Yuko Shimizu Captures a Sea of Emotion and Severe Hydrophobia Through Her Provocative Illustrations

by Carolyn Sotka






This image accompanied a GQ review article (written by Boris Kachka – January/February 2014) for Chang-rae Lee’s new book ‘On Such a Full Sea’ about Chinese immigrants in dystopian future city of Baltimore. Image from YUKO SHIMIZU’s Web site.

YUKO SHIMIZU (清水裕子) is a Japanese illustrator based in New York City and instructor at the School of Visual Arts. Newsweek Japan chose Yuko as one of “100 Japanese People The World Respects(世界が尊敬する日本人100)” in 2009.

Through a number of water-influenced illustrations, Yuko faces her own hydrophobia while addressing important societal issues such as environmental disasters, climate change and the slaughter of beloved animals such as dolphins.

According to her blog, one of her favorite movies of all time is ‘The Big Blue‘. It is her ultimate dream to swim like a fish, creatures she also has a fear of. She can’t swim, and believes she will never learn how, yet themes of water recur in her work – almost as a secret fantasy.

One of her influences is Katsushika Hokusai, a wood block, Japanese artist from the mid-1700’s. Hokusai is known for ‘The Great Wave and as the first person to use the MANGA – a style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels, typically aimed at adults as well as children. Check out Scuttlefish’s article on The Great Wave.


This illustration accompanied the story, ‘The Man Who Sailed His House‘, published in GQ, about the survival of one man during Japan’s earthquake and tsunami in March 2011. He was washed about 1Km offshore clinging to the roof of his house and finally rescued days later. Image from YUKO SHIMIZU’s Web site.


This illustration was published in Scrubs (Winter 2013 issue), a magazine for nurses. The article was called ‘Swimming in Fear‘, about a nurse’s fear of breathlessness in water compared to the pressure of being a nurse. Image from YUKO SHIMIZU’s Web site

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This illustration accompanied ‘Twitter Tsunami’, the Newsweek cover story (April 4, 2014) written by Bill Powell about the social media storm that descended on Taiji, the Japanese town at the center of a dolphin slaughter. Image from YUKO SHIMIZU’s Web site

On her blog, Yuko explains how seeing her home country of Japan go through dramatic temperature changes since the mid-late 1980s and seeing the devastation left in the wake of Hurricane Sandy in NYC where she lives, has inspired her to weave climate change ‘consciousness’ throughout her artwork.


Illustration accompanied ‘Bracing for Climate Change’ written by Michael Cockram in ‘Green Source’, a magazine for sustainable design. The article focused on new architecture and engineering to create more resilient buildings and infrastructure in the face of climate change. Image from YUKO SHIMIZU’s Web site



“Underwater” -flood, rebuild, repeat. from Mother Jones’ July/August 2013 issue. Image from YUKO SHIMIZU’s Web site


Yuko works at her studio in midtown Manhattan, and fulfills her passion of world travel by giving lectures and workshops around the world and various cities in the US. Image from YUKO SHIMIZU’s Web site

Check out Yuko’s expansive and evolving gallery, and for additional information such as art direction and other publications for works.  – CS

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