For more than a century, the Society of Illustrators in New York has promoted the art of illustration and exhibited the work of the nation’s best artists. Since 1981, the Society has held a student scholarship competition that recognizes the most outstanding illustrations by young artists hoping to follow the path of its founding members such as N.C. Wyeth, Frederic Remington, and James Montgomery Flagg.
When the Society’s 2014 exhibition of scholarship winners opens in New York City on May 7, it will include a work by Hayato Jin Kawai ’14 (SFA), the first UConn student to earn such prominent recognition as an illustrator.
Kawai’s winning entry, “Fun with Kim and Denny,” is an editorial illustration depicting caricatures of former professional basketball player Dennis Rodman and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, romping through a field of cartoon images that pokes fun at the former NBA All-Star’s visits to the controversial leader earlier this year.
The illustration was one of 8,700 submitted to the competition, which resulted in 300 selected for inclusion in the upcoming exhibition and a catalog that will be sent to art directors. Kawai also is one of just 30 scholarship winners from the competition.
The colorful drawing was an assignment for the basic illustration class taught by Alison Paul, instructor in illustration in the Department of Art and Art History of the School of Fine Arts, whose work was included in the Society’s annual competition catalog when she was a student at the Rhode Island School of Design. After her illustration was seen by an art director, Paul says, she was hired for a paid assignment as an artist.
For the assignment in Paul’s class, illustration students focused on caricatures of several prominent newsmakers after reading published stories about them, including Oprah Winfrey, the Dalai Lama, and Hillary Clinton.
“I do different kinds of media and styles,” says Kawai. “Editorial illustration was very new to me, but it was fun to work on it. When I was reading the article, I was imagining these two different guys, hanging out in a flower field.”
When Kawai submitted several of his illustrations to Paul to consider for the competition, the Rodman piece was not included. He says he was surprised the drawing won, because he initially was skeptical whether his work would hold up against more realistic illustrations. Paul suggested that it might be a good piece to include.
“The Society of Illustrators is the top group in the world. When they say these are the up-and-coming artists, art directors want to see that. That’s how they look for new talent,” says Paul, who organized UConn student entries with Cora Lynn Deibler, professor of art and a renowned illustrator. “They tend to like more contemporary subject matter that is more satirical. I thought Jin’s illustration hit all the marks.”
In addition to seeing his winning illustration exhibited in New York in May, Kawai, who serves as event coordinator for the UConn Illustration Club, will also be part of the Department of Art and Art History BFA Exhibition at ArtSpace in Willimantic in April. As the spring semester was winding down, he was completing a large, 4 foot-by-6 foot panel titled “Heroes Never Die.”
Kawai surveyed students about their heroes and had a long sheet of paper on the door of his art studio room in the Bishop Center for visitors to suggest names to be included in his new creation.
Kawai says that when he was growing up, he moved back and forth from Japan to the United States, because of his parent’s business. “I always had this identity crisis,” he says. “I was born in Japan and didn’t know who I was. Heroes help shaped my life. I thought it was interesting to listen to other people and who their heroes are.”
His work has six panels that include cinematic and comic super heroes, such as Harrison Ford as Han Solo in “Star Wars,” and Batman, and notable figures such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and financial wizard Warren Buffett. He also includes some UConn notables – Shabazz Napier ’14 (CLAS) and Stefanie Dolson ’14 (CLAS) of the Huskies 2014 dual NCAA Championship basketball teams.
“Heroes Never Die” will be on display with other works by UConn’s senior art students at ArtSpace, 480 Main Street, Willimantic, from Thursday, April 17, through April 27. Kawai’s Society of Illustrators winning illustration will be on display from May 7 to 31 at the Museum of American Illustration, 128 East 63rd Street, New York City.