From the delicate wave emoji, inspired by Katsushika Hokusai’s infamous Great Wave off Kanagawa, to the colourful works of Europe and America’s emerging comic artists, the Japanese art genre Ukiyo-e is making an undeniable comeback in Western pop culture. Austin-based artist Jonny Negron is one of the most noteworthy young creatives inspired by the movement, which dates back to the 17th century.
In his manga-style drawings and paintings, Negron depicts hypersexualised women whose facial features bear a resemblance to the courtesans and geishas portrayed in many Ukiyo-e artworks. Referencing the hedonistic lifestyle addressed in early Ukiyo-e art, he sets his characters within sceneries of everyday indulgence and often shows them performing acts on the brink of pornography. From a thick-thighed Sailor Moon getting her ass eaten by Tuxedo Mask, to cockroaches emerging out of nostrils, nothing is off-limits for this Puerto Rico-born comic artist.
“Negron’s women are reminiscent of amazons and fertility goddesses, rather than submissive geishas”
Although both are equally comical and explicit, Negron’s depiction of female sexuality differs immensely from that of the early Ukiyo-e masters. With their voluptuous bodies and assertive attitudes, Negron’s women are reminiscent of amazons and fertility goddesses, rather than submissive geishas. Although many of his pictures are linked to male fantasies of voyeurism and female domination, they refuse to tell a one-sided story. Instead the 31-year-old challenges notions of what is deemed beautiful and desirable by mainstream media, through grotesque and strangely appealing depictions of 21st century Western lifestyle. Negron’s portraiture constantly shifting between excess and apathy.
Drawing inspiration from pop culture, occultism and the work of David Lynch, Jonny Negron creates a world that looks as if it had been envisioned during an acid trip, yet feels strangely familiar. Untidy bedrooms, hip clothes and the iconic portrayal of smartphones, laptops and computer screens bring to mind the works of contemporary figurative painters such as Grace Weaver and Nicole Eisenman. Like his two colleagues, Negron prefers to create his works analogically, mainly using mediums such as watercolour, acrylic paint and markers. With these simple tools, he creates comics, drawings and illustrations that approach the task Japanese artists were first faced with over 300 years ago: portraying the decadent, lunatic and ever-changing Ukiyo (“floating world”) around them.
Words by Donna Schons.