Throughout art history – and history in general – a concept that has taken ahold of painters, illustrators and, more recently, graphic designers, is horror vacui. Derived from Latin, it means “fear of empty space”. Stemming from Aristotle’s idea pertaining to physics that ‘nature abhors a vacuum’ – in other words, nature contains no vacuums (because denser material surrounding it would fill the empty space) – the term has also been applied in a fine arts context to refer to excessive ornamentation. From traditional islamic art to the works of Jackson Pollock, horror vacui shows up in a wide array disciplines and time periods.
It’s this concept that runs through the oeuvre of illustrator Raisa Álava. Based in Bilbao, Raisa’s bold drawings are lavishly embellished with figures, objects and patterns that overlap, clash and unite on the page. “I fill up every space and overload it with information,” explains Raisa. “I tend not to focus on one aspect, instead I prefer to amuse the spectator with everything, like in the ‘Where’s Wally?’ books.” Part of her work’s appeal lies in its visual bombardment. As viewers, we’re not sure what the focal point is or where to start, and that’s just what Raisa wants.
Compositionally, the pieces are arranged in comic book fashion, and given Raisa’s influences, this is no surprise: “Comics, mangas and anime are big sources of inspiration for me. When I was a kid I used to make zines about my little sister in which I would invent other comic book-style characters. Most of them were sports players, and I’m still very interested in this thematically when I draw – though I’m not a big fan of exercise.” Studying Raisa’s illustrations, it becomes clear that movement is certainly a prominent element in her work. Figures dance, fight and jump across the space, almost as if jostling for position within the piece. Their forms often converge and entwine in a union of vivid colour.
Almost every hue and shade is evident in Raisa’s work, creating an aesthetic that is not just striking in its detail, but also in its intensity of colour. “I often change my palette because I like to play around and experiment with it,” Raisa says. Together, these aspects of her aesthetic frequently create an overwhelming image, bursting with information that is both figurative and abstract. “They strain your eyes,” jokes Raisa. But amidst the chaos, there is narrative. “I spend a lot of time working on this,” she says. “I’m always exploring different ways to compose my work, and how to incorporate symbolism. By repeating scenarios or making reference to the same character over and over, I’m attempting to connect every element.”
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