This blog provides reviews of art books, including recently published releases and old classics in the second hand bookstores. My aim is to help fellow art lovers build a collection of richly illustrated art books, with the help of discerning advice about the grandest visual treats and which books are mediocre. This blog mainly focuses on books about individual artists (old masters to modern). We can't all afford to collect original masterpieces, but we can all afford a good art book!

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Worlds of Amano

"Worlds of Amano" is a survey of thirty years of work by celebrated Japanese illustrator Yoshitaka Amano, who began working in anime at the age of 15. His work is a glorious fusion of some ancient and modern styles. His paintings variously include traditional Japanese motifs, some manga-style melodrama and very fluid line-work which is suggestive of an Art Nouveau flavour. This might sound like an eclectic mix of styles, but these three influences all stem from Japanese origins and Amano fuses them together in a cohesive way. Amano has a distinctive personal style that makes him one of the most popular of contemporary Japanese artists.

Like most prodigious illustrators, Amano has illustrated a great many books over a career. This volume does a good job of singling out the most sparkling and lively illustrations and drawing them together into a single satisfying collection. This survey shows the adaptability of Amano's art to both very traditional artistic enterprises (illustrating everything from operas to epic literary works) and to very modern usages (for video games, shlock fantasy stories and book covers). As editor Jean Wacquet says, Amano’s work breaks down some of the artificial barriers of the art world "between high art and popular culture". In later stages of his career Amano has branched into stage designs for theatre, lithographs and exhibitions in upmarket galleries in New York, London, Paris, Los Angeles and Berlin. But he remains an active contributor to the world of Japanese fantasy art. I have chosen this book for one of the first reviews on my blog, precisely because I believe it will appeal across a wide range of tastes.

This book was originally published in France (a country where illustration is held in highest regard) and has now been translated into English. This volume mostly features colourful acrylic and coloured ink paintings and a smaller number of silk screens and Indian ink works. Amano has a penchant for elaborate costumes and many of his characters are attired in traditional Japanese dress, renaissance European finery, the pantaloons and turbans of Arabian princes and medieval battlegear. And, like other artists before him, he cannot resist indulging in some paintings of nude women reclining - in Amano's case rolling in plush flowerbeds or among mangles of highly decorative bedsheets. One paradox of Amano’s work is that while human activity is always at the centrepiece of his work, his figures often have a wan and listless look to their faces, utterly lacking in personality – his characters often seem like tranquil whitespace amidst the maelstrom of decorative costumes and backdrops which he splatters around them.

The pages are reasonably large, not huge, but sufficient to do justice to the fine detail in these paintings. The chapters single out key illustrative achievements from his career, such as The 1001 Nights, his covers for magazine Shishi-O and his conceptual art for the Final Fantasy video game. The selection is a very good one. By comparison I’ve previously bought Amano’s book "The Magic Flute" (an illustrated poem inspired by Mozart) and that collection of work was a bit flat by comparison. "Worlds of Amano" picks out the gems from across a lifetime of experiment and achievement.

The one pity of this book is that there’s no proper biography anywhere besides a one page timeline of the main exhibitions and events in Amano’s career! I’d have liked to read an interview with the artist, or some discussion of his techniques or sources of ideas. The highs and lows of his career may also have been good reading and an inspiration to others. What space there is in this book has been given over to the many illustrations, but, sucker that I am, I won’t complain too loud about that.

Book specs:
Hardcover, 156 pages, 10.9 x 10.9 inches, 118 illustrations (mostly colour, some double-page spreads

Other books featuring Amano illustrations (I particularly commend "Dawn"):

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