Somehow I continue to get drawn to existential narratives, both in film and in print… Must be a sign of impending middle age? Regardless of where this curious preference comes from, it’s been fully embraced as long as it keeps suggesting or inspiring interesting imagery.
Here is a reimagining of the book cover design and illustration for one of Albert Camus’ timeless classics.
“[…] Most important is always to have a play back and forth, back and forth. Between the big and the little, the light and the dark, the smiling and the sad, the serious and the comic.“—BEN SHAHN
Had been wanting to design a book cover for Roland Topor‘s classic novel The Tenant for a long time, and finally buckled down to tackle it. A macabre, darkly funny tale of paranoia and existential angst, it was popularized here in the US by Roman Polanski’s 1976 film adaptation.
It has been a while since I’ve written something here, so please bare with me—my words might come out a little bit ruffled and/or rusty.
Having said this, hopefully it won’t be true of the new set of drawings I’ve been working on.
These were not commissioned, but actually started life last summer in my sketchbook as small experiments with visual puns and playful graphic shapes. The ideas that came out also reflected my current preoccupation with direct, bold visual storytelling through accessible metaphors—all peppered with tongue-in-cheek humor.
Humor is an element in my work that I’ve mostly tried to downplay or even suppress for several years, likely for fear of coming across as “not serious enough” as an artist or visual communicator. Of course this was probably never an issue for many of my heroes, Tomi Ungerer, Saul Steinberg, and Quino among them—all artists that proved that graphic humor can be infused with poetry and wit, while still tackling “serious” subjects; such as the tumults of daily life and their often inevitable existential challenges.
So, deciding to let the tone of the new ideas evolve naturally—and after telling my inner critic to go peruse some vintage cartoon books—the vehicle for the humor (and target of my admittedly twisted imagination) soon appeared trough the ballpoint haze…
Like any other New Yorker, I find myself staring at subway posters while I wait for my commuting train. Without getting preachy and seeming hypocritical, I often get baffled by modern advertising and its vacuous promises of ever-lasting bliss with products that often can barely fulfill their own intended function. Most crucially, there’s the underlying suggestion that the more we acquire or consume, the happier we could (or should) be, which of course rarely is (if ever) true.
Most of us are aware of this. And yet these glossy, pitch-perfect ads that seem to be concocted in a parallel but seemingly faultless world keep luring us into dispensing with our hard-earned cash, in exchange for some ever-elusive nugget of happiness that we’re apparently (inexplicably!) deprived of.
It’s a trap we can’t help but fall into, whether we’re aware of it or not. It poses an interesting conundrum, as well as certain questions of identity and self-contentment. Fitting fodder for the pseudo-ads and aforementioned visual puns that started emerging from my sketchbook—some of them reproduced here in their rawest form.
On a more technical note, I wanted to experiment with two-tone graphics—usually letting the second color highlight the emotional or conceptual aspects of each piece, while playing with the visual balance of the colors (and I certainly think of black as a color) on the page.
Another interesting but enticing challenge was to find ways to add visual variety and expression with that limited palette, and that’s where mark-making and texturing became essential ingredients in each drawing.
Making these images also reminded me of an important lesson that’s surely old hat to many seasoned creatives: let your work breathe and grow without trying to control its direction too much. The more you play and listen to your intuition, the more the outcome will surprise you.
As of this writing, I’m not sure whether there will be more pieces added to this series, but—as a whole—I consider them a breakthrough of sorts. They allowed my “funny bone” to resurface, and hinted at other directions to pursue.
For close to five years now, I’ve been wanting to do a comics adaptation of Franz Kafka‘s short story A Fratricide. It was one of those projects that I kept pushing into the back-burner due to lack of time (and a secret fear that I would fall embarrassingly short of doing it justice). During three weeks this past February, I finally gave in to temptation, and I’m pleased to say I’m quite content with the results.
Here’s the 8-page, mostly wordless adaptation in its entirety, starting with the first page at the top. (Feel free to click on each page to see it bigger.)
I’m very pleased to finally be able to share these eight watercolor paintings, which have taken me the better part of a month and a half to complete. They are the flesh-and-blood, rosy-cheeked incarnation of a series of black and white drawings I worked on back in October, which I posted and wrote about on a previous blog entry. (So if you get a burst of deja vu when looking at these, I’m the one to blame for that.)
With these series, which I’ve decided to title Drifting Closer to Home, I’ve tried to tackle the ordeals, perils, and reinvention of sorts that human beings go through when they leave their homelands to start life anew in a foreign country.
I recently decided, in a determined attempt to increase productivity and explore new visual ground, that I would do one finished drawing a day; regardless of how busy I am or where life decides to take me. Just make some time to take a plain white sheet of paper and a pen, and “take a line for a walk”, to quote Paul Klee. No self-editing allowed until an idea is fully represented, letting common sense go on vacation, and intuition and curiosity to take hold. And let anything (anything at all), trigger a concept or notion and let the line do its thing.
As with any course of action where parameters are loosely set, I had no idea how unexpected the outcome would be. I certainly didn’t even suspect these presets would quickly lead me to some of the most personal drawings I’ve ever done.