Rubbery skins and wobbly reflections feature in Unpis Wa’s velvety illustrations
We chat to the Fukushima-based artist about the ideas behind her humorous work, aiming to make the viewer think and laugh when presented with the beautifully painted works.
- Jyni Ong
- 4 December 2019
- Reading Time
- 3 minute read
By day, Unpis Wa works in an office, going about her daily office duties in Fukushima, Japan. But once she gets home, if she has time, the budding illustrator gets out her acrylic paints and starts to do what she is incredibly good at. Clearly is a very skilled illustrator, she uses calming hues and smooth, velvety finishes, only disrupted by slightly disturbing subject matter. The recurring protagonist in Unpis’ works – a slender pink-skinned girl – can be seen blowing up a rubbery human outline as if it were a balloon.
Inflation and deflation are common themes in the Japanese illustrator’s work. She nods to the idea of beauty standards as skin is peeled and unpeeled off in several works. Rubbery replicas of herself have often collapsed in a split composition of a painting and Unpis has a particularly good knack for painting the delicate folds of a deflated balloon shape.
Illustration had been a personal hobby for a while before Unpis decided to first publish her works on SNS, a Japanese social media platform at the recommendation of a friend. She started to gradually share her doodles with the rest of the world, increasingly gathering admiration for her minimal style and silky executions. “I have liked drawing since I was little,” she tells It’s Nice That, “and I still remember my teacher praising my picture of Santa Claus when I was in kindergarten.”
She went onto study painting at art school, gradually developing a signature neutral expression, evident today in her painterly tones. “That’s why there are many motifs with no facial expressions and geometric shapes in my work,” she adds on the purposeful objective gaze. Another important element of her work is a sense of humour, aiming to make the viewer think or laugh with its surreal content. She plays with scale and several degrees of distortion to achieve such an effect. In one image, for example, she depicts two heads reflected on shiny metal loo roll covers. In another, she highlights the similarities between a woman hunched over on the floor in a white nightdress, to a sad-looking ice cream cone having fallen on the floor.
“I often get inspiration from what I see in my daily life,” adds Unpis. “I take pictures of things I’m interested in, so when I get stuck with an idea, I look at my camera roll.” Many of the images are of shadows, reflections, refraction and wrinkles in cloth. And in this vein, Unpis pays close attention to the subtle textures and the effects of light all the time. She’s also influenced by Disney films, in particular, Mickey and the beanstalk. Disney animations are “really good at expressing phenomena that are impossible in reality” Unpis evaluates. The global franchise has inspired her to think imaginatively and create new scenarios which she previously would not have thought up.
Last winter, Unpis had the chance to exhibit her work in a show, and looking to the future, she hopes she can do more of this so fans of her work can experience it in real life and not just on social media. From December to January, Unpis is exhibiting a solo show, especially meaningful because it takes place in her home town of Fukushima. And hoping to make the move to becoming a full-time freelancer next summer, we're excited to see what Unpis can produce when she dedicates all her time to illustration.
About the Author
Jyni became a staff writer in March 2019 having previously joined the team as an editorial assistant in August 2018. She graduated from The Glasgow School of Art with a degree in Communication Design in 2017 and her previous roles include Glasgow Women’s Library designer in residence and The Glasgow School of Art’s Graduate Illustrator.