Jon Koko’s Evocative Art Soothes And Makes The Mind Wander

How did your journey in illustration art begin? And why this medium?


I started off with painting. When I first began, I painted in a very different way. It was an explosion of colors influenced by Rauschenberg and Rothko; and it even had some graffiti elements to it. They were purely abstract, impulsive paintings. One day, I started editing my works digitally; from there it progressed into what I do today. Illustration suits my need to express certain visions. It is a great medium to make things more tangible—I find illustrations to be very descriptive.

Japanese art, Buddhism, and Taoism count among your main influences. What drew you to them? How have these shaped your vision?

There was a period in my life when I listened to the Tao Te Ching [a classic Chinese text, fundamental to both philosophical and religious Taoism] on my iPod every single day. I was very taken by it. The text has changed my life radically, it was a real paradigm shift. Every aspect of my life suddenly reached a new meaning; I started to observe and notice things that previously had been out of awareness. I felt both ecstatic and deeply moved; it just seemed to complete my thoughts. Maybe this is what first introduced me to and taught me about the value of emptiness—it has the power to set the mind into motion.

When it comes to Japanese arts and crafts, I think I have learned a lot by just carefully observing them. In 2015, I went to Japan to hunt down exhibitions and places connected to the woodblock printer Kiyoshi Saitō, with the aim of learning and understanding his work and technique better. Japanese craftsmen pour their lives into their craft; they have an outstanding way of treating materials, colors, and designs, which are always executed with the highest sensitivity. I will always find joy, inspiration, and guidance through their work. Sōetsu Yanagi’s The Unknown Craftsman is one of my favorite books—it has kept pushing me through the years, and it’s one that I always come back to.