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Somewhere between the whimsical tales of childhood and the shadows, lurking just out of focus, you will come across the work of Akira Kusaka. Kusaka is an Osaka-based, Photoshop-focused illustrator and graphic designer. Perhaps you will come across Kusaka’s world in a dream, dear darkling, or perhaps (like us), you will come upon it completely by mistake. It will be tucked in between illustrations of vampires and ghosts and it will call to you.

Akira Kusaka
Image credit: Akira Kusaka

When one thinks “dark and spooky” there are specific visual elements that come to mind: black as midnight on a moonless night, dark shadows with sharp edges, deep splashes of crimson blood. However, when it comes to the worlds within Kusaka’s illustrations, it is the grays and washed out yellows, the blurred edges of the composition that make for truly eerie scenes. The focus of Kusaka’s artwork exists somewhere just outside one’s line of vision. Though the subjects of his illustrations are often front and center; they appear to exist as part of a much larger, foggier, spookier world. Viewing these surreal scenes, you are made to feel as though you are also witnessing something just out of the corner of your eye – perhaps something that is meant to remain unseen. The illustrations are done in broad, dry strokes; no edges are clean or sharp but they are all deliberate.

Akira Kusaka
Image credit: Akira Kusaka

Kusaka’s illustrations are the dreams that feel wrong without obvious reason. They are the nightmares with worlds that we recognize but do not feel at home in. Kusaka’s work is done in colors of grey and black, the design of his characters almost whimsical, the situations they are in nearly sweet. They rely on stories untold to tell a tale, situations with intentions unclear in order to create intrigue. There is no violence outwardly taking place in these scenes, no obvious signs of witchcraft or terror. Rather, there are characters taking part in something nameless but darkly magical. The washed-out color palettes provide a sense of sinister foreboding in an otherwise fanciful moment. It is not what is taking place, but what could be taking place that chills the blood.

Akira Kusaka
Image credit: Akira Kusaka

It is also the unearthly perspective of Akira Kusaka’s artwork that lends to this intrigue. Much of Kusaka’s compositions make you feel as though you are getting a raven’s eye view of a private moment or that you are viewing the scene from a hidden spot. What are these secret rituals? Why are they hidden away? What is it we should not be seeing?

Akira Kusaka
Image credit: Akira Kusaka

Sometimes, the creatures in these scenes can be disarming. What is happening is unclear but we know that it does not, should not, exist in our reality. The most outlandish forms in Kusaka’s work are not human but are nearly shaped like them. They are recognizable but also alien.

Between what worlds have we been led? Is this creature a monster? Is this creature human? Is it somewhere in between? And these girls, all alone in the dead of night – what are their intentions? What magic are they playing with? It is these mysteries that plant the seed of terror in our imagination. Are the hairs on your arms standing up? Are you thinking of your own nightmares – the ones that feel real but very off?

Akira Kusaka
Image credit: Akira Kusaka

Allow yourself to be bewitched, dear darkling, and enter Akira Kusaka’s dark world of fairy tales, monsters, and every day people. You’ll never brush off a shadow seen out of the corner of your eye again. View more of his work here.

All images are courtesy of Akira Kusaka and are not to be used without his permission.

Liah Paterson

Liah Paterson

Liah Paterson is a Queens-based freelance illustrator. She spends her days polishing up her knowledge of occult objects, destroying canvases, and trying to coax her cats into liking her. Her apartment is filled with piles of books, sculptures, and paintings of disembodied hands, and a partner who plays scary video games for her so she can watch them like movies. Find her on Instagram (@atenderwitch) or on her website (liahpaterson.com).

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