Andrew Browne is an artist who splits his time between Minneapolis and Tokyo. His latest series, Idols, combines traditional Japanese Buddhas with the modern-day concept of idolising people, brands, and lifestyles. He used only a ballpoint pen to complete the illustrations.
BuzzFeed caught up with the illustrator to talk about the process and inspiration behind Idols, and what it's like creating art in Japan:
What inspired the concept for your Idols series?
Andrew Browne: Watching people around me – both in the US and in Japan – so many people have something they idolise. This series started taking shape after I saw several old Japanese Buddha statues at a museum in the United States in 2015. There was one that was chipped and cracked that caught my eye. I wanted to draw a similarly broken statue as a one-off.
As I drew, I started coming up with ideas for other possible statues (What if this were a salaryman instead?). I wanted to play with the idea of idolisation. I find that obsession fascinating. Our desire to be idolised, too, as well as our encouragement of that idolisation of ourselves. These are the ideas that inspired this series, the concept of the "contemporary idol".
Living in both the United States and Japan, do you find that your work often merges culture beyond this specific project?
AB: I do. When I'm sketching new ideas, I find myself unconsciously using lots of Japanese imagery – and living in Tokyo means I see certain things on a daily basis that end up inspiring me.
I pay careful attention to the elements and imagery that I use. I don't like to use Japanese imagery just for the sake of it – it has to be conceptually meaningful. And I of course include elements from American pop culture. That's the most fun for me – mashing the two together.
When creating the Idols series, was there a particular way you wanted them to be perceived?
AB: I guess I wanted them to be understood purely as comments on contemporary society and people in general, rather than as a push to return to any sort of religion. That's not something I considered, nor is it something I wanted to touch on.
What are your creative influences and what impact has living in Japan had on these?
AB: My biggest creative influences have been film and printmaking. I grew up in awe of Kurosawa and Japanese ukiyo-e prints. Then it was contemporary lithographs by Motoda Hisaharu that inspired me to create art. I started drawing when I was little, so I think I came into contact with those influences at an important time. Living in Japan also makes me appreciate aspects of American culture more – film, pop, art, etc. I can take a step back and think critically.
Ballpoint pen is an interesting media choice. What made you choose it?
AB: There's definitely a "wow" element to ballpoint pen. That you can draw such detail and achieve such a variety of tones with such a simple, everyday tool. I've always enjoyed working with ink. I like the permanence of it, that challenge. I really try to avoid digital interference as much as possible when it comes to my work. The unpredictable side of drawing is inspiring, I think.
Ballpoint pen is slower than other media, but that slowness makes it a meditative process.