by Ivan Quaroni
In Asian pop culture, and especially in Japanese pop culture dominated by the production of manga and anime, a super-deformed style has established itself based on the caricature representation of characters with childlike features, such as, for example, large heads, huge eyes, awkward bodies, and soft, rounded features. Contemporary artists such as Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, Aya Takano, Chiho Aoshima, and others belonging to the Superflat movement have consciously inherited the hypertrophic and flat style of the mangaka. In fact, the characters in their works, when they are not a direct quotation of those drawn by such masters as Hayao Miyazaki, nevertheless resemble their style.
In the anatomical deformations and anthropo-zoomorphic hybridizations used by many Asian artists and illustrators, the influence of manga and anime essentially translates into adherence to the so-called Kawaii aesthetic, which in contemporary Japan denotes a type of beauty associated with typically childlike feelings of shyness and vulnerability.
The term Kawaii can be likened to the Anglo-Saxon concept of Cuteness, which developed in the Victorian era as a result of the idealization of the world of childhood and is used to denote all that is pretty, cute, and tender.
Cute can be a child, an animal, or even an object that possesses the characteristics of "smallness," "unfinishedness," as well as "dissimilarity." An animated or inanimate thing is cute or kawaii when it possesses a tender and, at the same time, monstrous and heartwarming nature, characteristics typical of many manga characters such as Doraemon, Hello Kitty, and Pokemon.
Kawaii aesthetics since the 1980s have not only profoundly permeated Japanese society in every sphere, radiating from popular culture to the corporate world and even institutions - so much so that each of Japan's 47 prefectures has its own kawaii character - but through the spread of comic books, cartoons, and video games, has conquered the global mass imagination.
Of course, the world of Crypto Art has been no exception, as evidenced by the abnormal plethora of languages derived from the manga style that now occupy a large portion of NFT productions. In the composite universe of artists who have made the kawaii grammar their own, perhaps adapting it to the sensibilities of their culture of origin, there is also Thailand's FourLeafClover, author of images crammed with childlike characters that evoke feelings of tenderness.
A passionate illustrator since childhood, FourLeafClover is a self-taught artist who uses programs such as Clip Studio and Pro-create to make joyful and fun images. The inspiration for her works goes back, as she admits, to her time working in publishing, "I saw that the books I worked on made people happy, and so I decided to apply this concept to my art: I want everyone who sees my works to smile and be happy." It is no coincidence, moreover, that she chose as her name that of a herbaceous plant traditionally associated with luck and thus with feelings of optimism and positivity.
FourLeafClover debuted in the NFT world in August 2021, with the series of illustrations minted on OpenSea entitled Go BaBy Go !!, populated with childlike characters that would become typical of his drawing style. Among the many collections launched by the artist, with which she has secured a stable place in the NFT world, are also those derived from the reinterpretation of crypto icons such as the legendary Bored Apes of Yuga Labs (Ape BaBy Ape !!) and Pepe The Frog (Fake Rares), the character born from the pencil of Matt Furie for the Boy's Club comic strip, later to become famous through the overflowing production of memes circulated on the network and on Twitter.
The artist has made a name for herself not only through her constant efforts to create illustrations and short videos that draw on childhood memories and often feature nostalgic settings, as in the case of the Life Baby Life series, but also through her collaborations with portal communities such as Sappy Seals, Boki, Alien Frens, Uwu Crew, and Squishverse, for which she has created original characters and animated stickers that represent her personal contribution to the Kawaii aesthetic.
FourLeafClover is so convinced of the creative potential of childhood imagery that together with @HGESOL she created the ABC abracadabra project on the Magic Eden marketplace, which consists of a collection of ten thousand NFTs made in the typical style of childhood drawings to remind everyone of the joy of creation before the advent of adulthood.
Irony, joy, and lightness characterize all her creations, which are often influenced by Kawaii aesthetics and Western pop culture. Many, in fact, are references to the film sagas of Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Back to the Future, especially in the series of works in the Metaverse cycle, where his childlike characters escape from everyday reality to immerse themselves in the virtual universe of their heroes.
Also belonging somewhat to this cycle is the work created by FourLeafClover for the Poseidon DAO Deploy Collection, entitled A World of Hope. It is an animation from which the artist's concern for a world heading toward inevitable ruin shines through. The narrative line mirrors that of other similar works, which show the moments immediately before and after immersion in the Metaverse via a viewer. In A World of Hope, the protagonist, coming from an apocalyptic, fire-ravaged megalopolis, virtually takes refuge in an illusory dimension where the world has not yet been destroyed by the consequences of climate change. The real theme of the work, however, is hope, represented here by the desire to experience an existential dimension where man and nature coexist in perfect harmony.