The Airbrush Legend
Sorayama is the man who made airbrush-art to be the state of the art of graphic design. His sexy robot was then a legend among graphic designers for decades. None graphic designers did it at his best before. Here’s an exclusive interview with the artist.
Q: What prompted you to draw robot?
A: A friend of mine, the designer Hara Koichi, wanted to use C3PO from Star Wars for a Suntory poster presentation. But time was short and there were problems with copyright fee, so I was asked to come up with something.
Q: Was that female robot your first work of this kind?
A: No, The first one was a robot and a dog sitting on a rock.
Q: What year was that?
A: 1978. Afterwards I did a series of pictures like it.
Q: Were there any other works prior to that on the same theme?
A: Not at all. Of course, since I’ve done quite a few works using car bumpers and objects with a galvanized texture, I didn’t have any problems with technique.
Q: I was impressed more by the setting and the pose of the subject rather than the texture.
A: Well, that came out of discussions with everyone. Even a robot set in a classical theme would be boring. Since I’d always done pin-ups, I thought, “why not a robot?” So, this sexy, female robot was born.
Q: Also the mechanical details of each part are expressed vividly.
A: Well, I was in fact, drawing rods and cams, and there are some who think it is mechanically awkward. But I’m not an engineer; I draw illustrations which are “convincing lies.” For reference, though, I pay attention to those opinions too.
Q: In the first female robot, her crotch is covered by a lid. I thought this was very effective; the act of concealing made her extremely sexy.
A: Originally I was going to draw a socket in place of her crotch and sent in a sketch, but the director thought it was a bad idea; that’s why I ended up with the lid. As for myself, however, I wanted the socket. That would make people laugh. I think the illustrator is a kind of entertainer. Instead of pursuing the value of the work itself, I’d rather have people look at it and get an immediate kick.
Q: Does this mean that you find yourself having to suppress your own idea within the certain conditions attached to advertisements?
A: Yes, because the client has a strong say. But nothing beats the feeling of creating a hit while working within those conditions. The budget, product image, the director’s taste –there are many things to consider. I believe that the illustrator has to have the skill to draw the sort of work that can satisfy all those demands.
Q: Have you always liked drawing?
A: Not that much. In high school, I’d take thirty minutes to finish off a picture that would take someone else four hours to do, step back and say, “check it out!” But I can’t really say that I like it. I didn’t start out wanting to do illustrations. At first, I worked as a graphic designer. But photosetting is my weak point. Also, I didn’t like working for a company. That’s how I came to be an illustrator; it’s a job in which you work for yourself.
Q: Did you go to art school?
A: Not at first. I was in the English department of a christian university. I went there because of an interest in Greece that I got from reading Oda Minoru’s I’m Going To See Everything. I wanted to learn Greek, but when I got there, the instructor had left the university.
Q: Is that when you decided to organize an art club?
A: No. In my second year I started a school magazine, Pink Journal. I was criticized not only by the teachers, but also by the students. I got to hate the place. Around that time, I saw an advertisement in Bijutsu Techo for the Chuo Art School. When I found out that I could get in without taking a test, I decided to go there.
Q: How did you come to draw the pin-ups?
A: That’s my mania. I’ve been drawing them since high school. Back then, there was this thing for the Playboy and Penthouse playmates. Now, it’s the girl-next-door, idol type, but in our day, these pin-ups were like goddesses. I guess I could describe it as my own goddess cult.
Q: By the way, you edited the book, The Peach-colored Encyclopedia. How did that happen?
A: There were a lot of erotic works –not only illustrations, but photographs and pictures, in general. I was wondering what it would be like to collect them into one volume. Cameramen, painters, and others got interested, and with everyone’s help, it came together.
Q: The illustrations alone came to quite a lot, didn’t they?
A: 1,500, in all. I didn’t know anyone at the time, so, I collected the works without paying any fee to the artists. When I found out later just who contributed, they were all big names. The honorarium was a single copy of te book. Maybe it’s because things were a lot more easy going than now. We were all so into it when we made it. But afterwards, no one said, “Let’s do it again!” So maybe it didn’t sell very well.
Q: Finally, what’s necessary in an illustrator?
A: The “professionalism.” That’s it.