The Pioneer of Shojo Style, Macoto Takahashiby Emmanuel Bochew,
87-year-old artist Macoto Takahashi began his artistic career in 1953 and would become an establishing force behind what we now know as the shojo (girls) comic art style. His works popularized ballet in the shojo scene and his characters' large, twinkling eyes are his trademark. Still actively producing new works, Takahashi's art has appeared in Comme des Garcons fashion shows and in exhibitions at his gallery in Sakura City, Chiba.
Emmanuel Bochew spoke with Takahashi about his artistic process and inspirations for his recent painting series.
Do you consider yourself a mangaka or an illustrator?
Macoto Takahashi: How I introduce myself? If someone calls me a mangaka, I will accept it as I used to write manga. Then I started to sell my drawings as they were popular. Lots of people saw my works in magazines and different publications. Various merchandising groups came and asked me if I can draw similar things. I accepted and did it. So if someone asks if I am a mangaka I will say, “I used to draw manga.” It will be my answer as I'm not picky. Now, I'm drawing shojo style illustrations. Most of the time, I'm drawing illustrations.
What is your painting process?
Takahashi: I will first draw a rough sketch. If needed, I'll add some details. I mean using a back light table. Then...then I hold up the image, and, it's like a scene from a cowboy film, shooting ideas back and forth. There will be a lot of corrections. Then I will draw a rough again on it. And do it again. That's how I do it.
Why are some of the paintings named after months in the French Revolutionary calendar?
Takahashi: You know, in Japan we have...What was for January?
Takahashi: You can feel the seasons with this calendar. I was listening to French lessons on the radio. I learned about the Revolutionary Calendar and in September they harvested grapes. They were saying, it was a lunar calendar. I think I was learning French from Ibuki Takeo [on NHK radio]. So I felt it's the same as in Japan. This expression of the season. In French, you also have the same expressions for the seasons, like in Japan. I started training in French writing A B C. They have the grape harvest at the start of the month [Vendémiaire, which is September]. In Japan's old calendar the first months are known as “Mutsuki” and “Kisaragi.” So I learned the French calendar. It was so interesting. I'll be so happy if Japanese people discover it this way and become more familiar with it. So I decide to draw each month. I drew some of them. It's still on my to-do list. I really want to achieve it. I will draw it in contrast to Japan's calendar.
In the "Hana no Roman" painting series, why did you choose these particular flowers?
Takahashi:Each country has a flower to symbolize it, or to symbolize seasons. So I looked up the other countries' equivalents of Japanese seasonal flowers and the order in which they bloom throughout the year. I discovered it's poppy for France, when it blossoms, etc. I studied each country's seasonal flower and drew it.
What was the inspiration for the "Samovar" art piece?
Takahashi: I didn't start by thinking about the country, like Russia or Bulgaria. First, I wanted to draw white birch trees. I was wondering how to draw it. How do I make white birch trees recognizable as Russian in a drawing? To see the drawing and in just one look, the viewer understands the setting. Vegetation is very capricious, you know. It's different in each country. Not the same at all. So in one glance, how do I make sure they understand that the birch trees are in Russia? Or Bulgaria? Or Scandinavia? How do I make it clear?
So in the background, I decided to draw distinct rooftops. Russia, for example. When we see onion-shaped rooftops, we know it's Russian. Even if we do not understand it's a birch from Russia, we understand it's Russia. And so it's become a Russian birch.
I used different kinds of buildings for the Scandinavian birch art piece to make it easy to understand where this birch is from. I do not use the birch, but its environment. I started to draw after all this reflection.
What do you think of the evolution of the shojo art style?
Takahashi: Hard question. My theme is "each girl is a princess." Princess! That's my opinion. Girls have a point of view that boys do not have. It's an unknown world for boys. They don't know what girls do in their day-to-day lives. I might be romanticizing it, of course And I thought of drawing what young boys may yearn about girls. I think it's linked with girls' cuteness. So I'm drawing cute girls because each one of them is a princess.
Are you planning to go to any foreign countries?
Takahashi: I've been to Paris and European countries several times. When I was very busy with magazines I went just for a month there. Then for two months, I was moving all around the place. I thought about drawing foreign countries that young Japanese girls dream about. That's the reason why I went there.
Usually, I don't take photos for my personal research. I go there, for example, to Champs-Élysées in Paris. I will gaze and watch it. I will burn my feelings and impressions in my memory. When I go to draw it, it's not about remembering how it looked in a photo. It's about what I feel deep in my heart. That's important for me. I really do not take photos!
When I travel... For example, a girl in Paris. The Arc de Triomphe. Even if she has already seen it in a photo, when she stands in front of it, she will be surprised! Because it's so huge! It's part of the landscape. So I studied it. I learned about the Arc de Triomphe at school, you know. I finally drew a girl in front of it. It took almost one year to draw it. I was stuck. I felt like I was lying. The monument was so big. I had to show it. Even though I draw a specific way as TAKAHASHI Macoto I felt like I had to convey my sheer awe and wonder exactly as I saw it.
I think it's important to draw it not only as you see it. Drawing only as it appears is not enough. I think my job is more to playback the feelings I had. It's the reason why I draw so many landscapes. Then you will understand...
You have these changing lights on Champs-Élysées...Or in Montmartre, you have all these street vendors...All these sights. You have to remember these feelings when you draw and create a sense of desire for her to experience these feelings herself. I really feel it's important to express this when it's time to draw.
Do you have a message for your fans?
Takahashi: Well...You may understand the way Japanese people are feeling when they are sightseeing in a foreign place like Paris. “This is what Japanese tourists are feeling?” If you want to see it as it appears, you can look at a photograph. But when you look at my artwork, don't just look at the visuals. Both look and feel. For me, that may be what's most important.
When it comes to me, I was so impressed when I go sightseeing. Keep this in mind when you look at the art. As I said, I had to draw it as I feel it not exactly as you see it. So when I feel impressed, I decide to draw it the way I feel it. And that's the reason why I travel in many countries to draw these landscapes.
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