Ei Kaneko is a Tokyo based artist who creates moody and disorienting portraits with graphite. It’s clear that the majority of the work is hand drawn but what’s interesting is how we automatically assume that computer software played a role in it’s creation, when in fact all the work is assembled solely by hand. His black and white drawings not only are full of mysteries and poetry but also full of references. Read below for the full interview…
Who are you?
Ei: The first thing that came to mind was my name. I guess it all comes down to your name, the ultimate identity. My name is Éi Kaneko, my first name pronounced like the letter ‘A’. I don’t think anyone has ever got it on their first try.
Image inter-juxtaposition…..what is that to you?
Ei: Quite simply two different images brought together on a single plane to produce a third image, a third reality. To me that ‘third’ eye is the spark of possibility and one of the subjects of my investigation.
Tell me more about you and eagles falling from the sky.
Ei: I initially did the eagle picture upright, then flipped it when I framed it. I don’t do it with everything, but flipping an image is like flipping your state of mind; I find it refreshing. When it works it works, and its liberating to be able to view the picture as it is presented, rather than having a fixed idea on how things should look. Since my drawings are somewhat detailed and realistic, I try to find ways to keep that flexibility of imagination.
How many layers of marks does it take to make a fully fledged bird wing, and what is more labor intensive, bird wings or human hair or something else?
Ei: Bird wings by far. I find animals labor intensive in general. Something like hair, or doing dark fill-ins, is labor intensive but is really just repetition. You get to a point where you’re in a trance and you’re not thinking about anything and just making lines. Every new piece I do now I try to make darker, in terms of layering. I try to spend as much time as possible on a single piece or else it just lacks depth, and you can see it when it does. So even for smaller sized work I would try to put in as much time as I would on a larger one, because I like to think that the labor aspect plays a role in my work. It adds depth in texture and a sense of time, like an old sidewalk or and old bridge.
I recently read a book by John Fairfax, an English adventurer who rowed across the Atlantic alone. He tells the story of how it all happened with excerpts from his log, and he would row for and average of 8-12 hours a day, for about six months. Totally insane! While his feat is far greater than mine and I was inspired by what man can edure to achieve his goal, I relate to the repetition of movement, the Zen, if you will, of just doing it and doing it and doing it…
In the Mexican culture Owl’s symbolize death. What do they symbolize for you?
Ei: I don’t incorporate symbolism in my work, but for me they symbolize tranquility.
Akira Kurosawa or Shunji Iwai?
Which piece of yours was most labor intensive in terms of wildly precise mark making?
Ei: The sea turtles! They were a lot tougher than imagined. Every detail was unique, very random.
Why graphite and what is your favorite kind of graphite sticks or pencils to work with?
Ei: I like graphite because it’s not permanent, and its characteristic of easily smearing, and getting messy, especially with the darker, softer graphite which I use most. When you erase something bad it feels like you just had cancer removed. When you erase something good it feels like you lost an arm. When you erase an entire picture it feels like someone died. The fact that it’s so vulnerable makes the picture feel more alive, like a living creature with a will of its own. I like to think of my work as more than a two-dimensional image, but as an object, paper and graphite with physical characteristics of their own. So in a way it makes the picture feel more like something living, more alive.
Do you feel your work is minimalistic or is that too reductive a statement?
Ei: Although collage in general is usually associated with Surrealism , and some people find my work more scary or undecipherable than minimal, I would say my work is deeply rooted in minimalism. I think minimalism is often misunderstood as a style, but it’s a concept, a way of approaching something.
What’s your favorite anime?
Ei: I’m not really into anime but I like Hayao Miyazaki films. How can you possibly hate? He’s marvelous.
Want to keep tabs on all of Mr. Kaneko’s work? Visit his official site below: