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Yoshitaka Amano

by Michael Moorcock

I first became aware of Yoshitaka Amano's work in the early 1980s when he was illustrating and painting the covers for my own Elric books and the Japanese version of Behold the Man.  I loved his work, and thought that he, of all artists, had managed to capture the essential spirit of my characters.  Many other fine artists, such as James Cawthorn, Michael Whelan, and Robert Gould had depicted them, and I certainly should not wish to minimise their work, but for me Amano captured something no other artist had seen.
photo of article author Michael Moorcock wearing a cowboy hat
Michael Moorcock

I began to buy books of his work, and was astonished at their variety and beauty.  When a company produced a model kit based on one of his Elric paintings, it was the only representation of this character of mine I felt worthy to keep amongst my collection of original Art Nouveau and Art Deco figurines.  My only hope is that one day some artist feels an urge to make it in ivory, silver, and brass.  It deserves that kind of permanence.

It is striking how many of my favourite European and American 19th Century graphic artists were influenced by contact with the great Japanese printmakers.  Japanese art had an enormous influence on the illustrators who belong to what we call the Golden Age -- on Aubrey Beardsley, Ivan Bilibin, Harry Clarke, Kay Neilson, Willy Pogány, Arthur Rackham, Charles and William Heath Robinson, Sidney Sime, Théophile Steinlen, Adolphe Willette, and many Continental artists not as familiar to the American and British public.  Before that, Whistler and other Impressionists had studied Japanese art, and their influence is almost incalculable.  Equally that influence extended to many other arts, including pottery and metals.  Then at some stage, just as American rock and roll created British rock and roll, and was in turn influenced by British musicians, the Japanese began to incorporate European techniques into their own work.  Some, indeed, became almost completely European.

While I was a boy we had as a neighbor for many years a pleasant, rather shy man who was much liked in what was otherwise an entirely English neighborhood.  Few knew where he was from or what he did, but he was a good neighbor and a kindly man.  I used to say hello to him whenever we met and was always impressed by his geniality.  He apparently lived on his own, and no one knew how he made his living.  Then, years later, I came across an exhibition of mostly water-color paintings in which, to my astonishment, many of the subjects were not just local to South London and Surrey where I grew up, they were actually of the same street I had grown up in.  A little more enquiry and, of course, I discovered that the quiet, unassuming Japanese man we had all known was the painter of so many subjects dear to my heart.  His work was primarily in the European-American style, but with a delicacy and subtlety, which immediately marked it as Japanese.  Mr Matsuyama had lived in England most of his life, and had done much to help wounded sailors and soldiers discover their own talents during the First World War.  It was a bitter irony, symbolic of the injustice experienced by many non-combatants of both sides, that he was interned as an enemy alien during the second Great War.  Knowing none of this, all I could do to honour him was to purchase some of his paintings.  There was a beautiful painting he did of Mitchum Fair, one of the famous English travelling fun-fairs, created not long before I was born less than a quarter of a mile away.  There was another, a simple painting of a back garden which could have been our own, and one of a favourite Lake District scene.  I mention this to emphasise how we have been influencing each other for well over a century.

At some stage in the post-war period Japanese painters and writers began to rediscover or re-invent their own culture.  Yoshitaka Amano is one of the vanguard Japanese artists bringing a wholly fresh and ethereal sense of wonder to his world.  In conjunction with my work he has made something far greater than the original.

I had been influenced since a child by the great Japanese print and film makers, who worked in forms which so resembled the pseudo-historical, semi-mythological forms which I favoured.  My book The Entropy Tango was illustrated by Romaine Slocombe, a well-known French graphic artist, who is an obsessive collector of traditional Japanese prints.  It is no surprise to me that people who enjoy the great Golden Age illustrators of the West are hugely enthusiastic about Amano and his colleagues and followers.  There are close resonances in both the graphic and the written work, but I venture to say that none matches Amano at his delicate, gorgeous best.

Neil Gaiman, in his introduction to Amano's stunning 1999 catalogue Biten, called the artist's work 'confluence art,' suggesting that at the end of the 20th Century thousands of rivers had come together in a confluence represented by the likes of Amano.  Neil, who has worked with some of the best Western illustrators, made a superb collaboration with Amano in Sandman: The Dream Hunters.  I envied him the chance to work in the graphic-novel medium with Amano.

Restless as all the great innovators, Yoshitaka Amano has worked in almost every possible medium, painting and drawing, films, illustration, graphic novels, even stained glass.  I have seen none of the stained glass but I have no doubt that it is absolutely stunning.  I can think of nothing more beautiful that one of Amano's rich and elegant pieces enlivened with natural sunlight.

Born in 1952, Amano in 1967 began doing character creation for Tatsunoko Television, and in 1982 began illustrating for Hayakawa Publishing, as well as beginning his Twilight Worlds series in Hayakawa's SF magazine.  He was engaged in various projects including Katen, Imagine, and in 1987 the visual concept design for the game software Final Fantasy (where he is still concept designer).  In 1993 he first produced stained glass for the Kimie Imura Fairy Art Museum in Fukushima Prefecture, Japan.  His first lithographic exhibition was held in Tokyo in 1994, and his second in Orleans, France, in 1995.  That year he set up his studio in Paris.  He moved to New York in 1997 where he held the stunning and much-admired exhibition Think Like Amano.  He did stage, costume, and set design for Les Cherubins and continued his work on Vampire Hunter D with the Takarazuka Theatrical Company Snow Troupe.  His illustrations of The Tale of Genji, the classic Japanese novel, were published by Anzudo in 1997.  In 1998 he had a one-man exhibition in Brussels, and worked in collaboration with David Newman and the Los Angeles Philharmonic to produce an animated short film 1001 Nights.  He has continued in all these media ever since, constantly expanding his range and deepening his art.  Much as I hesitate to use what might be thought hyperbole, I believe Yoshitaka Amano to be a modern genius, whose work will continue to gain in world reputation the more he does and as the 21st Century progresses.  I feel deeply honoured to be associated with him, and only regret that his covers on my U.K. omnibus collections were not as well reproduced as they might have been; but even in the versions offered, they remain stunningly good.

As well as being a massive influence on other Japanese artists, Amano's images have inspired literature.  Certainly his pictures have sparked ideas for images in my own books.  It is hard to count how many others he must have influenced, through his illustration in books and animé, and collections and exhibitions of his own.  There is no doubt in my mind but that Amano has already joined the ranks of those whose work will last down the centuries.  If this is your first introduction to him, I envy you.  You are about to enter the presence of a genuine original, a master.

Old Circle Squared Ranch, Texas
May 2006

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