Reiko Murakami was born in Yokohama, Japan in 1982. She studied at the Rhode Island School of Design. She works as a concept artist and illustrator specializing in surreal fantasy and horror characters. Her website is reikomurakami.com.
Your works are often portraits of single surreal or fantastical characters, rather than illustrations of moments of action and interaction. Nonetheless, they seem to have a narrative feel to them. How important is story in your works?
Often I paint characters with unusual body features that hint at their background story. Their story is the reason I paint them. My storytelling is very subtle and ambiguous, and I prefer keeping it that way. I believe in my audiences and I don’t think it’s necessary to make everything absolutely clear.
What are some of your sources of inspiration? Are there particular illustrators, fine art painters, or films or games that have captured your imagination or influenced your work?
I do have many artists I admire, but the initial idea for a new painting always starts within me. I get one emotion I want to express, and as I work on my sketches I find influences of other artists. Lately I find Rebecca Guay and Scott Fischer in my work a lot. They were my instructors at SmArt School (smarterartschool.com) so it’s no wonder why. I am also influenced by some techniques in Japanese painting. The subtle gestures and facial expressions remind me of the paintings I saw in Japan when I was little.
Does your Japanese heritage come into play at all in your work? Do you draw inspiration from Japanese illustration traditions? Do you see any distinct aspects of art/illustration coming out of Japan currently? Do you see anything inherently Japanese about your work?
I do. For a long time I was trying to stay away from the influence, especially when I was in college, because I didn’t want to be labeled as “just another girl from Japan.” However, I have started to see them in my personal work lately. The more my work becomes personal, the more I paint with traditional Japanese heart. I guess I can’t deny who I am. It’s actually kind of funny because when I was working in Tokyo a few years ago, people over there said my work is so “Western.” Maybe my work is exactly who I am, neither completely American nor Japanese.
Your works seem to play a game between color and composition so that they never become too busy. Even in some of the compositions where there are hundreds of particles, you’ve chosen a very restrained color scheme, organized the particles into patterns of motion, and left generous negative space in the composition. Are these choices intentional or intuitive?
I spend a lot of time figuring out the composition. My subjects are still most of the time, and in order to make the composition feel active I need to use the negative space wisely. I usually have one theme to go for the painting, so I decide one dominant color for the theme. The secondary color is set based on technical aspects to make the color scheme work.
Your horror and non-horror works are quite different from each other. Your non-horror works are flowing and lyrical. Your horror works are grotesque and uncomfortable to look at. What is your attraction to horror?
I like painting horror creatures because it gives me freedom to express beyond the usual anatomical restrictions. My paintings are all about showing how I feel. My horror art is showing what I see in myself and that’s probably why you might feel uncomfortable looking at it.
Talk to us a little about your technique. Is your process entirely digital? Why do you prefer this medium?
Usually I start in my sketchbook with pencil for making thumbnails, but at the end everything is done digitally. I started painting seriously a few years ago, while working as a game artist. In game development, we use digital tools daily, so painting this way was a very natural thing for me. At this point in my career, I feel comfortable using Photoshop as a primary tool for a few reasons. The main reason is the flexibility I get from this tool. Even though the end result of my paintings is rather simple, I like exploring a lot during the process. The other reason is the variety of brush sets. I like having a charcoal or oil pastel look in my paintings, and Photoshop gives me the capability to achieve that.
What is your dream project?
I’d like to do a series of female creatures. I sort of started doing so, but it’ll be nice to make a solid body of work in the future. If I can make them into an art book, that’ll be very nice.
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