The artworks on this page were inspired by vintage photographs of young women and girls. In his East Meets West series (https://gavinmitchell.net/Monster-Book-for-Girls), British artist Gavin Mitchell paints over old vintage monochrome Japanese photos of girls and young women, adding western cultural elements from different time periods.
In the above photo, for example, the artist has painted in a few books that girls in the mid-20th century England might have been reading. The book that gives the painting its title, The Monster Book for Young Girls, was a popular series of short story anthologies.
In the portrait shown above, the folded edge of the paper at the top left corner is a kind of trompe-l’œil—that is, it is a painting of a damaged corner that is meant to give a 3D effect (and is not an actual damaged corner). Similarly, the artist is trying to recreate in his painting the fading caused by the passage of time and all the imperfections—the scratches, tears and folds—caused by the people who handled the photo.
In his News from Nowhere series (satoru-aoyama.com/artworks/series/news-from-nowhere), Japanese artist Satoru Aoyama adds his own drawing and embroidery to old newspaper photos. In the following artwork, the artist has taken an 1880 photo from the Illustrated London News and has used embroidery to colorize the clothing. He has also drawn over the print of the original, giving the woman in the portrait the face of modern-day actress Shailene Woodley.
In another piece from the same series, the artist transforms a picture of three Japanese dancing girls from the London Times Supplement (1874) so that is now features the three lead singers of the Japanese heavy metal band BabyMetal.
The three artists—David Mitchell, Takahiro Yamamoto , Satoru Aoyama—are all exploring themes related to time. David Mitchell juxtaposes images from different cultures and eras, Takahiro Yamamoto seeks to recreate the imperfections caused by the passage of of time and Satoru Aoyama updates vintage news photos with modern pop culture icons.
The photos are available in higher resolution (2048 x 1365) at:
Gavin Mitchell adds Western props to Japanese portraits while Satoru Aoyama’s updates old photos by transforming the subjects in the pictures into modern pop icons. Do these changes emphasize how similar people from different cultures and time periods are or does it emphasize their differences?
What do you think Takahiro Yamamoto’s purpose is in trying to recreate in his painting the exact look of vintage photos?
Find an old photo or postcard and add your own changes to it.
This article features works by artists showcased by the Tokyo-based GALLERY MAISON D’ART at Hong Kong’s Affordable Art Fair 2019. This gallery, run by Kisako Kimoto, focuses on artwork by female artists and/or with female themes/subjects.
Mayumi Konno specializes in low-contrast portraits of young women with delicate features, large eyes and neutral expressions. Overlaid on the portraits are monochrome teddy bears and/or ribbons. Some of the teddy bears are solid and are being held or clutched, while some are translucent and seem to be floating or falling. The translucent teddy bears cover one of the subject’s eyes like a veil.
This is from the gallery’s description of the artist:
She expresses longing for sure existence and closed world with fragile beauty like girls and cut flowers and so on.
The subject in each painting seems to be at the not-a-girl-but-not-yet-a-woman stage. My interpretation of the paintings is that the teddy bears and ribbons are reminders of childhood (e.g., innocence, playfulness and the feeling of being cared for), and that these reminders can serve as a form of comfort as one is entering adulthood, a time when feelings of uncertainty and vulnerability are all too common.
With one eye, she can see the clear reality of life, while with the other eye she still sees things through the tinted lens of childhood innocence.
The overlay effect she uses is inspired by computer illustration, but her paintings are…well…paintings (not computer illustrations).
Mini-bio: Mayumi Konno is a self-trained artist who is now based in England. Besides participating in solo and group exhibitions, she also works as an illustrator and writes fiction.
Ryo Takahashi’s work tends to focus on nature and portraits of females. One series of paintings he has been working on features a girl and red birds.
To the artist, the red birds represent a duality. On the one hand, they can represent love, luck and happiness, while on the other hand, they can represent worldly desires, evil and tragedy. Children experience all of these things—the positive ones and the negative ones. They can try to catch and hold on to the positive things and try to let go of or escape from the negative ones, but these positive and negative things are all a natural part of life.
One thing I find interesting about the artist’s style is that although he is using ink and pigment, his birds are very textured (almost like oil painting).
Mini-bio: Ryo Takahashi has participated in many solo and group exhibitions since he graduated from Osaka Designer’s College was born 2003. In 2006, he went to study in Hungary for two years and has been active in the Tokyo and Osaka/Kyoto art scene since then.
Satoko Watanabe creates dreamy, ‘mostly’ abstract paintings inspired by she shape and colors to be found in gardens—flowers, leaves, pots and roots. GALLERY MAISON D’ART offers the following brief introduction to her work:
In the garden full of green, flowers and light, she always seeks out ‘the key of light’ that connects the garden and the atelier.
Mini-bio Satoko Watanabe was born in Nara (the town near Osaka and Kyoto that is famous for its freely roaming deer). She graduated from the Kyoto City University of Arts in 1986 and is associated with Gallery Haku in Osaka.
This artist uses an unusual technique when creating her dream-like abstract (mostly!) works—much of the brownish, watery background colors are coffee, and then much of the line work is done with ball point pens.
On her website, she describes the central themes of her work:
The theme of my work is the depiction of organic matter. I try to pursue that moment of when the soul is released from the body. Within each image, I deconstruct these forms, rearrange them and then put them back together, inserting a new soul. In this way, I want my work to express a world in between reality and the imaginary.
This short video shows her pen technique:
Mini-bio: iwata mayuko lives in Nagoya City. She graduated from the Nippon Designer Academy of Fine Arts in Nagoya, worked for a while in advertising and started her career as an artist in 2009. She is associated with Gallery Tatsuya.
This artist’s work are visually striking and instantly recognizable, but I find them unsettling. His paintings feature young, babyish, doll-like girls lounging in photo-shoot style poses, often somewhat provocatively and sometimes blatantly erotically (the ones on this page are ‘clean’ ones). The girls have grayish skin and blank expressions that contrast with the wildly-over-the-top cutesy backgrounds and create a decadent atmosphere.
Given the erotic nature of some of his work, I feel that this is one of those situations where it is difficult to tell if an artist is criticizing a problem—in this case the sexualization of children—or contributing to it (or doing both at the same time).
Mini-bio: Yoichi Nebashi was born in Nagano Prefecture and is a self-taught artist. He has been participating in group and solo exhibitions since 1997, and in 2013 he published his first book of artwork.
GALLERY MAISON D’ART also works with French artists such as Elisabeth Fréring. This artist has a minimalist, dream-like style. She uses simple materials—such as pencil and watercolor, as in the following portrayal of a she-wolf— and a lot of blank space. Fréring states that the silhouettes and vague shapes in her artwork “are reminiscent of residue from images, readings, personal obsessions” and are awaiting metamorphosis.
Mini-bio: Elisabeth Fréring was born in Argenteuil (near Paris) and graduated from the Artes Aplicadas y Oficios Artisticos School in Valencia. She lives and works in Strasbourg.
This section includes discussion questions, an art challenge and links to online photo galleries and websites.
The photos are available in higher resolution (2048 x 1365) at:
The Bill Reid Gallery of Northwest Coast Art in Vancouver features works by the renowned Haida artist Bill Reid (as well as works that commemorate his life) and provides a showcase for indigenous Northwest Coast artists.
The full set of photos can be viewed at a higher resolution (e.g., 2048 x 1365) here:
Northwest Coast Art refers to the style of art created by artists from First Nations tribes of the Northwest coast of North America such as the Haida, Heiltsuk, Nuxalk, Tsimshian, Kwakwaka’wakw and Nuu-chah-nulth. Traditionally, the style often features heavily stylized motifs of animals (e.g., wolves, bears, ravens, eagles, orcas) humans and mythological figures in combination with re-occurring shapes and patterns. In more recent years, many artists have been creating more personal, expressive and abstract works.
About Bill Reid
Nowadays, Northwest Coast Art is considered an important part of Canadian culture. If you visit the province of British Columbia, for example, souvenir shops are full of designs by the region’s indigenous artists, but this wasn’t always the case. Bill Reid (1920-1988) was influential in bringing indigenous art into the mainstream in Canada.
Bill Reid was born in Victoria, British Columbia in 1920. He was the son of an American (of Scottish-German ancestry) father and a Haida mother. His mother, however, had been educated in church-run schools that at that time sought to anglicize indigenous children. As a young woman, she did not openly reveal her ancestry. As a result, Reid only started to become vaguely aware of his indigenous ancestry when he was in his teens. When he was 23, he visited his mother’s hometown of Skidegate, where is met his maternal grandfather, Charles Gladstone, who had jewelry-making and carving skills, and whose uncle, Charles Edenshaw was an important 19th-century Haida artist.
During his twenties, Reid went about his life, working first in broadcasting and then moving into jewelry-making, where he first started incorporating Haida-influenced designs into his work. Starting from his early thirties, he immersed himself in learning about Haida art, studying and copying traditional designs and experimenting with a variety of mediums: word carving, lithography, sculpting and metalwork.
In the late 1960s, he started adding more of his own personal touches while retaining a distinct Haida identity. He gradually became one of the most well-known and respected artists in Canada.
Thus, his life and career reflected (and were an important part of) a long process of reconciliation in which indigenous culture went from being repressed and nearly forgotten to being celebrated as a vital part of the national identify.
Bill Reid’s Artworks
The gallery features many of Reid’s works. His most famous large-scale pieces like The Spirit of Haida Gwaii (which is featured at the end of this article) are not in the gallery, but there is a good representation of his work across different mediums.
Art in Memory of Bill Reid
The gallery also features works created to commemorate Reid’s life.
Art by Contemporary Indigenous Artists
The gallery also showcases recent works by Northwest Coast Artists, many of whom bring a more modern feel to their work, while keeping it tethered to traditional styles and symbols. Here are five of the works that were on display when I visited:
The Spirit of Haida Gwaii—at the Vancouver International Airport
This bronze-cast sculpture is Reid’s most famous work. It is not in the gallery, but if you have flown out of Vancouver International Airport you will have seen it. It features 13 mythological figures in a canoe and was inspired by 19th-century argillite carvings of canoes packed with animals, mythological figures and humans.
There are two versions of the sculpture. The first was commissioned for the Canadian embassy in Washington. That version has a glossy black patina reminiscent of traditional argillite carvings. This second version was commissioned by the Vancouver International Airport Authority and occupies a prominent place in the Departures Hall. This version has a patina that evokes the emerald green jade of British Columbia.
Who are the figures in the canoe? Let Bill Reid explain:
Here we are at last, a long way from Haida Gwaii, not too sure where we are or where we’re going, still squabbling and vying for position in the boat, but somehow managing to appear to be heading in some direction; at least the paddles are together, and the man in the middle seems to have some vision of what is to come.
As for the rest, they are superficially more or less what they always were, symbols of another time when the Haidas, all ten thousand of them, knew they were the greatest of all nations.
The Bear, as he sits in the bow of the boat, broad back deflecting any unfamiliar, novel or interesting sensation, eyes firmly and forever fixed on the past, tries to believe that things are still as they were. The Bear Mother, being human, is looking over his shoulder into the future, concerned more with her children than with her legend. After all, they wandered in from another myth, the one about Good Bear and Bad Bear and how they changed, so she has to keep a sharp eye on them.
Next, doughtily paddling away, hardworking if not very imaginative, the compulsory Canadian content [the Beaver], big teeth and scaly tail, perfectly designed for cutting down trees and damming rivers.
And here she [Dogfish Woman) is, still the ranking woman of noble birth, yielding no place to the pretty Bear Mother. In spite of her great cheeks like monstrous scars, her headdress reflecting the pointed shape of the dogfish head, and her grotesque labret – in spite of all these, the most desirable and fascinating woman from myth-time. More magical than the Mouse Woman, as mysterious as the deep ocean waters which support the sleek, sinuous fish from whom she derives her power, Dogfish Woman stands aloof from the rest, the enormous concentration of her thoughts smouldering smoke dreams behind her inward-looking eyes.
Tucked away in the stern of the boat, still ruled by the same obsession to stay concealed in the night shadows and lightless caves and other pockets of darkness, in which she spends her immortality, the Mouse Woman lost her place among the other characters of her own myth, an important part of the Bear Mother story, and barely squeezed in at the opposite end of the boat, under the tail of the Raven. No human, beast or monster has yet seen her in the flesh, so she may or may not look like this.
Not so the Raven. There is no doubt what he looks like in this myth-image: exactly the same as he does in his multiple existences as the familiar carrion bird of the northern latitude of the earth. Of course he is the steersman. So, although the boat appears to be heading in a purposeful direction, it can arrive anywhere the Raven’s whim dictates.
A culture will be remembered for its warriors, artists, heroes and heroines of all callings, but in order to survive it needs survivors. And here is our professional survivor, the Ancient Reluctant Conscript, present if seldom noticed in all the turbulent histories of men on earth. When our latter-day kings and captains have joined their forebears, he will still be carrying on, stoically obeying orders and performing the tasks allotted to him. But only up to a point. It is also he who finally says, “Enough!” And after the rulers have disappeared into the morass of their own excesses, it is he who builds on the rubble and once more gets the whole thing going.
The Wolf of the Haidas was a completely imaginary creature, perhaps existing over there on the mainland, but never seen on Haida Gwaii. Nevertheless, he was an important figure in the crest hierarchy. Troublesome, volatile, ferociously playful, he can usually be found with his sharp fangs embedded in someone’s anatomy. Here he is vigorously chewing on the Eagle’s wing while that proud, imperial, somewhat pompous bird retaliates by attacking the Bear’s paws.
That accounts for everybody except the Frog who sits partially in and partially out of the boat and above the gunwales: the ever-present intermediary between two of the worlds of the Haidas, the land the sea.
So there is certainly no lack of activity in our little boat, but is there any purpose? Is the tall figure who may or may not be the Spirit of Haida Gwaii leading us, for we are all in the same boat, to a sheltered beach beyond the rim of the world as he seems to be, or is he lost in a dream of his own dreamings? The boat moves on, forever anchored in the same place.
Which of the works presented on this page are most attractive to you? Why?
Why is it important to preserve, celebrate indigenous cultures?
The issue of cultural appropriation is a hot topic these days? Do you think is is OK for non-indigenous artists make use of indigenous styles and symbols? If so, what can such artists do to show they are inspired by a culture rather than appropriating that culture?
Create a work painting, drawing, sketch, sculpture or mixed media piece that represents a myth from your ancestry or nation.