'You are one, but you are not really one - you are made of lots of little things. Things that are growing in your body and coming in and coming out. You are a big space with lots of stars in your body that you are raising; they don't have a voice, but are alive and living in your body.'
After graduating art school in California in 2005, Yoko Tanaka
became a hugely successful artist. Selling works from galleries in LA and Chicago, she was able to work with the freedom to focus on what she wanted. After venturing into other industries, adding paints to her palette and picking up a variety of skills as she went, Yoko started illustrating children books. Forget any preconceptions of the type of picture book that Yoko describes as 'pink and happy and cute and dreamy' - instead, these were dark and brooding. These are kids' books that make the others lean and cower on the shelf; harbouring scary witches and lonely orphans.
'Some people don't believe in fate or destiny, but in Japanese, we call it '縁' ('En'). En is like a coincidence, but it's not actually a coincidence; there's always reason to it. I like this word 'En', that everything is somehow connected. It's related to these creatures in you, there's some kind of magnet in the soul that's pulling each other together.'
In a unique harmony of fine art and children's illustration, Yoko's images illuminate the pages of Issue 10, blending perfectly with our focus on the female perspective of the transitional experience from boy to man. Inspired by the theme of the issue, 'Muse', Yoko's triptych of illustrations search for the spirit within all of us that words often fail to explain.
'It's a really big space each one of you has in your body and that's how I always think about my illustrations. I always think that I'm a one, but none of us are really just one - we have a billion things in our bodies which I believe have some kind of intention: good and bad. These small creatures are like the pieces or cells in our body. They don't know what to do at the beginning. They're looking for a muse, looking for something important, something with the purpose of living for us all. But that's always hidden, you will never be able to find it, but still you cannot stop looking - that's how we live. In the second image, the figures are doing this and that, they relax and they conflict, but it's part of a process. In number three, the focus is towards the sky, they are still searching for it. It's a little bit hopeful, like when you grow up and you still keep looking for your purpose, you can't stop it.'
Translating a personal inner emotion to every individual whom the images touch, Yoko's work is deeply sensitive with a hint of playfulness; both sulky and cute. Capturing these two opposing, but synonymous characteristics in the mood of the worlds she creates, the illustrations recall the child within all of us, the innocence and hope that is often lost as we grow older.
'Being an artist, a creator, you have to have that hope. You have your inner voice and it's the most sincere, pure and essential thing in your body and it has to come out. When it does, it can be very simple, or it can be a more complicated image - it doesn't matter either way, you just have to keep doing it. I noticed in the last three or four years, I lost my inner voice which I thought I never would, but gradually, day by day, it became silent. These guys, these small creatures in my mind, were very active before, but I noticed that they were sleeping; I had to haul them up and wake them up and then shout more. I thought that it would be easy to do, but it takes time to bring them up - the creative part of you is not something that you can simply open and close and bring back, you really have to keep it going all the time.'
Image by Cecilie Harris.
Words by Jonny Clowes.
Quotes and Illustrations by Yoko Tanaka.