with Sho Shibuya
Interview: Sho Shibuya Discusses Ritual, His Impulse Toward Minimalism, and His Love for Ubiquitous Objects
Since March 2020, artist and designer Sho Shibuya has fostered a ritualistic creative practice of painting the morning sunrise on the cover of The New York Times, a routine he describes in a new interview supported by Colossal Members. The daily project was born out of lockdown and the COVID-19 pandemic, although it’s evolved into a broad body of work that transcends the artist’s original intent for the pieces.
The process of flipping through the newspaper, watching the sunrise, and then painting every morning is quite meditative… But I treat the paintings the same as eating or sleeping; a vital part of my daily routine. It’s a little mission for myself, to capture the sunrise every day as a visual diary.
In this conversation, Shibuya speaks with Colossal managing editor Grace Ebert about the ongoing series and the addition of more sculptural, conceptual works that respond to politics and current events. They discuss his pared-down, measured approach to conveying complex subject matter, the fluctuating relationship between concept and visual, and his fascination with humble, everyday materials.
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Gradients and Everyday Objects Reinterpret the Day’s Events by Concealing the Cover of The New York Times
Last summer, Sho Shibuya began a visual archive of the day’s sunrise by painting vibrant gradients in their likeness over the cover of The New York Times. The smooth, colorful transitions literally masked the daily headlines, offering a reprieve from the news and establishing a morning ritual that the Brooklyn-based artist, who’s also behind the design studio Placeholder, continues today.
Alongside those subtle sunrises, though, Shibuya also has started interpreting some of the day’s events through mixed-media works that similarly block out the articles. Two bandaids adhere to a peach cover, for example, marking widespread COVID-19 vaccinations. Bands of silver and gold splice another piece, which is also overlaid with a shattered mirror that reflects on Daft Punk breaking up after 28 years. No matter how heavy the topic, each of the pieces, Shibuya says, is intended as a visual aid that inspires hope and optimism. “I want to create peace through my work sharing my sympathy and emotion,” he tells Colossal, explaining:
I believed simple color and shape have power to influence emotions, and emotions influence actions. It is important to get the facts and understand the news, but I think my work is meant to make people feel the impact of the world beyond just facts and figures. It is similar to the way The New York Times printed all 100,000 names of the people who died from COVID; art can be a more impactful way of communicating the significance of the news.
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For many people, blocking out the news has meant logging off of Twitter and resisting the urge to check every breaking update. But Sho Shibuya has taken a more literal approach to the stress-reducing action. The Brooklyn-based artist and founder of the design studio Placeholder has taken to painting over the front page of The New York Times with vibrant gradients that mimic the day’s sunrise.
Beginning in March when cities began to lock down, Shibuya realized that his sensory perceptions of the world changed. “Some days passed and I realized that from the small windows of my studio, I could not hear the sounds of honking cars or people shouting,” he says. “I could hear the birds chirping energetically and sound of wind in the trees, and I looked up and saw the bright sky, beautiful as ever despite the changed world beneath it.”
Shibuya began to photograph the sunrise each morning, recreating each rich gradient in acrylic. His color choices are inspired largely by the Japanese ukiyo-e artist Hiroshige, who was commended for his bokashi gradient technique and signature blue tones. Each of Shibuya’s works maintains the header and date of the publication. “I started to capture the moment in the newspaper, contrasting the anxiety of the news with the serenity of the sky, creating a record of my new normal,” he says. “Their front page has always been a time capsule of a day in history, so it made sense to use history as the canvas because the paintings are meant to capture a moment in time.”
The spirit of the project is that maybe, even after the pandemic subsides, people can continue some of the generosity and peace we discovered in ourselves and that the sky reminds us of every day with a sunrise through a small window. If one thing the news has made clear, we need generosity and peace for all people now more than ever.
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