“When I’m drawing, the most important things for me are laughter and harmony.” These are not the first words one would use to describe the work of 19th Century Austrian painter Egon Schiele. They are, however, perfectly applicable to the work of Japanese illustrator Daisuke Nimura. “Nowadays I don’t use him much,” Nimura explains, almost sheepishly, “but he was my biggest creative ‘shock’ and influence when I was at school. I really tried to imitate his drawing style, and even did a little oil painting.”
Thankfully, Nimura’s work is less grotesque than his Austrian forebear. What might have been Expressionist and emaciated figures, contorted into hideous poses are instead simplified, charming examinations into humanity and our relationships. Nimura says he was also greatly influenced by the work of mangaka (Japanese cartoonist) Taiyo Matsumoto.
Certainly we can see a more direct influence in the expressions and activities of the subjects. But Nimura’s work is pervaded by a sense of peace and tranquility. Most of his works deal with static, portrait-style figures. Their simplicity makes them unmistakably drawn and immobile.
The cartoonish appearance of his work is unsurprising, given Nimura’s childhood. Born in Osaka, he started drawing early in his childhood, and at elementary school set his heart on manga. However, come high school the comic panels became newspaper pages and with them came an interest in design. “It was at high school that I decided I wanted to draw for magazines and adverts,” he explains, “so because of that I decided to go down the path of illustration.”
Commissions, understandably, form the backbone of Nimura’s professional life. He has drawn for everyone from IBM, to promote a new server, to municipal governments issuing earthquake warning notices. When asked if he has any favourites, he argues that as he likes all of his projects, choosing between them is difficult. “If I had to choose, though, it’s a toss-up between my newspaper advert for Gyunyusekken (Cow Brand soap) and the poster for Umecha Matsuri (Umecha Festival).”
In doing so, he highlights the two extremities of his surprisingly varied style. The former, showing a group of people (mostly) wrapped in towels pares down Nimura’s style into its component elements: humanity in all its slightly cheeky joy. There is no extraneous detail beyond those needed to show the age and sex of the people, and no colour beyond the characteristic thick black outlines — Nimura finds this level of detail “satisfying, and easy to understand”. Compare this with the festival poster, which portrays a huge crowd of revellers. Tourists, musicians, trick-or-treaters, designers, artists and cats all vie for attention in a tree-lined park overshadowed by skyscrapers in the distance. Selective use of colour adds to the visual onslaught, but keeps it from becoming uncomfortable. “I wanted it to be lively and packed full of fun little details,” Nimura says.
For his most recent commission, for the Kansai University of Welfare Sciences, the focus has been on friendship and childhood. While this subject matter is not exactly uncharted territory for Nimura, the fact that these works are animated is. “Animation is hard! I still have a long way to go before I can be very good at it,” he admits. Like most of his work, the animations are simple, but effectively portray the original idea. As an adult, Nimura says, “one ‘forgets’ everyday life. But when one is a child, they do all sorts of interesting things with normal objects.” The series is saturated in the block colours and sense of fun found in the Umecha Festival poster, but with an extra edge of childlike naughtiness.
Although he is clearly able to vary the content and colour to great effect in his work, Nimura’s style remains largely constant throughout his portfolio. He cites an early criticism for this: “When I started working as an illustrator but wasn’t yet at the point when I could live off that work, I drew in all sorts of different styles. A designer who looked at my work told me that it was good generally, but that as my style was inconsistent it would be difficult for people to rely on it if they wanted to commission me.” This advice was a turning point, and Nimura worked on putting his design experience into his illustration. “In design, I like simplicity, without unnecessary lines or embellishment,” he says. “That’s how I created my style today.”
This simple style is mirrored by a simple workflow: first he draws in pencil, then outlines in thick pen and scans, to create images that are clean and strong but still unmistakably hand-drawn. But despite his rather defined style, Nimura doesn’t attach any particular message to his work. Instead, he is happy “if people can look at my pictures and laugh, or feel peaceful or happy.”
He takes this free approach to the message further, to his inspiration: “I get it from all kinds of places. Television, music, the internet, walking down the street, talking to my friends… If someone has an idea that they think would work for an illustration, they tell me about it.” To this end, many of Nimura’s personal works feature references to popular culture. Among his portraits one can spot tributes to the album artwork of Nirvana’s Nevermind, as well as to the characters of Trainspotting, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and A Clock work Orange. “I watch a lot of films,” he explains.
The human connection underpins all of Nimura’s work, but is particularly evident in his recent project Lovers HYMN. The series, which is ongoing, features male-female couples in various poses. While at times not even touching, they are unmistakably together in their various scenes, be that an elementary school PE lesson or dressed up as Star Warscharacters. The simple drawing style helps here, as Nimura claims that “Lovers HYMN is not about someone specifically, but people generally, so that the viewer can recognise something and chuckle despite themselves, and find harmony in the everyday. To this I’ve tried to portray the love between two people.”
To laughter and harmony, then, we should add ‘love’ as a further aspect of Nimura’s work. At his own admission, his art style may be “very Japanese-person style,” but the concepts he portrays are universal.