In 1946 in Imabari, Ehime Prefecture, a legendary artist was born. Hajime Sorayama’s love for drawing started at a young age. While other children were drawing basic concepts, Sorayama was drawing things so realistic that his teacher was convinced that he had help from his parents. He always had an interest in metal, and mechanical designs such as robots, firearms, and vehicles. In high school, he submitted drawings of warships to a warship magazine and they were frequently published.
After high school, Sorayama attended a Christian university in Shikoku to study Greek and English literature. In his sophomore year, he was kicked out for leaving erotic images and literature on display around the campus; a testament to his raunchy humor and love for the female anatomy. Though he was forced to leave the school, his humorous and rebellious spirit remained intact, and still does to this day.
Sorayama then ventured to Tokyo where he studied at Chubi Central Art School. He still didn’t feel like he fit in, but he befriended someone that worked at a hotel next to a US military airbase. Through this connection, Sorayama gained access to pornographic magazines such as Penthouse and Playboy. Sorayama illustrated his own copies of the pin-up girls and other explicit images. He may not have realized it at the time, but these illustrations of the female anatomy were a precursor to illustrations that would bring him international attention some years later. He would even go on to work for Penthouse for 10 years, but first he completed his art school studies. “My life is a detour”, he says.
After graduation from Chubi, Sorayama worked at ADK, a Japanese advertising agency, as a graphic designer. He resented that his creative expression was limited by his clients’ professional desires. After two years of working there, he started freelancing.
A special moment in art history occurred shortly after Suntory, a Japanese whiskey maker, offered Sorayama a job. He was asked to illustrate C-3PO from Star Wars, but due to copyright complications, he created his own version. At first he drew a robotic man walking his robotic dog. He then added a robotic female character. She was shiny, sleek, and in a way that made some feel uncomfortable… she was sexy. It wasn’t long before Sorayama gained attention from all over the world for his portrayal of female robots, evidently inspired by erotic magazine clippings, along with his masterful ability to capture reflection and light. In an interview with Uniqlo, Sorayama reveals part of the motive behind his style; “They say only crows and humans are awed by shiny things. That’s why I like to create reflectivity and transparency in my artwork. It’s easy to produce those effects in a video, but not on a flat surface. It’s an uphill battle, but here I am, trying to produce those effects with paint. So call me Don Quixote. There’s a beauty in defeat: you suffer and panic, but in the end, you create something new. Even Nobel winners are often people who nobody quite ‘gets.’ You should be proud to be an outsider.”
Although he may feel like an outsider in many ways, he found ways to successfully blend his style with an extensive list of collaborators including Sony, Darkstar, X-large, HUF, Stüssy, Medicom Toy, Aerosmith, George Lucas, KAWS, Mizuno, Uniqlo, and DIOR.
Check out the details we photographed on Hajime Sorayama’s Future Mickey Be@rbrick collaboration with Medicom Toy.