Naruki Kukita mixes classical painting with manga as hope for young people to “create whatever [they] want”
The highly unique paintings of the New York-based artist are incredible visions of the past, present and future of fine art.
- Joey Levenson
- 23 February 2023
If you’re a fan of both manga and beautiful men, then New York-based Naruki Kukita is going to be your new favourite artist. In combining the niche intersection of Western romantic painting, manga kawaii art and still-life male pulchritude, Naruki’s work has created waves across social media. While the works certainly contain a bevy of humour and fun, they’re also a stunning display of artistic talent and wit. “Most of my models are my friends,” Naruki tells It’s Nice That on where the entire process begins. “I’ll usually already have a concept and look for a model who fits the idea, but sometimes I get inspiration from a model and look for the best manga art to highlight the model in the best way possible.”
Naruki was originally inspired to work on the paintings because of his background studying art in Japan, where he’s born and raised. “I believe Japanese culture is hybrid,” he explains. “We import new things from abroad and mix with our own culture, so I grew up in anime manga culture but also I had Western academic art education.” The synthesis of Western and Eastern art and tradition is not a groundbreaking discovery, but Naruki’s work gives something fresh to the synthesis of the two cultures. “I thought mixing my artistic background on to one canvas could work,” he jokes. “But, I also believe art history is always related to technology and my painting could be the answer for VR or AR.” For Naruki, he wants to buck the trend in the art world of looking back in the past. “Let’s move to the future,” he proclaims.
The project will usually start in Naruki’s studio with a sketch of the model which takes around three hours, and the rest is done off reference photos. “During the sketching, I start to understand the model’s character and proportion, anatomy and what lighting is nice for them,” Naruki says. “It makes my vision more clear, because if I just take photos and paint from there, it would just be about copying photos and I don’t enjoy that.” For Naruki, the element of the live model is what inspires him. Playing around on Photoshop will decide the composition and colours, and then the rest is smooth-sailing classical painting from there.
One painting in particular which stands out for Naruki is of model and porn star Sean Ford. “His curly hair reminded me of Da Vinci, so I painted him as John The Baptist,” Naruki recalls. “I had him in my studio to sketch, but I remember I wasn’t happy with the colours on the animals and had to change it again and again.” Eventually, the application of rainbow colours brought the painting to some kind of harmony Naruki had been looking for. “All animals look towards that one point,” he says of the painting.
“Overall, I want the audience to find through my art that different styles can live in the same place,” Naruki summarises. “In the last 50 years, having layers and separating space on a canvas was popular like Sigmar Polke or Gerhard Richter, but I removed the layers on my painting.” It was a challenge for Naruki to break the elitist ‘glass ceiling’ of the New York art scene, rife with “racism, a wealth gap, homophobia and discrimination based on how you look,” he recalls. “So I want to remove the glass ceiling, and that’s why I don’t make layers on my painting. I don’t like that only kids from the top 20 per cent and rich families can go to an expensive art school, and they can get a ticket to be in the art world. I hope my art gives hope to young people to create whatever you want.”
Naruki Kukita: Matt Rides Pegasus (Copyright © Naruki Kukita, 2021)
About the Author
Joey is a freelance design, arts and culture writer based in London. He was part of the It’s Nice That team as editorial assistant in 2021, after graduating from King’s College, London. Previously, Joey worked as a writer for numerous fashion and art publications, such as HERO Magazine, Dazed, and Candy Transversal.