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The Highlighter





Ariella Gogol speaks to the artist about his custom work for Sephora’s Sweet 15 Campaign.

To celebrate our Sweet 15, we collaborated with Keiichi Tanaami, one of Japan’s most iconic pop artists. A pioneer of boundary-bending artwork since the 1960s, Tanaami’s touch has electrified everything from legendary album covers to animated films, illustrations to paintings, silk screens to sculptures.

Exclusively for our birthday, Tanaami created a fantastical world that, really, only he could dream up. Set against our explosive summer launches, his cheeky creatures—over 100, in total—burst into kaleidoscopic color, beckoning our own inner party monster to join in.

The Sephora Glossy connected with the creator to talk character development, the wonder of the wide-open eye, and why 15 is an age built for escape.

Where did you garner inspiration for these illustrations?
The work is based on the story of a girl living in a monochrome world; she is sucked into a monster’s eye that leads her to fall into the underworld. After her dazzling adventures in the vividly colored alien land, she discovers a castle made of cosmetics. Numerous lipstick-butterflies are astonished at her and start dancing.

Your characters seem to stay with you, evolving through your many projects and platforms. Did you tailor them for our Sweet 15?
My characters are inspired by my dreams and memories, by the monster encyclopedia, and by movies and comic stories. They have secrets surrounding their births, and they play together. By combining multiple patterns, I tried to animate Sephora-like elegance, enchantment, glamour, beauty, and eros, but in a tense atmosphere.

Have you developed identities for each of them?
I created almost all of the characters without any outside influences, with the exception of some patterns that I reworked from a Japanese painter in the Edo period (18th Century). Also I love the cover art of this science fiction book that was popular in the 1920s; I was significantly affected by it. I don’t give names to the characters, but I have considerable feeling for every pattern. They all may be my other self.

You use a lot of eyes in your work. What is their significance?
In horror movies or comics, we almost always see ultrasonic waves, laser beams, electromagnetic waves, or X-rays fired from a wide-open eye. The eyeball, or view, that often appears in my work is energy, will, desire, and also the symbol of fear. The eye peeking out at the outer world through a small hole on the face is a mysterious tunnel connecting inside and outside.

This year marks the 15th birthday of Sephora. What do you remember from your own 15th birthday?
On my 15th birthday, I am pretty sure I hid myself in the darkness of a movie theater. Escape from the real world—that was the movies. It made me the happiest ever just to see the smile of this actress dancing in a gorgeous party scene.

I’ve read that you chronicled your dreams and memories for 20 years. Can you tell us about one of your standout moments?
Several months ago, I had this dream, where a red rash appeared under my left eye. As I picked it with my fingers, the rash got bigger little by little. It annoyed me by compressing my eye, which trembled slightly.


After visiting New York in 1968, you cited pop art, rock, and American culture as major influences. Are you still influenced by American culture today?
The most inspiring thing to me about American culture is its B movies, the ones that I was addicted to in my teenage years. I was a movie maniac, watching more than 500 titles a year. Actresses’ faces, with beautiful heavenly eyes, still remain vivid in my mind, and often appear in my work.

What do you see as the connection between art and beauty?
There have been a lot of collaborations between artists and brands all over the world, and I think it’s natural that both parties pursuing beauty have a deep conversation through the project. I think our collaboration is rare, and one of the greatest encounters that we can experience.