Motomichi Nakamura

Today through Friday, the Japanese-born, Brooklyn-based, and internationally renowned artist Motomichi Nakamura is at SLU in conjunction with the exhibition Picto This!.  Motomichi is best known for his inventive character animations, prints, skate decks, and urban toys.

Many sticker artists work in other genres like decks and toys, which is why I have “08 Character Design” as a category on this blog – listed along the right hand column.  Matt Siren and Dalek, for example, are sticker artists represented in both the Picto exhibition with beautiful silkscreen prints and in the street art in Berlin exhibition with vinyl toys.  Motomichi has a skate deck and toys in the current street art exhibition, too.  All of which is to say there is a lot of blurry overlap, which is one of the goals of these two concurrent exhibitions.  I first saw Motomichi’s work at the 2009 Pictoplasma conference in Berlin (sorry for the fuzzy shot – it was taken from a video projection in a dark room).  Or the 2007 conference.  Now I forget.  [Berlin, xooxoxoooxxooo.]

I showed Motomichi my super kewl sticker collection today, and he recognized many of the political stickers from NYC, esp. from the GWBush regime.  It’s pretty rare in general to find someone so knowledgeable about specific s-t-i-c-k-e-r-s.  When I first told him about the collection, he asked about BNE, whose tags I am familiar with.  Nice.

Tomorrow, Motomichi will give a public lecture about his work, and on Friday, he will present a morning and afternoon workshop for students on character design.  Here is his description of the workshop:

“Character design as a branding and communication tool”

Although character design is often described as one more aspect of illustration or graphic design, it is a unique and distinctive art form that is strongly related to branding and advertising.  Step by step, this workshop will teach students how to communicate their ideas through the form of character design and create original and effective characters for commercial projects such as ad campaigns and toy design.  In class, hands-on drawing exercises, discussions and lectures will help students find their unique visual language style which will lead them to create their own set of characters.  At the end of the workshop each student will have a series of characters that represent the artist’s ideas and graphical style.

Morning (10:00 a.m. to noon): Exercise

– Short lecture about character design

– Drawing exercises

– Quick drawing exercises based on random themes

– Exercises to characterize the ideas

– Group discussion and critique

Afternoon (1:00 p.m. through 3:00 p.m.): Character Development

– Sketches, individual critique

– Final presentation and critique

And finally, here is what we put on the card for Picto This! (October 18 – December 10, 2010).

Picto This! is an exhibition that presents character-based art through designer toys, prints and skateboard decks—all expressions of a vibrant contemporary art movement that is global in scope and personal in attitude.  In this genre, artists, illustrators, graphic designers and animators create iconic cult-like characters that can be variously menacing, cuddly, one-eyed, authoritarian, soft, monstrous, lazy, hyperactive, spiky, friendly, loving, alien, childlike, vocal or mute.

Typically made of cloth, plush fabric, resin or soft vinyl, designer toys usually appear in collectible, limited editions that are marketed in large part to adults.  A sense of “cute” and “play” is readily evident in character-based art, which on the one hand appeals to a high-end urban underground audience.  On the other, such work has made its way to brand commercial airlines and also serves as mascots for 47 government prefectures in Japan.

Pictoplasma is a biennial conference in Berlin that includes artists’ lectures, screenings and roundtable discussions focused on character design.  Every Pictoplasma begins with a “character walk,” in which galleries are open to the public for visitors to see multimedia art installations, encounter large soft mutants on the sidewalk, or take photographs of their friends wearing oversized panda masks.

The “brain fathers” of Pictoplasma, Lars Denicke and Peter Thaler, write, “characters are not representations of living beings, but have a more animistic quality, of giving objects or mere thoughts the appearance of life.  As such, characters are often nothing less than projections of guardians to unknown territories and worlds.”