Published: 01 March, 2009 - Featured in Skin Deep 169, February, 2009

Sorayama’s demeanour is humble and friendly, and despite creating some of the most sexually explicit, and boundary pushing images in the art scene, he is extremely approachable.

Sorayama’s studio is a cavalcade of toys and sexy women illustrations – a half completed Bettie Page lies on his desktop – while some of his 3D creations, AIBO and future Mickey, alongside a menagerie of acquisitions from his artist friends, sit on his table, peering on.

First and foremost, Sorayama’s work is intensely real. Each of his skilfully executed illustrations is alive with vivacious glory and energy. From his robot prototypes to his fantastical goddesses, they all pulsate with life. His images are ethereal in their beauty and, while sometimes shocking in their content, always remain stunning in their detail.

He has inspired many other top pin-up artists in his field, like David Nestler, and Coop, and it’s no wonder that Sorayama’s Chrome Ladies and pin-up girls have become a tattooing genre-they look as fantastic on the skin as canvas, and one of the major trend waves of in America, just as fantasy, portraits, photorealism, Japanese, Giger and tribal have enjoyed their stints, Sorayama’s work is still popularly requested. Some of the most iconic images by tattooists like Todo and Eddy Deutsche are Sorayama replications, and there is hardly an artist who hasn’t got a dog-eared copy of one of Sorayama’s books stashed in their libraries - particularly the “Sexy Robots” book is a must-have classic; released in 1983, this book still looks perfectly futuristic.

Sorayama started illustrating “as a child” and received his formal education at a graphic design school, with early inspirations coming from a wide gamut of fields, including Da Vinci, Hokusai and Walt Disney. His illustrations are meticulously detailed, and Sorayama uses mostly acrylic paint, and, although the flawless images are often mistaken for being airbrushed, he says “ People say that a lot of my work - that they are airbrushed. In reality, I only do a minor amount of airbrush to touch up my illustrations in the final stages of completion. Amazingly, each illustration only takes Sorayama 24-43 hours to complete.

He says, “My main aim is to create easily accessible images that can be enjoyed by anyone regardless of sex, race or age. I employ realism as a way to communicate in a way everyone can instantly understand, so that the maximum amount of people can appreciate it, rather than to shroud myself in esoteric or abstruse symbolism”. In this regard he says, “I see myself as an entertainer or communicator of images that I hope people will enjoy on a global level, rather than as a creator” – he adds, “to create is easy, the real skill is being able to get across to people on a humanistic level.”

With a worldwide fan base of big names such as George Lucas, Thierry Mugler and Aerosmith, and the walls of his studio covered in Polaroids of his celebrity pals, Sorayama has been enjoying surfing the ranks of the art illuminati. He’s even been called a modern day or futuristic Vargas. His clientele includes Disney, Levis, Coca Cola, amongst others, who see the broad appeal of his images and their commercial potential.

Amongst his most major works is his groundbreaking SONY robot dog AIBO, which landed him in the hallmarks of creative achievement as part of the permanent collections at the MOMA and the Smithsonian. The design of the robotic pooch is partly aesthetic and partly functional – the surface design is formulated in conjunction with the internal software and circuitry, hence each element of AIBO’s design has an ulterior functional purpose.

However, much of the dog’s popularity has come about not because of what AIBO can do, but because of his design; the cuteness of AIBO’s emotionally expressive face is undeniable, the tilt of his head, the little teeth that jut out of his mouth. Despite being a mass of plastic and circuits, he is designed so that you fall in love with him.

However, some of Sorayama’s instantly recognizable images are from his personal works: ultra sexy pin-ups that are flawless in their voluptuous perfection. Sorayama’s women are Amazonian divas, inaccessible in their strength and dominatrix-like in their stature. He admits, “I don’t really like the Lolita style “cute” idols ubiquitously used in Japanese media”, adding “they are immature and unable to be responsible for their own will”. Thus, even if his women are portrayed in a sexual manner, he wishes to empower the female image – women who are given the right to pleasure through their own volition rather than being violated by men’s sexual resolve.

He uses muses such as Julie Strain and pin-up icon Bettie Page, women that exude a feminine seductiveness. Mixtures of human and machine, Sorayama’s sexy femme robots are reflective of pivotal post-modern theorist Donna Harraway’s cyborg manifesto, where the biological side and the mechanical/electrical side become so inextricably entwined that they can’t be split.

He says, “My ultimate goal is to make female images that even women can look at and admire, rather than take offence at.” Rather than poorly administered mainstream porn he positions himself as making erotic art that don’t focus on “getting off,” but on the things that surround sex and make it sublime. He says “ I see the beauty of the erotic elements of these women as something like going to a gourmet restaurant for an amazing dinner, rather than as way to gain nutrients and sustenance. I enjoy the details that make up the experience.” In this way, fetishism is explicit in his illustrations as decorations that aren’t really necessary to the act of sex itself, but are aesthetically and visually titillating.

He says that even though his images have been featured in magazines such as Penthouse, and may be extremely explicit in nature, they “don’t make him particularly turned on”, and he doubts that they make anyone physically react like that. Although, we beg to differ. Regardless, he wishes to make cool looking images of cool looking women, plain and simple, and hopes that people get over the stereotype of nudes equating to something obscene.

Having said that, a lot of images have provoked mixed reactions amongst the moral majority, who find offence at his work and have even gotten Penthouse banned from Canada as a result of his more salacious illustrations. Still, for this he received a telephone call of congratulations from the director of Spawn.

Sorayama is unique in being able to simultaneously have clients like Penthouse and Disney, although he says he has to work within certain parameters for more mainstream clients, and has come across some resistance from certain kinds of people who have instantly equated his work to pornography due to his 10 year stint at the adult magazine.

Taking photos at the end of the interview, he is holding his beloved future Mickey, with the middle finger somewhat cruelly bolted down after Disney failed to see the humour in having their prodigal son doing an “up yours” sign in one of Sorayama’s illustrations.

But despite his cheeky, provocative nature, and his “fuck you” attitude to conservatism, he is still admired by both the mainstream and underground; those who continue to esteem his work, his unbridled imagination, and his technical skill. His current projects include a continued collaboration with Disney, as well as a plan to work on the iconic Tinkerbelle. And in the end, adults should wish upon a star that all fairies be devastatingly so corrupted!


Text: Maki


Skin Deep 169 1 February 2009 169