Bursting with colour and detail, artist Marie Mohanna’s illustrations depict moody and often empty landscapes that feel like abandoned film sets. Spurred on by her early interest in the Japanese art of Ukiyo-e, and sketching lessons in the grounds of the Musée d’Orsay and The Louvre as a child, Marie discovered that she had a deep fondness for the scenery and architecture of her illustrations, and not so much the characters within them: “When I was working on my first graphic novel I realised I was way more into drawing the surroundings than the people,” she explains. “So much so that sometimes I found myself thinking that my characters had ruined my decor – almost as if it was easier to express myself through the scenery than the figures… I eventually realised I had a real thing for landscapes and architecture and I embraced it fully.”
Other areas of Japanese art also influence Marie’s practice. Growing up in the 90s on Sailor Moon, Fist of the North Star, Ranma 1/2 and Pokemon, she spent much of her childhood recreating various elements of these shows in her drawings. However, worried at the end of high school that her illustrations wouldn’t make her a living, she decided to study law with hopes of becoming an auctioneer. “I hated it and, a short time later, gave it up,” she tells It’s Nice That. Eventually returning to her first love, she embarked on a new course in graphic design, illustration and typography, and now works as a freelancer in these fields.
Thematically, Marie says her work explores mythology, symbolism, fantasy and folklore. “I like to place eerie elements in realistic and empty landscapes to give new levels of interpretation,” she says. These focal points are accompanied by the artist’s investigations into colour, which involve developing bizarre palettes to create mysterious atmospheres that are often ominous in their desolation. This aspect of Marie’s work references old science fiction and fantasy movies and comics, where colours, shapes, layouts and architecture “endlessly inspire” her.
The process of creating these scenes begins initially in the medium of writing. “When I have an idea or a desire to experiment with a new palette or layout I will first write them down,” Marie says. They begin to visually manifest as she moves to her sketchbook, where basic outlines and compositions will start to take shape using markers, pencils and a rubber. As the illustration progresses and she polishes her geometrical linework using a graphic tablet, Marie will continue to change her mind a lot. This applies to her colour palette too, which she will “figure out on photoshop, so I can alter it whenever I want to”.
Speaking on her future projects, Marie says she plans to release a book of serigraph prints of landscapes and cityscapes taken from a trip to Japan with Terry Blue Publishing. A new graphic novel is also in the pipeline, as well as an illustration for Palais de Tokyo that will be shown in April and an exhibition of her work at ELCAF in London next June.
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