May 2007

Josh Cook

nonfiction

Three Trees Make a Forest by Ronnie del Carmen, Tadahiro Uesugi, Enrico Casarosa

Three Trees Make a Forest is a collection of art works from a joint show by illustrators and animators Enrico Casarosa, Ronnie Del Carmen, and Tadahiro Uesegi. From the introduction, we learn that this collection was created out of mutual respect and affinity amongst the artists, rather than any unified theme.

A good piece of stationary visual art (drawing, painting, sculpture, photograph) takes a long time to be fully seen; it contains more visual information -- in terms of detail or interpretive potential -- than can be quickly processed. In contrast, a good piece of visual design can be seen relatively quickly. I do not understand all the mechanisms involved in this; for example, why the simple shapes of a Matisse cut out contain more visual information than the simple shapes of a corporate logo, but I maintain the difference exists and that this collection falls in the latter category. All three of the artists present images that are visually appealing with generally successful line work and competent coloring, but without any depth of detail or hints at narrative; a style that fits perfectly for liner notes, advertising, and logo design, but doesn't reward the owner of an art book. Ultimately, this felt like a design portfolio instead of an art collection.

Tadahiro Uesegi presents a fashion model-style figure in a number of different settings. These settings have the greatest visual depth of all the pieces in the book. They provide a range of frames for the central character that could have narrative and thematic potential. However, that line is never crossed, perhaps because the figure is an uninteresting caricature. She is the rail thin, curveless, angle-heavy model of fashion illustration, and completely boring to look at. This figure undercuts the effect of what could have been an excellent work. An untitled piece shows her wiping steam away from a glass surface, revealing only the parts of her in the path of her sweeping hand; she is participating directly in her own state of being seen. If she were more interesting to look at, this would be a great piece.

Enrico Casarosa is an animator, and it shows in his pieces. They lack the depth needed to truly stand alone, but I could see how his experiments with perspective and color might work in an animated narrative. Even his best piece, of a woman sitting beneath an invincible umbrella with torrents of rain framing her, called "Cozy," only elicits a momentary, "Oh, that's pretty cool," before being flipped past.

The works presented by Ronnie del Carmen are all studies of a character for a graphic novel called Paper Biscuit, making it challenging to assess them in any meaningful way. I must assume that someone believes they stand alone because they are collected here as such, but they are so clearly character studies that I can't be sure what criteria to apply to these individual pieces. The character is a relatively standard amalgamation of American and Japanese animation styles. She's shown in a variety of moments, both adventuring and mundane, and seems to have the visual elements necessary for an entertaining, if not particularly deep, graphic character. The text that accompanies some of the pictures creates this odd divergence, where the artist describes "Nina" as being far more interesting than is shown in any of these pictures. Perhaps, with knowledge of Paper Biscuit, these pieces would elaborate and deepen the character, but that assumption just reinforces my initial statement about assessing this work.

A designer or illustrator who understands the challenges of the field would probably be able to understand Three Trees Make a Forest as an excellent collection. The reader looking for an art book experience, however, will most likely flip through the book in a few minutes, at worst dismissing the whole thing and at best concluding that they don't have the necessary insight to appreciate this particular kind of visual expression. Because the nature of these pieces is so definitive, I feel like I have a much clearer sense of the differences between art and illustration and design. This is only a negative observation if one is being passed off as the other.

Three Trees Make a Forest by Ronnie del Carmen, Tadahiro Uesugi, Enrico Casarosa
Gingko Press
ISBN: 1584232269
128 Pages