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The Alien-like Girl

This illustration from Yoshitomo Nara depicts a naughty little alien-like girl gazing to the side without emotion. Yoshitomo Nara, as one of the leading artists of Japan’s influential Neo Pop art movement since the 1990s, is well known for his paintings featuring the innocent motifs and buoyant style of children’s books and comics. Little girl portraits are common used in his paintings. A mature expression appearing on the face of an innocent 10-year-old girl is an obvious contrast which generates the curiosity of people about what the girl is thinking. He used to mask the serious social and personal dimensions of his work - feelings of helplessness and rage, and a sense of isolation in a hyper-networked society. As the viewers, we feel as though the complex insights and external problems seem to be simplified and purified through the image of innocent children.

The subject is a closely cropped portrait of the head and upper torso of a 10-year-old girl wearing an orange dress, standing in front of a bright yellow background, and staring into the right side of the frame without expression. Like many other characters in his other pieces, the girl has a symbol high forehead covered with her burnt umber hair. She also has a pair of big eyes in indigo and midnight color with long lashes on them. A dress with crimson and pumpkin color makes her peach face look more spiritual and vivid. The colors and lines in the picture are delicate and fuzzy. In tones of brown, orange, and yellow, the artist subtly made the little girl’s body and her clothes blend harmoniously into the chartreuse background.

Every aspect of this portrait is conveyed in soft and complementary pastel colors which engendering an overall feeling of peace and stillness. The artist chose to use a warm, bright palette of yellow, cherry blossom pink, pumpkin orange, and burnt umber, accented only by indigo and midnight blue hue in the figure’s alien-like eyes. The girl’s face, painted by soft lines and filled in pink color with different density to create shadow and light which makes it look more three dimensional, stands out from the background. The painter used various tones of brown trying to display the light source is from the top right corner of the frame. The painting projects a warm, peaceful, and vintage scene that draws people’s eye, as if the little girl is vividly alive.

Along with the soft and sweet colors, Nara’s treatment of line is faint and freehand. Just like his most frequent subjects, the girl in the painting is wide-eyed, cartoonish, executed in a flattened, economical style. In the exact center of the image, around the border of the girl’s face, hair, and dress, the lines are vague and interrupted. The water color hue imbues the image with more tenderness than oil painting. The girl’s face, although it consists of simple lines and hues, glows with real life. And her hair is painted with obviously visible brushstrokes and through observation we can tell the direction of the sun light. Without eyebrows, the emotion of the girl seems mysterious.

With its balanced colors and freehand lines, the painting represents a paradox - an innocent little girl with an adult-like expression on her face which may generate people’s curiosity about what are the stories behind it. That is, it makes people want to realize more about when and why the painter created this kind of individual painting style. The piece exemplifies Nara’s cute, though often menacing, children which are so readily associated with popular culture, particularly manga comics and animation, that viewers may neglect to think about his evocative imagery more deeply.

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