Covent Garden is a home from home for me. There’s hardly a day goes by that I’m not down there for dance classes of one kind or another, or meeting up with friends for dinner. So when I heard that manga graphic novelist Junko Mizuno would be exhibiting at the Atomica Gallery in Short’s Gardens, it was the work of a moment to pop in to take a look. After all, the gallery is right next to my hairdressers.
Mizuno was born in Japan and grew up in Tokyo surrounded by seventies kawaii (cute) culture, which has become increasingly popular in the UK through manga and anime, gaming and cosplay (dressing up like your favourite manga character). At Japan-centred events like Hyper Japan and Japan Matsuri many of the visitors dress appropriately, either in kimonos or as cute little girls in Sweet Lolita outfits. The cosplay competitions at these events are serious stuff, and it’s artists like Mizuno who inspire them.
Mizuno’s best known for her psychedelic imagery featuring cute manga girls juxtaposed with horror images, like this one, Hell Courtesan, which gives us a manga-fied geisha surrounded by snakes, skeletons and people burning in hell, while her elegant kanzashi hair decorations take on a look of dripping blood.
Or this seventies hippy chick with her snake-staff.
I’m a bit worried about what this super-cute girl is growing in her garden. Could it be steaks?
This three-headed lady may be making pancakes, but what are the knife and fork doing in her mouth?
This one is titled Deranged 1.
Mizuno now lives in San Francisco, where she creates artwork for bands like The Melvins, Faith no More and Mudhoney. She’s designed vinyl figures for Kidrobot and animated the titles for Jonathan Ross’s BBC TV series Japanorama.
Mizuno’s work has tremendous energy and imagination. You have to look closely to see what’s going on in her pictures – the first superficial impression of manga-cute is far from the whole story.
The exhibition is on until 28th October, so if, like me, you reckon Covent Garden is your manor, you should pop in and take a look. Or even make a special trip from Marylebone or Forest Hill. The works are for sale and prices are generally reasonable, around the £300 mark, though some hit the thousands, and quite a lot have already been sold.
The Atomica Gallery is open Monday to Friday 12 to 6 pm, Saturday 12 to 5 pm and Sunday 12 to 4 pm.