Arts and Entertainment

Tomer Hanuka’s Polychromatic Fantasy

The Society of Illustrators presented a collection of digital artist Tomer Hanuka’s illustrations from the past decade

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By Celise Lin

Unknown Pleasures: The Art of Tomer Hanuka debuted in March at the Society of Illustrators within its maze-like Red Gallery, a narrow corridor densely packed with artwork on vermillion red walls. The exhibition displays prints of Hugo Award-nominated illustrator Tomer Hanuka’s artworks on congruent rectangular platforms. Hanuka’s art is inspired by his childhood in Israel, where he grew up fascinated by the science fiction, comics, and film of the 1980s cultural zeitgeist. Hanuka, who currently serves as the principal illustrator at Rockstar Games, utilizes a manga-esque art style characterized by dynamic shading, sharp inking, and limited color palettes. The exhibit’s selection consists of prints from Hanuka’s monograph Unknown Pleasures (2024), a compilation of the illustrator’s works from the past decade. Every piece was made digitally; while uncommon for a typical New York gallery, the medium’s usage is reflective of most illustrators in the mainstream media industry today. Though the exhibit may feel stylistically homogeneous, Hanuka’s usage of vibrant colors and recognizable pop culture references creates accessibility appealing to both routine museum-goers and general audiences. 

Hanuka’s affinity for pop culture manifests itself in an extensive wall of film posters, many of which were co-produced with Mondo Graphics as sanctioned merchandise for their respective films. The posters highlight Hanuka’s dedication to deliberate color schemes. In his rendition of the horror film A Quiet Place (2019), an imposing red sun centered at the top of the poster transmits a hue of scarlet over the film’s protagonists, a family of four. The family’s small figures trudge through a comparatively vast green outline of rocky terrain resembling sound waves as described by quantum physics, alluding to the film’s premise of aliens who attack using their sense of hearing. While sharing A Quiet Place’s color design of green and red, Hanuka’s The Dark Knight Rises (2015) contrastingly portrays intense, intimate action. The adaptation of Christopher Nolan’s superhero threequel magnifies the clashing figures of Batman and Bane, the film’s villain. Bane’s bulging muscles are excruciatingly detailed with unnaturally sizeable veins creasing through his skin, making his stature grotesque. Though most of the image is composed of varying shades of green, the occasional hints of red are used to depict both fighters’ physical attacks. The color appears on Bane’s gripping fingernails, fumes escaping from his breaking mask, the blood coming from Batman’s stab wound, and the wrathful eyes of both figures piercing each other. 

Blade Runner (2019), based on the 1982 film, is displayed further down the wall of posters. Hanuka uses thin ink lines to outline the figures of the film’s protagonists, Rachael and Deckard, under an all-encompassing turquoise hue. Rachael sits by a piano holding a cigarette, overlooking Deckard, who is asleep. Hanuka stabilizes the subdued turquoise’s omnipresence by placing an opening to a gleaming, saturated yellow kitchen behind Rachael. Technical screens are attached across the apartment, and a minimalistic checkered pattern adorns the walls and ceiling. Behind Deckard’s body, one screen projects the image of a horse galloping through a field. As viewers of the film would recognize, the horse is actually a unicorn—though the poster’s edge cuts off its head (and subsequently, its horn). The screen is a broadcast of Deckard’s psyche as he slumbers. Deckard famously dreams of a unicorn in the film, a segment widely regarded by fans and director Ridley Scott as an implanted memory, and henceforth proof he is a replicant (a type of android, and the film’s main antagonistic faction). However, the poster doesn’t attempt to definitively confirm this unresolved plot point, offering evidence suggesting Deckard’s humanity. Thin and scratchy lines spread wrinkles and coarse body hair across Deckard’s body, creating a rugged appearance that contrasts with the slickness and synthetics of Rachael, herself a replicant: heavily styled hair, barely-wrinkled white clothing, smooth makeup, and skinny frame. The concealment of the unicorn’s horn reiterates the film’s ambiguity of Deckard’s status, but it’s an obscure enough detail to not distract from the poster’s purpose as an homage to the cult classic film. 

Blade Runner is displayed on a larger frame than the rest of the exhibit’s prints. Its dominating presence is fitting since many of Hanuka’s other prints incorporate similar futuristic aesthetics. In The Pool (2016–2022), concept art for Hanuka’s project Milk Hall, a woman with a cybernetic body and human face lies on a white-tiled floor, gazing at the viewer. Bundles of wire spread across the image, connecting the woman’s neck to a hexagonal capsule extruding from the back of the room. The capsule’s border is a pink, purple, and blue gradient, and its interior is covered with padding. Sitting in the hexagon is a pale man with a bony frame with wires seemingly connected to the woman stringing from the hole’s ceiling jacked to holes on his back. Besides the border, the entire poster’s color scheme is almost exclusively composed of pear green and dark violet. In front of the larger-than-life technological figures is a barista serving a man a drink, both humans seemingly unaware of their high-tech surroundings. This juxtaposition between unsettling artifice and seemingly grounded normalcy accentuates the print’s peculiarities, giving it visual distinctness even when surrounded by similar outlandish works. 

Unknown Pleasures occasionally feels unsubstantiated due to essentially functioning as an advertisement for Hanuka’s book. However, that is what Hanuka’s primary medium inevitably entails: all of the prints were illustrated with digital software, so everything presented is a reprint. Regardless, Hanuka’s works are mesmerizing and vivid, with undeniable skill behind their production. The exhibit succeeds at its promotional intent: the visual power of its works is enough to encourage gallery-hoppers to purchase the monograph, taking the gallery’s prints with them as leave.