The surrealist attraction of illustrator Nico Ito’s artworks

Growing up as an only child in Tokyo in the 90s, Nico Ito’s most frequent companion was his own imagination, which used to run wild with fantastical stories. “I used to draw the world of those fantasies. I loved the creatures and motifs that appeared in those drawings, and the process of creating settings for each one,” he tells CR.

A keen interest in art eventually led him to study at Tokyo’s Musashino Art University and, after graduating, he began working part-time as a designer. But after losing his job during the pandemic, and having much more time on his hands as a result, he started creating more illustrations and sharing them on his Instagram account.

Top image: Gucci Bamboo 1947 campaign

“The attraction [of illustration] is that I can express the imaginary world I loved since my childhood,” says Ito. “What I do is the same as before, but now I enjoy it because I can express it in more detail, more vividly, and with more atmosphere.”

Ito describes his approach to translating his myriad imaginings into illustrations as “a scene cut out of a scene”, adding: “I want to express in a single picture what is happening before and after the scene, the atmosphere of the place, and so on.”

His illustrations have an otherworldly quality to them, often drawing on both retro as well as futuristic visual cues to create a sense of timelessness. It’s an approach that is fast earning him fans in the brand world, including WePresent and Nike, who commissioned him as part of this year’s Air Max Day celebrations.

Ito’s favourite commission to date came from Gucci creative director Alessandro Michele. To mark the recent launch of the Gucci Bamboo 1947 handbag, the brand asked nine creatives to create artworks that featured the distinctive bamboo handle bag design.

Nico Ito illustrator VansVans Off the Wall Art Harajuku

Ito’s interpretation of the theme transported the bag into a surreal imaginary world, which the illustrator achieved using soft airbrushing.

While Ito would love continuing making work in the same vein as the Gucci project, he says he would also like to focus more on his personal work in the future. “Someday, I would like to make a large three-dimensional version of a character that appears in my work,” he adds.

Nico Ito illustrator Gucci

Gucci Bamboo 1947 campaign

Nico Ito illustrator

Nico Ito illustrator

Nico Ito illustrator