: The Salaryman's wife.

Hi guise!

So it's winter, hence this is my last book review. I may write book reviews again in the future, but for now, this is my last one. I like reading books, and it's such a shame that I don't have enough time to read new books anymore. Whilst I was in high school, I spend all my breaks reading books or drawing manga. One of the girls teased me by calling me 'Belle' because I always had my nose in a book ^_^ But I just don't have that kind of time anymore. This year I have read 'Let the right one in', 'The collector' (<- what a horrible book this was! Now I'm scarred for life!) and now I'm reading (reading very very slowly) 'Purge' by our pet author Sofi Oksanen.

Earlier this year, I reread 'The Salaryman's Wife'. However the first Rei book I read was the 4th book because the Finnish title 'The Deathly Manga' (english title The Floating Girl) had caught my eye. I was shopping in a discount book store and at that time I was really into anime and manga and I was studying Japanese. When I saw the manga character on the cover and read the index text, I had to buy it.  'The Deathly Manga' turned out to be really interesting, and the plot made sense, even though I had missed the first 3 books. What I really liked about the book though was Massey's insightful and vast depiction of Japanese culture. I had read books about Japan's language and culture on my own, yet I discovered bunch of stuff from Massey's books that I didn't already know about Japan. I learned something new about Japan from every Rei Shimura book =D My favourite Rei book is 'Girl in a Box' which is the 9th book in the series. I also like 'Zen Attitude' very very much, it's the 2dn book in the series. And of course I like 'The Salaryman's Wife' too.

There are 10 books in the series and 6 years ago Massey said that 'The Shimura Trouble' was the last. HOWEVER, earlier this year, she announced on her website that she is currently writing a new Rei Shimura book set in post-tsunami Tohoku. We'll just have to wait and see what comes out of that Rei book.
 I definately recommend The Rei Shimura Mysteries to everyone who's interested in Japan. 'The Salaryman's Wife' is the first book in the series.

Rei Shimura is a young Japanese-American woman in her late twenties. She was born in California and her mother is American and her father is Japanese. She has recently moved to her beloved Tokyo and works as an english teacher at Nichiyu (homeware company). However her real interest lies in Japanese antiques.

The book starts with Rei who's on her way to Shiroyama, a small village situated in the Japanese Alps. On the train she meets an American woman, Mrs. Chapman, who's also going to Shiroyama. Upon their arrival they meet the other guests and Mrs. Yogetsu, the rather unpleasant hostess/owner of the Minshuku (japanese B&B). When Rei goes to take a bath, she notices that the door is slightly jammed. Her bath is then interrupted by a gaijin (foreigner) man who misunderstood the women's bath for men's bath. Rei drives him off. She later meets him in the dining room. Hugh Glenning is a Scottish lawyer who lives in Tokyo. He's at Shiroyama to celebrate New Year's with his co-workers. His client Mr. Nakamura is there with his wife Setsuko, she is a very close friend of Hugh's. There's also a Japanese couple, Taro and Yuki, who befriend with Rei. Taro has come to Shiroyama to 'investigate' old crimes. 

Besically the opening is like straight from Agatha Christie's books, all the suspects have now gathered in the same place.
Later that evening Rei goes to fetch Mrs. Chapman for a moon light walk with the group. Hugh interrupts her search to apologize for disturbing her in the bath. They are interrupted by Setsuko who's on her way to the bath. 
The next morning Rei discovers that the door to the bath (The 'female' sign is on) is locked. When she finally yanks the door open, she discovers that a piece of paper has been keeping the door jammed. Inside she meets Yuki who says the door was locked all night last night and the bath area was left untidy. In the afternoon Rei meets Hugh and Mr. Nakamura who are searching for Setsuko. She has been missing since last night. Oddly Mr. Nakamura doesn't seem at all concerned that his wife has gone missing and so he goes skiing as planned. Rei wants to spend some time by herself, so she goes to take a walk around the garden only to discover Setsuko's body in the snow.
There's a police search and they ask Rei to be their translator for the time being. The police chief Okuhara is immediately convinced that it was a foreigner who killed Setsuko. Evidently someone had hit her in the head with a cover and thrown her out the window. Hence Hugh, Rei and Mrs. Chapman become 'primary suspects' (because a Japanese would never murdered anyone).

That was the opening. To me it didn't feel like the plot was going too slowly, because the murder occured in less than 40 pages. That's rather soon, and hey when you read a murder-detective novel, you're anxious to know who gets killed right? Meaning that the character/s will spend the rest of the book searching for the killer. That's pretty much the layout in this book, Setsuko was killed and so we'll try to figure out who killed her for the next 350 pages.

To get away from the depressing atmosphere at the minshuku, Rei goes shopping in the village and buys an antique mail box, later she finds Hugh in a bar. Long story short Hugh tells Rei that Setsuko wanted a divorce. The rest of that part Massey spends documenting her vast knowledge of Japan, nothing that's relevant to the plot though. 
Sometime at dawn Rei awakes to a terrible smell in her room. She realizes that the heater in her room is broken and it's leaking gas. Rei crawls across the room and tries to open the door, but it's jammed. Before she passes out, Hugh comes to her rescue. He carries her to his room and lets her sleep on his futon whilst he works. 

In the morning Rei and Hugh do a little investigation of their own. Rei is convinced that someone had tried to kill her, because she had told the police about the locked bathroom door and about the piece of paper she had found jammed between the door to the bath. They discover another piece of paper between Rei's door, which confirms that someone is trying to kill her. Hugh leaves for his meeting, but Rei follows him to the hotel and decides to wait for him at the bar. Later they share a taxi to the minshuku and this is where they share their first kiss. And later that night they have sex. Hugh leaves in the morning to go skiing with his collegues. Rei, still in his room finds the pearl necklace Setsuko was wearing the night she was killed. Rei decides to leave Shiroyama then and there.

That was 'the first act'. I'm now going to jump to the end because if I told you everything what happens in the book, I'd be writing this until next monday --_-- and you'd have stopped reading long since. In reality, nothing that relevant happens in the next 330 pages. Only pages 380-386 are important. We discover that Setsuko's husband had an affair with his secretary and Setsuko was secretly supporting her love child Mariko. Mariko (a bar-escort) thought Setsuko was her aunt. In the end, Setsuko was Mrs. Chapman's husband's girlfriend before he moved back to the States. Setsuko had Mariko and Mr. Chapman continued to support them from the States. Mrs. Chapman knew about this, but after her husband died, she discovered that he was spending the money reserved for their daughter, on Setsuko and Mariko. Setsuko contacted Mrs. Chapman to demand more money for Mariko so Mrs. Chapman came to Japan to talk to her in person. At the minshuku, she locked the door to the bath and accidentally killed Setsuko with the seat cover. Mrs. Chapman tells Rei everything and attempts to kill her. Hugh comes for her rescue again. TADAAH, that's how it ends. Mrs. Chapman killed Setsuko and Rei moves in with Hugh. Oh and that antique mail box Rei bought, it turnes out that it was a property of a Princess who lived on Shiroyama. Rei gains more publicity with the discovery and thus is able to begin her career in Japanese antiques.

Granted this book was way too long. The little bits in the middle, like when Rei went to the docks to find out about Mariko's father, was really dragging the story, not to mention all the bar scenes. Maybe it was necessary to make Rei invastigate all sorts of leads, to achieve that realistic feeling. The story is filled with these little bits that aren't necessary for the plot, although they make the story seem more real. Granted, she can't be like Hercule Poirot who just interviews people and lurks around and within 2 days knows who the killer is. In fact Rei wasn't suppose to do any detective stuff because she was an innocent bystander. However she sort of became one when Hugh sent her to Setsuko's wake. So I understand that Rei is primarily leading her own life, and on the side, tries to discover how Setsuko was linked to Mariko and who killed her. 

So perhaps it's Massey's writing style that slows down the plot. Scratch that, the plot keeps dragging because it's filled with unnecessary bits and pieces that really don't do anything for the story. Come to think of it, 'The Salaryman's Wife' seems more like a very long blog post, than an actual novel. Novel's should be sharp, and witty, and what can be left out, is left out. I regard the Rei series as lite entertainment and 'Japan lovers guide to Japan' than mind blowing literature. However that's what I really appreciate, Massey's bonafied knowledge of Japan. Whilst reading the books one will notice all the work and research Massey went through to get all the facts and customs of Japan right. I really appreciate that and like I said, from every Rei book I learned something new about Japan. Because the series is set in Japan, I'm able to enjoy it and disregard all the flaws the stories have. But it's not like I'm grinding my teeth when Massey is not talking about Japan. I like the plots and the characters and Rei...well she has some characteristic issues. She is made to look like she is really complex, whilst in reality she is very easy to figure out.

The only thing I find a little tacky about Rei, is the fact that she is almost literally, Massey herself. Massey used to live in Japan and she worked as an english teacher. She has dual nationality, just like Rei does, and Massey was (is?) really into antiques. Needless to say, Rei is a fantasy version of Massey. To me it is tacky when a writer has to lend their personality and quirks to their main character. It gives the impression that the writer couldn't come up with a better main character, so they put themselves in the book, so basically they are writing a fanfiction about themselves. I'm curious to know whether Rei really is a depiction of Massey herself, or is there a story of how Rei came to Massey? Don't get me wrong, I'm not saying there's something wrong about Rei. I actually identified with her a little in book 2, when I was 15. In my opinion, she is very mature for her age, perhaps too mature, and she's rather cold too. I'm in my mid twenties and I'm still rather childish, but perhaps that's one of my quirks. Rei on the other hand, is very much a grown up, although I think she has some real issues with men. But you won't see that until you meet all her boyfriend candidates.

I imagine that reading Rei books would be rather boring if we just followed the plot plot religiously, hence I like to think that the books are just stories of one woman's  life in Japan. And you'll love these books if you enjoy reading novels about Japan =)  I have 7 Rei books on my bookshelf and I'll keep rereading them. I even have Massey's autograph in my 'Pearl Diver' book. If you don't take it too seriously, literature-wise, I'm sure you'll enjoy this series!

I hope you liked this review on 'The Salaryman's Wife'. It was probably very wishy-washy, but I have been ill. And I'm still to write Novembre's artist review ^_^' Oh boy, I'm running out of time again. 

See you in a few days!!