This Painter Made the New York Times His Canvas
The story behind the viral-hit art of Sho Shibuya
Ever since we discovered the work of painter Sho Shibuya on Instagram, we've been fixated. [Judging by his follower count, we’re not alone.] Who is this enigmatic and prolific creator, who takes a given day’s New York Times front page and turns it into a painting? Why and how does he do it? And how does his mix of dreamy abstraction and pointed commentary reflect the city behind the daily news?
We were lucky enough to have an email chat with Sho, who kindly provided us some of his beautiful work and some insight into why he brings it into the world.
WILDSAM: When and why did you start painting your New York Times series?
My first painting was April 27th, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit New York City. The city went into lockdown. I was stuck in my small studio apartment in Brooklyn. Everyday, absorbing the bad news, I wondered, how I could adapt to this new normal without feeling overwhelmed?
I realized that from the small windows of my studio, I could not hear the sounds of honking cars or people shouting. I could hear the birds chirping energetically and sound of wind in the trees, and I looked up and saw the bright sky, beautiful as ever despite the changed world beneath it. I was intrigued by the contrast between the chaos in the world and stunning sunrises every day. I started to capture the moment on the newspaper, contrasting the anxiety of the news with the serenity of the sky, creating a record of my new normal.
What is it about the Times, specifically, that makes it a canvas for you?
I subscribe to The New York Times and read it every day. I trust their journalism. The specific sunrise I paint, is the sunrise in New York. So, the essence of the entire project came from my love of the place. It’s New York City, and the Times is the paper of record for New York.
How do the contents of a given front page influence particular works?
Sometimes, I feel eager to capture my emotions after witnessing tragic events such as the mob Trump incited on January 6th, or when Issey Miyake passed, when Russia invaded Ukraine, and when the huge earthquake struck in Syria and Turkey. I use painting to capture and share my raw emotions and reaction to what is happening in the news.
What materials/media do you use in these works?
Most are acrylic, but I am open to using anything that accurately depicts the event. I used fake snow material for record snowfall in California, or a real balloon for the Chinese spy balloon incident.
Can you describe your process? Do you treat or prepare the newspaper in any way?
My process is pretty raw. I pick up the paper, read the stories, and paint either a sunrise or a reaction directly on the cover. I don’t use a primer or any fancy paints, though recently I have started to explore more multimedia techniques, using different materials that are better at communicating the concept or feeling.
What’s the most surprising thing anyone has said to you about these pieces?
When Patti Smith DM’d me and praised my work, that was like walking on air. That led to our collaboration.
When I saw her poster on the street–her series, “It’s In Our Hands,” urging people to vote and take back control for themselves–I came up with an idea for her five fingers indicate to countdown, with five days before the election to urge people to vote.I texted her about the concept, and she said, “Yes, I will do it. I love your work.” We created “It’s In Our Hands” five days before the election and urged people to vote and take back control for themselves.
Is there an “only in New York” quality to this series?
For the sunrise series, I have painted wherever I have traveled, because it is a daily habit and I’m not always at home in New York. When I’m traveling, I try to get a copy of the local newspaper to paint the sunrise on. So far, I have the Boston Globe, Miami Herald, Le Monde in Paris, Corriere della Sera in Milan, and a few Japanese newspapers.
Is there an overarching message to these works?
I am trying to capture “time”–to record every single day of sunrise as well as important events. People feel or look back to have mixed feelings about each work and be nostalgic, like seeing old photos with a time stamp.