Chris Scarborough


Written by James Read
20 Monday 20th June 2011

Chris Scarborough specialises in reinterpreting Japanese pop culture in a kind of manic way that echoes Shintaro Kago (minus some of the porn). He alternates between photography and illustration, creating realistic characters with freakish bugged eyes, or chaotic balls of debris in place of heads. I caught up with him between prep for his Washington & LA shows.

Why the clouds and clusters?

I began making the cloud/explosions as a way of exploring some of the imagery in older classic western cartoons, like when you see the cartoon cat and mouse get into a fight and this dust cloud erupts and all you would see are feet and arms sticking out.

I was also noticing a similarity between the anthropomorphisation of inanimate objects such as trees, teapots etc in these older cartoons and the belief in Kami (spirits within objects) in the Japanese Shinto religion. I was interested in how these two cultures treated a similar idea in different ways, one through comedy, and the other through religion. I was interested in exploring what a Kami for war or violence might look like.

I just like clusters, they are fun to look at.

Your grandfather was involved with the development of early ballistics photography. Has this got anything to do with the prevalence of war and guns in some of your images?

Yes and no. A lot of my work has to do with my life but it is often in the background. My grandfather got me started making photographs and has given me several of his cameras over the years which I still use today. So he has been a tremendous influence on me, but there aren't any direct references in the images of war that point to his career as of yet.


With both your drawings and photography, you magnify and distort 'cuteness' - particularly the Japanese, 'kawaii' sense of this. Why so?

A lot of what I do is based on the context of images. With the portraits of people I was interested in taking this specific type of idealised cartoon imagery that is very commonplace in Japan and applying this slightly ignorant western art historical interpretation of it. How would Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres interpret Japanese pop culture if he were to come across it? Most likely he would try and render it, to make it real. And so I wanted to see how the viewer would interpret these idealisations from another culture when mapped onto real people, or rendered as if they were sitting in front of me.

You've published more drawings than photography lately - are you consciously leaning more towards this medium?

I usually just go in whatever direction I think the idea calls for. Lately I have been making more drawings; it just felt more appropriate for what I was working on at the moment. There's always an ebb and flow between the mediums for me and I'll often swing back and forth, sometimes further in one direction, but it just depends on what I think will work best for what I'm trying to accomplish.

See more of Chris Scarborough's artwork at

This article was first published 08/06/2009

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