Big Eye Art: Resurrected & Transformed

Gaye Birch enters the world of oversized eyes in a new art book...

Give me big, anime eyes. But don’t turn off the lights!

In a room my grandmother reserved for me and my sister when we spent weekends with her as children, were two framed prints, one of a girl, the other, a boy, both with enormous, forlorn eyes. Those images fascinated and frightened me. Especially in the dark. Back then, they didn’t have a niche-y name. Now they do and I was eager to read and review Big Eye Art: Resurrected & Transformed.

All the contents, recent work from some twenty-two artists, share one feature – big eyes. In fact, the artists self-identify as ‘big-eye artists’. The extra eye dimensions range from slightly over-sized to monstrous proportions of a third, or even half the space of the entire face. These enormous eyes are found on fairies and nymphs and other nearly-but-not-quite human characters in cartooned and caricatured forms. Oh, and some cats.

If I didn’t know what happens when we assume, I’d have guessed every entry was made by girls with waist long hair and centre partings whose MySpace profiles are peppered with glitter gifs. And it might be a safe guess for a fair percentage of the participants. And way off for others. Contributors’ portraits include a surprising range of  ages and even a couple of men, in what’s usually a predominantly female-fancied art form. (Except those guys who talk about the anime cat girl creatures as though they’re real, but that’s another story and one I never want to touch. Thank you.)

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This is a nicely proportioned picture book, perfect for spreading across a lap and, even in paperback, its 224 pages are good and weighty. Full page, full colour art shares space with attractive text pages of artist profiles and essays, all on high-quality paper. The variety of styles of artwork, with enough detail to reveal grain (real or simulated) is impressive, especially given the subject matter’s strict adherence to outsized ocular orifices-only.

The genre may not charm everyone, of course. One man or woman’s cute is another’s ugly. I’ve always suspected the original, psychological attraction to overly-large eyes is linked to babies and children and their wide-eyed innocence and joy. But not everyone finds babies appealing.  

There are scores of bearers of big eyes here, some more fanciful and fantastic than others and, besides the expected anime forms, a few are in Gothic styles and dark, even disturbing, settings. There’s bound to be something for everyone. Certainly those who enjoy collecting categorized cultural crazes of all types or who relish tasty examples of many artistic techniques in one place should feast sumptuously within.

I enjoyed the images as well as the inspirations cited by each artist. I also revelled in the realization that everything really does come around again, wish I’d kept my entire high school wardrobe, and wonder if big buck teeth will ever master the mainstream.