High Tech, Low Life: 5 Illustrators that Mastered the Cyberpunk Aesthetic
High tech, low life – that has become the unofficial cyberpunk slogan.
In 1980, the American sci-fi author Bruce Bethke titled his short story Cyberpunk as a portmanteau of “cybernetics” and “punk”. It was the first recorded instance of cyberpunk and grew to describe the sub-genre of science-fiction where high-tech is evil and omnipresent, human agency is low, and the future is grim and dystopian.
William Gibson’s 1984 debut novel Neuromancer is likely to be the best-known example of cyberpunk fiction and is credited for popularising the genre.
Over time, cyberpunk developed from its speculative fiction roots to describe a stylistic aesthetic in addition to its literary genre.
This aesthetic has been widely interpreted and explored in film; the celebrated sci-fi author Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? inspired Ridley Scott's film 1982 Blade Runner, whose noir approach helped emblematise cyberpunk into a stylistic category.
Recent television releases reflecting cyberpunk elements include Love, Death & Robots, Cyberpunk: Edgerunners and Altered Carbon.
In painting, digital art and illustration, the cyberpunk aesthetic tends to be characterised by fuchsia or purple colour schemes, retro-like neon signs, machinery, cityscapes with towering skyscrapers, distressed humans with bionic components, and a general feeling of doom.
Cyberpunk is ripe with inspiration, and it’s no surprise that artists continue to tap into its wild potential.
Continue reading to discover digital artists and illustrators – emerging, mid-career, and established – impressing with their interpretation of the cyberpunk aesthetic.
MAD DOG JONES (AKA MICHAH DOWBAK)
REPLICATOR (2021), MDJ x Phillips: A Multi-Generational NFT. Image courtesy of Phillips
The Canadian artist Mad Dog Jones (Michah Dowbak) made the news in 2021 when his “self-replicating NFT” REPLICATOR was sold for US$4.1mil at a Phillips auction house sale.
The Thunder Bay, Ontario artist has created works for Run The Jewels, Jabbawockeez, Conor McGregor, Maroon 5, Chromeo, among others. In 2021, he partnered with Deadmau5 to release an NFT collection on the Nifty Gateway marketplace.
His first IRL (in real life) solo show “AFTERL-IFE WORLD” was appropriately held in a city that has long inspired the cyberpunk aesthetic: Tokyo, Japan.
His work is characterised by a distinct cyberpunk palette of fuchsia and purple hues and elements, high-tech elements, and dystopian scenarios.
DEATHBURGER (AKA JOSAN GONZALEZ)
Rich with pastel tones, Josan Gonzalez’s approach to cyberpunk is softer than the popular neon-fueled undertaking of the aesthetic – but the subject matter is as dark as they come, and the integration of human and computer is sinister.
Known as “Deathburger” on Instagram and ArtStation, the Spanish illustrator launched his story-driven art book The Future Is Now by funding it on Kickstarter and, with it, set up his own publishing arm and merchandise platform Citadel 9.
Mingming’s Escape, Lucius Felimus. Image courtesy of Lucius Felimus
Can the Philippines house the high-tech? Lucius Felimus certainly seems to think so in his endeavour to introduce Metro Manila “as the next cyberpunk megalopolis of the future”, and the settings of his works are an exciting change from Tokyo, Seoul, Hong Kong and New York, which have long dominated cyberpunk cityscapes.
The artist began his career as a photographer in 2019, exploring the high-tech and neons of his home city from a cyberpunk lens, progressing to working with SketchUp and Blender to encapsulate the noir further.
Scene from Dave Cook, Killtopia, BHP Comics
The Glaswegian artist Craig Paton illustrated the cover art and inside pages of Killtopia, the cyberpunk action comic book series written by Dave Cook and published by BHP Comics.
The story is set in futuristic Japan, where a salvage hunter and his robot sidekick are “hunted by android killers in a race to cure a deadly nano-plague”.
“The important thing to remember about cyberpunk, is that beyond the superficial allure of the neon-coloured streets and rain-soaked alleyways – cyberpunk is at its core a movement based on anti-capitalist and anti-fascist values,” said Paton.
“It focuses on the survival of the disposable lower classes left behind by the unending growth of a techno-capitalist world.”
DANGIUZ (AKA LEOPOLDO D'ANGELO)
Weltschmerz, 2022. Image courtesy of Dangiuz
The Italian artist Dangiuz oscillates between cyberpunk and outrun aesthetics in his machine-centric works.
Sprawling metal infrastructure is dominant, and his use of neon blues contrasts against the darkness of the shadows of the crevices across his imagined spaces. Look out for the cat that makes frequent appearances.
A crypto artist, Dangiuz’s works are available for sale as NFTs on SuperRare.
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Cover Credit: New Manila, Lucius Felimus
Writer | Bana Bissat
Bana Bissat is a Milan-based writer who reports on sound art for Sound of Life. She has written for Flash Art, Lampoon, and Cultured. @banabissat