Alice Tye on blurring the line between fine art and illustration with Japan as her muse

A recent trip to Japan has inspired Alice Tye's series Mono No Aware, a celebration of all things spring and sakura.

Japan is synonymous with art and creativity, whether inspiring indie games via masters like Hokusai, great music re-released on vinyl with Ghibli-inspired illustrations by new international talent, or even fancy stationery from the likes of Moleskine.

It's not just its art that inspires though but the country itself, something that London's Alice Tye discovered on a recent trip to Nippon.

The result is Mono No Aware, a series of painted pieces that explore the Japanese tradition of welcoming spring, mixing cherry blossoms with car parks and neon signs that together capture Japan's incredibly poetic atmosphere of stillness and space.

"The whole series came from a three week trip I took to Japan in the spring of 2017," Alice tells Digital Arts over email. "I didn’t go with a preconceived idea for a series but I did know I would come back with new ideas. I decided to just try to absorb as much as I could whilst I was there and to document everything so I’d have material to go back through once I was back in London."

The genesis for Mono No Aware - which translates as ‘the pathos of things’, a Japanese phrase for the awareness and appreciation of the impermanence of life and the idea that our appreciation of beauty can be heightened by our awareness of its transiency - came not from sakura blossoms or temples though, but the unlikely figure of a corner shop that didn't look particularly Japanese at all.

"I remember getting really excited about seeing a Lawson’s konbini (a Japanese convenience store chain that has a very American aesthetic) in the middle of nowhere whilst travelling between two postal towns in the mountains.

"The shining fluorescent glow of the store felt so at odds with the beautiful Japanese mountain views and tiny road we were on that I had such an urge to photograph it and paint it. The image actually didn’t make it into the final series but it did spark something that carried on through the project."

The resulting body of work was created using Photoshop for cropping and colour adjustments applied to the original reference photos from the trip. Alice then projected the final composition onto either paper or canvas, the artist marking out a rough outline of the key elements.

"After this the rest is old fashioned oil painting," Alice continues. "I’ve always thought of myself as both an illustrator and a painter; I studied Illustration for my degree and see all my commissioned projects as illustration - but my self-initiated projects tend to lean more towards a painting practice.

"I would describe my style as realistic, though I do tend to emphasise shadows and push the saturation quite a bit. I also like to contrast some fine details in each piece with looser brush strokes."

Knowing how she makes her work, I ask Alice whether spring inspires it in general. As the season now begins in the UK, I'm curious if she can already feel her muse stirring.

"I’ve actually never been very inspired by the English landscape or weather," she confesses. "I find it too familiar to be appealing to draw and the weather and light is too grey and flat.

"Whereas the landscape in Japan - both rural and urban - is so different to my day-to-day surroundings. I always find that it's the exotic landscapes that inspire me the most."

Japan certainly inspired Alice, and she lets me know where her travels took her back in 2017 - and just what it was about the country that so struck her.

"We began our trip in Tokyo before heading into the mountains to hike between Magome and Tsumago in the Kiso Valley. It was pretty amazing staying in a traditional ryokan (inn), and the food at the ryokan was our first experience of kaiseki ryori (multi-course dinnerr)- it is a foodie’s dream.

"After the Kiso Valley we visited Mount Koya and stayed in a Buddhist temple. It was absolutely freezing as we were so high up and we’d come totally unprepared for the weather. But it was worth it to experience the monk’s morning ceremony, more kaiseki ryori and also the onsen spa.

"After this we stayed in Osaka for just under a week - completely underrated city," she continues, and I have to agree.


A scene in Osaka

"I think Osaka was one of my favourite places we visited; it felt really friendly and I spent a lot of time exploring just by walking all over the city rather than taking public transport. We also visited Kyoto for a few days which I found a bit too touristy and I think I’d reached my limit for the amount of temples to visit after going to so many in Mount Koya.

"However, the day trip to Naoshima from Kyoto was another highlight of the trip. I’m really interested in architecture and the buildings that house the galleries on Naoshima are works of art in themselves - definitely an added bonus to the incredible artworks residing on the island."

Catch Alice's own incredible artworks at Mono No Aware, showing at Mother London in Shoreditch from 24th February until 3rd March. Book yourself onto the free private viewing with DAM Good Painting taking place on February 28th - and do follow Alice on Instagram.

Read next: Enter the geometric, gonzo world of Tokyo-based vector artist BloodBros

Elsewhere on IDG sites

Read Next...