Sho Shibuya, a graphic designer living in NYC, is an artist who paints pictures on the front page of the New York Times, the leading daily newspaper in the United States. Whilst creating graphic designs and working as an art director for various brands and companies, Shibuya also focuses on a series of works, Sunrise from a small window, which we will introduce you to in this feature story. His daily Instagram posts, which consist of a series of beautiful sky snaps and social messages that he paints on the front page of the New York Times, are now much-talked-about on social media. His concept, in which he creates one work a day, reminds me of work by On Kawara, a conceptual artist, and Shibuya confirmed that he was inspired by him. “I am trying to paint ‘the day’ precisely, but I will destroy it if I cannot complete the work within a day. If I finish it, I put that day’s New York Times on the back of a canvas box. When I saw On Kawara’s work, I was really impressed by its simplicity and the concept of cutting out moments in time. Not to mention his brilliant typography! I was stunned by the fact that he created such meaningful things with added value to share with people. I wondered if I could do something similar, and started creating graphic images with Katakana. I started by creating something under the theme of the days of the week, for example, if it is Monday (Getsuyobi) it will be ゲ (Ge), and if it is Tuesday (Kayobi) it will be カ(Ka), and so on.” Compared to Kanji and Hiragana, Katakana has a geometric form which appeared fresh to New Yorkers, and that seems to have led to him holding a solo exhibition. Shibuya had been working on this project for 3 years when the Covid-19 pandemic hit us in 2020.
“I was hearing only bad news. Brooklyn is always bustling but it was so quiet, I could hear birds tweeting and the sound of the leaves. In this chaotic situation where people were suffering and nobody knew what to expect, I looked out of the window in my studio one day, and that was the moment that I noticed that the sky was very beautiful. I guess, because economic activity was stopped, the air was cleaner than usual. After seeing it, I decided to paint the sky.” Two days later, he started painting the sky on the New York Times. On the paper’s front page, there was depressing news about tumultuous situations such as the pandemic, politics, human rights and civil rights. As if closing a window, Shibuya painted a picture over the front page of the paper. One day, after a few months, his posts, which were paintings of the sky, became black mono-colour paintings.
The reason was the George Floyd incident on May 25. The action of posting a ‘Black Box’ on SNS to support Black Lives Matter was also seen a lot in Japan, but Shibuya, as a US resident, felt the movement in real time. “Living in America, you really feel the unfairness. As a reaction against all the stress they have been dealing with, people posted a Black Box. I also wanted to support Black Lives Matter by painting a black picture to express my own feelings about the stress, the rage and emotions I felt against these unfairnesses. From that day on, I decided to paint a picture every day, and I am continuing to do so till today.” Shibuya gets up at four o’clock every morning to go for a run, and buys the New York Times at the corner shop, then paints a picture on it. Basically, he takes a photo of the sky at sunrise and paints the picture according to the photo. However, you can also see some artwork other than the sky paintings on his Instagram. When Jason Polan and Enzo Mari passed away last year, Shibuya created a post to express his condolences to them. “For me, painting a picture on the day of the paper is not only expressing my feeling towards negative news, but also showing my emotions for people who I admire as heroes, to commemorate these people, when they pass away. I think that I am not a good talker, that’s why I would like to share my feelings through visual images, hoping that people who see my posts will be able to feel something from them.”
Such intentions led Shibuya to a fateful event; an encounter with Patti Smiths, Godmother of Punk. “On September 9, there was a bush fire in California. A friend of mine who lives on the west coast sent me a photo of the daytime sky, but the colour didn’t look like a sky. So, I painted a picture of the Californian sky and posted it. Patti Smiths happened to see that post, and sent me a direct message, saying ‘Thank you for posting it.’ I could not believe that the NY icon, Patti Smiths, sent me a message. Since then, she frequently messages me on my posts.” Soon after that, there was a Presidential Election on November 3. A few days before then, Patti Smiths was committed to supporting Joe Biden by putting up posters with the message ‘IT’S IN OUR HANDS’ and a photo of a palm with the words ‘Vote’, across the city. “Seeing that, I thought it would be nice if I could create artwork with Patti Smiths, to encourage people to participate in the elections. When I suggested that we use her hand painting, she readily agreed with me saying ‘Of course! Let’s do it!’. As I was concerned about putting her at a risk during the pandemic, I suggested we meet up at park with a mask and gloves on and that we be careful with hygiene. But she said, ‘Let’s do it my living room.’ When I asked her ‘Isn’t it weird to have a ‘nobody’ in your living room, who you didn’t know two weeks ago?’ She replied, ‘You are not nobody’ and continued ‘I like you and it is a very simple thing.’ I was touched by the fact that she treated me normally, regardless of my name or age. But above all, what I was most happy about was the fact that a lot of people sent me a message through the work. I received a lot of messages saying, ‘your post made me go to vote.’ I don’t have voting rights, but my activities inspired small actions. By visualising a message and creating a post, somebody might react to it and something might change. My activity is a documentation similar to a diary as well as a message to people. Every time I post something to Instagram, I am concerned if it is misunderstood in a different sense, but it is better than saying nothing. I would like to send out the message I believe in.”
Naturally, Shibuya’s activities are known to the New York Times, and what kind of post was created on the day is talked about among people in the company. The release of a book summarising the works, as well as an exhibition at MoMu, the fashion museum of Antwerp in Belgium, are to be scheduled. Incidents that occur every day somewhere in this world in this prolonged unprecedented situation, catching the news that is passing through our lives at a fast speed, Shibuya sends his message to people with his simple way of expression. When creating a design, he has a philosophy of ‘focusing on a message and a concept rather than the visual coolness.’ His body of work is his message itself and it moves people’s hearts.
New York, Brooklyn based graphic designer, painter.
Founder of Placeholder.
|Interview & Text Takayasu Yamada||Translation Fumie Tsuji|