November 26, 2015

Prepare yourself to float away into a different world with a simple pen stroke from Japanese-born animator and graphic artist Joji Koyama. Master of the surrealist dreamscape, his landscapes are simultaneously strangely alien and comfortingly familiar. Following the fluid lines and shapes in his work is like surrendering to a rambling and aimless but beautiful dream. Having published two books, a colouring book called Elsewhere and a collection of visual stories called Plassein, Koyama is now working on a film in collaboration with musician Tujiko Noriko. We caught up with Koyama to discuss creative rituals, architecture and genre promiscuity.

UO: Tell us a bit about your story so far

It would be a complete lie to try to create a linear sense of how I got to where I am now, because I feel things have happened in a fairly chaotic way. Right now I find myself partly a filmmaker, partly a graphic artist (whatever that means) and partly a bunch of other things…

UO: What inspiration do you draw from your Japanese heritage?

I’m not sure I would call it inspiration- but there are certain Japanese sensibilities that have always been close to me whether I like it or not- I guess a bit like a language you grow up speaking.

UO: We love the surrealist dreamscapes in your work. What inspired the illustrations in Elsewhere?

I tried to think of it like travelling through a series of speculative architectural sites – so I looked at architectural drawings by Metabolist architects as well work by Yona Friedman, Lebbeus Woods, Archigram etc. I also watched youtube videos of the series ‘how things are made’ – I wanted to try and evoke the same kind of curiosity of watching how something is put together.. or destroyed.

UO: The book is punctuated with written interjections. Can you tell us a little about the idea behind the minimalistic narrative?

The interjections came into it as a way of creating a sense of the frames being part of some kind of journey without it being an overbearing storyline- I hope this is something that people can piece together in their minds. This is also why i wanted to use thin grey lines so that the line drawings are more like a guide, a ride that drives you around, but as you look out the window your mind can wander. I hope this book can be a useful tool for people more than anything else.

UO: Are there any themes you are repeatedly drawn to in your work?

My other recent book Plassein, which is a collection of short visual stories, has a preoccupation with matter and texture and seeing the world through the narratives of ‘things’ taking shape. Elsewhere has something of this but without the dark lens of Plassein and maybe with more optimism?

UO: You’re not only an illustrator but film-maker and animator. What’s your preferred artistic medium and why?

I’m not sure I have a preferred medium- I believe in medium and genre promiscuity! For better or for worse I feel I’m allowed to dive into different genres if it feels appropriate for the work or project.

UO: If you feel creatively blocked do you have any rituals to help get the juices flowing?