Eri Aikawa views her illustrative practice as a safe space “away from the dangers of the world”
The Japanese illustrator uses her medium to express herself and her own unique view of the world – as well as to draw the shiniest hair we’ve ever seen.
- Ayla Angelos
- 24 November 2021
It’s no secret that a person's childhood can have a great impact on their future career. And when Eri Aikawa was younger – “an average student with an interest in drawing, playing GBA and watching cartoon re-runs” – she would take part in an annual poster making contest at school, winning the top prize every year. “That’s when I realised I might be good at this,” she tells It’s Nice That. “I definitely got my love for art from my mum; she would draw mostly women and it would resemble a 50s fashion magazine catalogue. She’s my inspiration.”
Born in Yokohama, Eri was raised predominantly in Bacolod, a small city in the Philippines. She’d spend summertime with her father in Japan, while the rest of her free time was soaked in anime, manga and Archie Comics. A timid child, she found solace in Japanese graphic novels and eventually went to La Consolacion College to study oil painting. “Growing up in a third world country, it’s risky to go through the artist route. I’m just grateful to have supportive parents to continue on with my passion.” However, during her time at university – and after becoming somewhat active in the art and gallery scene – she realised a traditional education route wasn’t the right path for her. So much so that she moved back to Japan in 2015, started working at KaiKai Kiki under Takashi Murakami on painting staff, and released a few projects for publications such as Nylon.
Despite this success, she says: “I still view my art as a work in progress. I try to become better every day by constant practice, and I intend to keep on doing that because no one is truly finished with their journey in art. I don’t want to stay idle with what I do, I want to keep evolving until I’m done in this world.”
While still evolving, Eri has unleashed a unique illustrative style that’s both colourful and glossy; it’s one that’s undeniably her own. She draws female characters – just like her mum – and applies the shiniest looking hair we’ve ever seen. Oftentimes these characters will be doing normal activities like painting their nails, smoking and eating food, but what makes them stand out the most is their fashion, makeup and, of course, their sass. Y Eri’s manga and anime influences are clear while looking at her portfolio, not to mention the fact that she grew up in the 90s to mid-2000s surrounded by J-pop, Cartoon Network, Nickelodeon, Disney, Bratz dolls, Barbie, Furbies and Girl-tech gadgets.
When asked to pick out a few of her favourite illustrations, Eri points us first in the direction of 2000s kid. A scene depicting her subject falling asleep at her desk mid-doodle, it’s a familiar setting for all millennials: star-shaped hair clips, homework, a pencil with a bear on the end. “This is basically what my childhood looked like,” she says. “Falling asleep while trying to study for a test which I probably failed. These are the items I used to own; I loved collecting stationery that I never used. I still have them today.”
Next, she refers us to Futago, an illustration crafted for the Power of Numbers 6 show in Gallery Nucleus, Portland. The title translates to “twins” in English and, just like the rest of her work, is also inspired by anime. Featuring a rose-bud border and a shiny chain connecting the two subjects, she adds: “This is one of those cases where I just draw what’s inside my mind without much further thought.” Just Girly Things II, on the other hand, is a pivotal piece for Eri as it was the first time she’d experimented with both digital and analogue techniques. “I used a lightbox to sketch and colour it using procreate. I have a fascination for pinup, Playboy magazine and pulp covers. This is basically my take on stripping off the sexuality and making it look mundane or at least give it a chiller vibe, as opposed to the glamour and sexuality that’s usually portrayed by women.”
Eri views her work as a safe space and a place in which she can express herself freely. Describing herself as “not good with words”, she instead refers to art as her means of communication – using it to spread her messages and in turn, build “a place away from the dangers of the world". She concludes: “I want art to be cozy, not just for the audience but for the creator as well. I want the process to be as pretty as the outcome.”
Eri Aikawa: Seance (Copyright © Eri Aikawa, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla is currently covering Jenny as It’s Nice That’s online editor. She has spent nearly a decade as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.