A prolific array of more than 75 paintings, sculptures, and illustrations will go on display this weekend for the Miyazaki Art Show, paying tribute to the Academy Award–winning director behind animated classics Spirited Away, Princess Mononoke, and Howl's Moving Castle, Hayao Miyazaki. The show was organized by New York– and San Francisco–based Spoke Gallery, known for blending fan art and fine art with shows dedicated to the likes of Wes Anderson, the Coen Brothers, and Quentin Tarantino.
Spoke represents a cadre of pop-surrealists, lowbrow painters, and art Instagram behemoths like Joan Cornella and Tracie Ching. They carry work that shares a colorful palette, pop sensibility, and often an internet-friendly sense of humor. "The artists in this scene are as equally influenced by the Pop Artists of the 60s as they are of contemporary popular culture," Spoke Art curator and owner Ken Harman tells VICE.
Each Miyazaki Art Show contributor we spoke to related to the Studio Ghibli founder's work on a personal level, which deepened as they adapted their own style to his characters and settings. Most of them have never made any serious work based on Miyazaki's oeuvre, but they glow when describing their experiences with his films.
"I think Miyazaki's work cuts across more boundaries and touches a wider swath of the population than most anime does," says Adam Caldwell, a lowbrow pop surrealist oil painter. His contribution is a realistic portrait of San, the titular character of Princess Mononoke, based on model Meisha Mock dressed in a costume of her own design.
Folk artist Marni Manning's Gluttony is a modern update to No Face from Miyazaki's Oscar-winning 2003 opus, Spirited Away. "Miyazaki crafts creatures with quirks and depth, and the animations are clever and intriguing. He has given the world an abundance of lovable, strong individuals. One can't help but fall in love with them," she says.
In the film, No Face stuffs himself with food, drink, and living people. "This behavior reminds me so much of today's society," Manning says. Her painting adds beer, candy, Netflix, fidget spinners, and Louis Vuitton bags to the hungry spirit's plate. "With technology bringing material goods to our doorsteps with the touch of a button, it's easy for consumers to get lost in wanting more instead of being content."
Muralist and illustrator Lauren YS finds that the "aggressive feminine undertones" of her own work lend themselves to a Miyazaki adaptation. "The fact that his movies feature almost exclusively young female leads had a huge impact on me and my forays out into the world," she says. "I still cite seeing Spirited Away as one of the main events that made me want to be an artist. The pure visuals literally changed my brain." She says her own ethical code is influenced by Miyazaki's films, from her relationship with others to feminism and environmental responsibility.
Artists love his films, but what makes the practice of recreating his characters so appealing? "It's almost like being a musician who decides to do a cover song from time to time," says self-taught painter and illustrator Sarah Joncas. "The films of Miyazaki are very magical, playful and surreal, and indulging in them by painting them is feeling that for myself."
The Miyazaki Art Show stands out among Spoke Art's offerings as its first fan art tribute to an animator. It's a continuation of a show that originated at the San Francisco gallery, but Miyazaki's appeal was so great that it warranted a second show with nearly all new artwork. "When choosing a subject, our biggest priority is making sure it's someone whose work we respect and love," Harman says.
It's worth noting that the show was not coordinated with Studio Ghibli, but the pieces on display will be for sale. As delineated in this extensive interview with Georgetown University Law Center Professor Rebecca Tushnet, interpreting a character in an artist's own personal style can constitute fair use. As with all copyright issues, it varies case to case.
"In our experience, the studios and directors who are the subjects of our shows are always very supportive," Harman says. "For a creative such as Hayao Miyazaki to see how his work has influenced an entire generation of artists and fans must be a great feeling. We hope he gets a chance to see our tribute to his films."
Spoke Art's Miyazaki Art Show is open September 29 through October 1, with a reception Friday from 6–8 PM at 210 Rivington Street, New York, NY.