Mountain View native David Hollin didn’t imagine that his artistic world premiere would come about via a fan art post to Reddit. But the Mountain View High School graduate, 22, made a splash last month as he shared a series of “Game of Thrones”-inspired prints done in the Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock style.
Key scenes from the high medieval fantasy – banquets, battles and processions – transpose to Japan’s Edo era, when samurai lived out the ideals of feudal morality now echoed on the big screen. George R.R. Martin’s series of fantasy novels, recast as the vastly popular HBO show, conjure a world akin to medieval Europe. But Hollin saw echoes of his own heritage in the stories. Growing up in a Japanese-American family with annual trips to his mother’s family in Japan, he’d become a fascinated scholar of Edo-era history and art.
“The Machiavellian element of the show really made it work – the way feudal houses are situated, the way knights interact with each other, the sense of obedience and loyalty and honor,” he said of his instant vision of Game of Thrones as samurai drama.
Hollin posted his work on Reddit’s image-hosting site and referenced the work on a conversation followed by fans of the series.
His captions describe correspondences between concepts in the text and Japanese history, ranging from Shinto prayer practices to a warlord’s historical headgear.
Not only was Hollin’s art warmly received, it started to spread beyond Reddit’s community, picked up by media outlets attuned to geek culture.
It probably didn’t hurt that the fourth season of “Game of Thrones” is scheduled to premiere April 6.
Years of wood- and metal-working had led Hollin to love the physical craft of ukiyo-e woodblock printmaking, but tinkering with texture filters in graphics software let him emulate the effect of carved wood at speed for these prints, experimenting during short bursts of free time after work.
The market for ukiyo-e prints boomed centuries ago when a large middle class developed in Japan, with cash to spend on decorative items but not necessarily enough for ornate, custom-painted silk scrolls. Woodblocks could be printed over and over, creating a consumer-friendly category of art.
“One of the biggest influences on my work was (Utagawa) Hiroshige. He was probably the most well-known artist from that era,” Hollin explained.
Today, the prints conjure a nostalgic feeling, one Hollin described as akin to “a national treasure of Japan.”
Hollin’s art has taken a peculiarly parallel trajectory to the woodblocks of old. Encouraged by viewers who asked how they might buy prints, Hollins turned to the Mountain View-based company Red Bubble to set up an account to sell, produce and ship prints of his drawings as they’re ordered online.
Fans who find him in chat rooms or sci-fi news listings can become patrons of his art with a few clicks, in a modern spin on the democratizing power of easily reproduced art.
“I’ve already sold a bunch and they’ve been extremely helpful, a great partner,” Hollin said of Red Bubble’s gallery setup.
When he’s not dabbling in the world of fan art, Hollin works a day job in the creative arts industry. He studied 3-D art and interactive game development at the University of Southern California and is now an animator at Industrial Toys – its first creation, Midnight Star, is about to publish as a touch-navigated sci-fi shooter game designed for iPads and iPhones.
Only four years removed from Mountain View High School, Hollin recollects formative moments when he was encouraged to gamble on his passion and talent for art.
“I took AP Studio Art with Jim Leavitt and he was a big influence in making me feel confident about actually pursuing the creative industry as a career path, rather than just a hobby,” he said.