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The illustrations by Justė Urbonavičiūtė – aka Kissi Ussuki – could easily transform from acrylic on paper into a pongo cartoon set in the 1990s. The works of the Lithuanian artist, based in Vilnius, are charged with an ironic and dreamlike symbolism that is completely pink. The pink color leads the scene of characters with charismatic and magnetic poses. Flesh and body are exposed to communicate messages, thoughts and images through minimal and essential representations. The figures, often women and sometimes humans without a precise gender identity, wear very physical and direct sensations and emotions. Themes such as sensuality, beauty, irony come to life in a playful and sometimes surreal game where fantastic elements inhabit the narrative. Two-headed, deformed, extendable bodies as only Inspector Gadget knew how to do, they are also loaded with intimate and passionate meanings that hide stories as happy as they are sad. The fewer details there are, the more space is left for emotion.
Kissi Ussuki is one of the artists proposed by Artwort Gallery.
Where does your alias come from?
I love watching movies, it’s a great source of inspiration for me so when I was looking for a nickname I borrowed it (with some alterations) from one of the characters in a James Bond film – I just loved the look and sound of it!
You are an illustrator but also art director, photographer and graphic designer. How these different roles of your career influence your creativity?
I’m very lucky to be able to do many things because then I’m never tired of the work I do! If I’m working on an album artwork or a music video I get to take a break from illustration and when I come back to it I have loads of new ideas and excitement to start working on them.
When did you start to drawing professionally?
Almost a decade ago I started illustrating back covers of a local lifestyle magazine. My style then was quite different from what I’m doing now but I consider that period the start of my professional career.
Which is your favorite artist?
There are so many! But at the moment it’s Birute Zilyte, a Lithuanian artist who illustrated all my favorite childhood books and together with her husband created insanely beautiful murals back in the 60’s and 70’s.
What is your favorite art place, gallery or museum that you are used to visit?
Victoria and Albert’s museum holds a special place in my heart because whenever I’m there I fill my sketchbooks with so many ideas – it’s like a power plant of inspiration.
You like to draw faces, hands and other body parts, especially if they are pink. Why do you like this color and what does it mean for you and your art?
Pink was one of the first colors that I picked up when I started developing my painting style – I chose it because I found it fun, pretty and easy to play around without thinking too much. So I stuck with it ever since and mainly use it because it brings me joy to look at it, haha.
Match five of your works to:
1. a movie
David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me’
2. a book
‘What We Talk About When We Talk About Love’ by Raymond Carver
3. a poem
‘Clouds’ by Wislawa Szymborska
4. an art masterpiece
Manet’s ‘The Luncheon on the Grass’
5. a song
ABBA – Dancing Queen
The glance of your subjects are very expressive and emotional. When you draw a character, which are the feelings that guide you to the composition? And is there a relationship with the colors that you use?
I really like to limit myself – not to go into too much detail and use bold shapes, in this way the compositions and the amount of objects in my illustrations are quite restricted. I use symbols that universally and straightforwardly represent certain feelings or emotions. If I’m drawing sadness, for example, I’ll be incorporating a tear and a sad smile. Regarding the colours, I feel very comfortable with pinks and purples since they are my favourite shades and I just naturally gravitate towards them. The inspiration to experiment with the rest of the colours comes from my surroundings and can be influenced by the time of the year or a recent colour combination I noticed in a movie or on the street.
On what are you working in this period?
Right now I’ve just finished an editorial assignment that I was very excited about and have started brainstorming on some ideas for my new riso prints.
Do you have any artistic project in the next future?
My plan for the future is to paint on bigger canvases because I really want to make work that is gigantic and barely fits in my studio! Also, I think my characters should look fun in 3D so you might see me making sculptures soon.