Artist Kenji Aihara discusses his work on the 2022 FUSO calendar and how he gives form to his imagination.
Calendars are an important part of Japanese culture. It’s a traditional gift for Aisatsu, an end-of year greeting, where companies connect with their clients (often in person – pre-Covid) to reconnect and reflect on the year coming to a close. Eat has been working with Mitsubishi Fuso on its calendars for a number of years, but for 2022 we did things a little differently and worked with artist Kenji Aihara on a unique piece of work. The calendar reflects the company’s deep roots in Japan and its ambition for the future. Its pages are adorned with vibrant illustrations of Japan’s cityscapes and countrysides, with connected roads in which our FUSO vehicles proudly roam. These illustrations delicately balance reality and fantasy, pulling us into an exciting, almost dream-like world. How does alluring art like this come about? We talk to Aihara-san to find out, stepping into the mind of the artist.
My father was a garage mechanic, so I grew up surrounded by a variety of vehicles. On days the service garage was closed, time was spent playing inside, climbing into the back of customers’ trucks.
The love for driving continues. One particular stretch of road in Atsugi city, south of Tokyo, remains a favorite regardless of the season. As you ascend the hill just past the train station before crossing the bridge, the Tanzawa mountain range suddenly bursts into view through the windscreen. It’s a truly magnificent scene of Mt. Oyama’s beautiful shape, resembling Hawaii’s Diamond Head.
THROUGH AN ILLUSTRATOR’S LENS
Ever since childhood, I’ve enjoyed drawing. Because of this, it was only natural to study art. After graduating from Musashino Art University, a career drawing presentation materials for a design company commenced, before becoming an independent artist in my early 30s.
Drawing with the correct perspective is something I’ve been mindful of since university. At the same time, drawing ‘correctly’ simply for purity’s sake is no fun. Illustration involves exaggerations and abstractions. Intentionally ignoring the rules of perspective brings reality closer to fantasy, making it easier for viewers to correctly interpret the idea within the work.
"Intentionally ignoring the rules of perspective means bringing reality closer to fantasy, making it easier for viewers to correctly interpret the idea within the work."
Remaining aware and conscious of breaking the rules, it’s also important to depict things in a way viewers will feel comfortable with. An illustration should immediately establish a clear scene and sense of perspective.
Perspective is not the only place a perception gap arises between reality and the imaginary. For example, somei-yoshino cherry blossoms in actuality are almost pure white in color. However, in illustrations they are often depicted as pink. To create the association between the illustrated flowers to actual cherry blossoms, artists fill that perception gap by coloring the flowers pink. Selecting colors that viewers ‘expect’ to see is an integral part of my design process.
AN ARTISTS’ TOOLS
After using traditional pen on paper, the initial sketch is scanned and digital work begins. Retaining an analog look, I can continue to work in much the same way as my early days.
Another benefit to working digitally is that by zooming in, you can add endless amounts of detail. However, at times I find myself putting in details so small they aren’t visible when the work is actually printed.
INSPIRED BY JAPAN
The inspiration for the six illustrations in this year’s Mitsubishi Fuso calendar come from the beauty and richness of Japan’s vast landscapes.
A sense of the season and unique location are emphasized in each work. By laying them out side-by-side, the roads in each illustration link, making them appear to be one continuous landscape. Additionally, when viewed from a distance, letters emerge to reveal a visual secret hidden within the images.
While the subjects of the illustrations are based on real places and seasonal traditions, the goal is to depict them as they are recollected and reshaped in my imagination and show how the vehicle is integral to the world around it.
So what’s the key to creating compelling art? After stepping into the mind and process of Kenji Aihara, it seems that great art is equal parts memory, imagination and conscious decision making, supported by control over one’s tools - a balance of logic and magic that creates craft that moves people.