Colombian artist and author Daniel Liévano, hailing from Bogotá, brings a conceptual and philosophical approach to his illustrations, featured in prominent publications like the New Yorker and commissioned by renowned entities such as Pentagram and Vice. Liévano, known for blending digital, watercolor, and pastel mediums, has not only made his mark in editorial illustrations but has also authored books like “Gravity” and “Contagion,” showcasing his deep love for philosophy and semiotics.
Kafka on the Shore
Recently, Liévano took on the challenge of illustrating Haruki Murakami’s surreal and dreamlike novels for The Folio Society, starting with “Kafka on the Shore.” Despite being a self-proclaimed non-frequent reader, Liévano, when engaged with a novel, becomes wholly absorbed, allowing it to influence his perspective on life. His collaboration with The Folio Society has resulted in a best-selling series, including “Norwegian Wood” and “The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle.”
“There’s a long history of abstract art,” he says. “But illustration has to illuminate the text so it often ends up being figurative. For Kafka, I think the abstractions initially come from Murakami’s writing, which is not so literal or physical—it’s more of a sensation. When I read it I felt like I could illustrate some things with just a few lines or textures.
Unlike typical book covers, Liévano’s role with The Folio Society goes beyond summarizing the story; he immerses himself in the text and visually interprets emotions, atmosphere, and subtle suggestions throughout the books. His unique approach aligns with The Folio Society’s vision, as art director Raquel Leis Allion emphasizes the illustrations’ role in complementing and enhancing the text.
Experimenting with abstraction in his personal practice, Liévano draws inspiration from Murakami’s non-literal and sensational writing style. The challenge lies in maintaining a consistent visual language across the Murakami series while adapting to the distinct moods of each book. From transmitting the hallucinatory nature of “Kafka on the Shore” to conveying the contemplative and romantic mood of “Norwegian Wood,” Liévano aims to capture the essence of Murakami’s narratives.
Technique and Perspective
Liévano’s use of various techniques and materials, borrowed from his personal work, includes scanning pencil sketches, pastel drawings, and even photos of clothing to add real-world textures to digital illustrations. Despite the mystical elements in Murakami’s stories, Liévano brings balance by incorporating mundane, routine reality into his visuals.
Given about four to six months for each book by The Folio Society, Liévano dedicates hours to reading and immersing himself in Murakami’s novels. His process involves taking notes, highlighting scenes for illustration, and studying academic readings online to better grasp the meaning behind specific scenes. Challenges arise when faced with disturbing scenes, prompting Liévano to decide whether to include them while being captivated by other, more transporting moments.
Liévano’s responsibility is to interpret the story in a way that resonates with readers, relying on his gut feelings rather than overthinking. The magic happens when people appreciate his personal and explicit-free visualizations of the narratives. Because of his intimate study of Murakami’s ideas, Liévano expresses her desire to meet the author.
“Kafka on the Shore became one of my favorite books, I understand it from the first letter to the last.””