Friday, February 4, 2011

REVIEW: Bill Long and Kaori Hamura at Gallery in the Woods in Brattleboro

The Art of Bill Long and Kaori Hamura

By Jamis Lott

Modern art has reached the point where the need for a new movement and style is long overdue. One particular style that is becoming more accepted in galleries and has gained popularity, especially with the younger crowds, is illustrative and “cartoony” compositions. A pair of artists that base their style in such arts is Bill Long and Kaori Hamura. Both work in animation, production design, web design, character design, poster and CD jacket design and, hopefully very soon, illustration for children’s books. Their styles also have no trouble being displayed in the gallery setting, as is evident from their work on display in Brattleboro’s Gallery in the Woods.

Over the numerous years that Bill Long has exhibited in Brattleboro, he has stayed faithful to the content of his work and has found no need for improvement. His paintings always have at least one occupant. One of Bill Long’s series consists of an array of fictional birds roosting and soaring, but the majority of his paintings feature a race of people colored in highly saturated purple or green. Lanky limbed and bulbous headed, these characters go about their lives- they boil violet crabs for dinner, peek out of bubbly baths, haul baskets of fruit, play guitar, and pause as though they are seeing what the viewer sees and are contemplating their own realities. These characters also seem to function as hosts for the viewers and invite us into the rest of the painting.

Always in one point perspective, the paintings take place in cupolas, barn lofts, birdhouses, and seaside restaurants. These abodes are detailed with props and furnishings that add hominess to each setting. An opening centered in the middle of each composition reveals a cutesy world beyond the room the viewer starts from. Through the window, porthole, or gap, the view expands into spacious sky, ocean, and countryside. Each painting gives off the sense of a world within that is as boundless as our own.

The scenes are soaked in high saturation and the chosen layout of colors results in an overdose of visual stimulation. Dark red hair flows down a girl’s light green skin, and a soft pink sky is the background for a cluster of trees with deep violet foliage. As these examples show, opposites in hue and value have no trouble sharing borders. The application of paint is soft and hazy and adds to the dreamy nature of the work. Bill Long ends up crafting a place that involves viewers, as well as invites them to enter a reality as alluring as a dream.

Kaori Hamura has the same devotion to creating animated and charming visuals as Bill Long does, except with a different approach. Hamura’s displayed work, a collection of illustrations from her still-to-be published book Dream Seasons, is designed with the new-aged Japanese style of cutsey creatures with stubby statures and puppy dog eyes. Her work also exhibits visual kinetic energy that makes for a compelling composition.

Dream Seasons follows the travels of a little girl in a purple and plaid pull-over, and her collection of friends including a couple of beady-eyed bunnies, designed with the same simple structure and consistency as a Sunday comic character. Like the series’ title implies, Hamura’s “Dream Seasons” is fashioned from the experience one could have while venturing through a shifting dreamscape.

The surroundings in the story change dramatically, from calm blue skies and winding rivers, to raging tidal waves and downpours that act as the antagonist within the story. The colors are softer in tone and much less vivid than Bill Long’s palette. The environments are the dominant details in the series, dwarfing the little girl and her bunny friends, with dynamic use of color, shape and current. Thick outlines encompass every character, ensuring that no figure is lost within the epic backdrop. When applied to objects like mountains, waves and stars, the outlines turn these elements into unmistakable icons. Contorted tree trunks, overly winding roads and mountains that mimic Hiroshige’s “Mt. Fuji” make for imagery that is very easy to remember. The flow of the landscapes is consistent, as when mountaintops and trees mimic the fluffy clouds they ascend up to, and when bubbles floating in the sky pick up where bubbling waves leave off. Throughout each piece and each feature within, there is bonding and pulling, friction and coming together. With the use of an overly jagged wave, or a sky and field whose textures seem conjoined, Hamura makes obvious the disposition and energy of the world that she has created.

To see other creations by Kaori Hamura and Bill Long, visit their web site at

Images (Photos by Jamis Lott): Top, Bill Long, Oil on canvas, 50 x 40", 1999 Bottom, Kaori Hamura, Tomorrow's Sunset -- Girl on Swing, Pencil and acrylic on wood, 6 x 12", 2007-2008