“The artists’ world is limitless. It can be found anywhere, far from where he lives or a few feet away. It is always on his doorstep.”
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It can be argued that the true artist can make art with whatever tools he has at hand. Singer and songwriter Tom Waits once said that “some songs come out of the ground just like a potato. Others you have to make from things you found, like your mothers’ pool cue, your dads’ army buddies, your sisters’ wristwatch… that type of thing. You’d be surprised what you can find if you’re, you know, resourceful.”
If that is the case, then it should come as no surprise that artists are constantly finding new ways to express themselves and new media in which to do so. This goes double for artist Tatsuo Horiuchi, a 74 year-old Japanese man who has found he can make beautiful artwork using Microsoft Excel.
“I never used Excel at work but I saw other people making pretty graphs and thought ‘I could probably draw with that. Graphics software is expensive, but Excel comes pre-installed in most computers, and it has more functions and is easier to use than [Microsoft] Paint,” says the Japanese man who started creating his artwork in 2000.
While most people look at Microsoft Excel and don’t see anything more than a tool to organize data and graph it (at best), Tatsuo Horiuchi saw an artistic medium. At the time, he was a short time from retirement and decided he needed a new challenge. So he got himself a computer with Microsoft Excel and started drawing with it.
Going around back to what we were saying in the first paragraph of this article, the tools at hand are not necessarily the right ones. The Japanese man just wanted a tool to draw, but solutions like Adobe Photoshop and the like proved too expensive, so he decided to work with Excel, which was much more affordable.
From this information, you may think that the artwork is data-driven and obtained through complex data manipulation. That isn’t at all true. The artwork is done using the Autoshape tool in Microsoft Excel and has nothing to do with graphs. Instead, you’ll be surprised to find that the Japanese mans’ artwork is on par with the finest Japanese painting traditions, featuring the same complex, yet simple landscapes and imagery.
Much like European artists like Claude Monet were taken with Eastern art in the 19th century, you too will fall in love with this updated variant of Eastern themes and style in the 21st century.
It took him about six years to hone his skills. During all this time, he never once realized that his use of the Autoshape tool in Excel was extraordinary. This only became apparent to him in 2006, when he entered an Excel Autoshape contest. The competition didn’t stand a snowflake’s chance in hell.
After getting first place in this competition, Tatsuo Horiuchi continued creating work in his trademark method. Not only that, but he has also created a series of tutorials to teach newcomers his spreadsheet painting method, which are featured on his website. Unfortunately, these are only in Japanese to date, but we’re hopeful they will be translated sooner or later.
Tatsuo Horiuchis’ work in with Excel reminds us of David Byrnes’ work with Microsoft Powerpoint as an art medium. Still, the two are worlds apart. While Byrne uses Powerpoint subversively in order to reclaim what is usually seen as a soulless, corporate tool, Horiuchis’ use of Microsoft Excel is without irony. The Japanese man uses the Autoshape tool honestly and with great virtuosity in order to create images in the best Eastern artistic traditions.
Not only is Tatsuo Horiuchis’ art visually similar to the old Japanese masters’, but the painstaking, roundabout method is also reminiscent of such fine Eastern artistic traditions like calligraphy, wherein the process is equally important as the art itself, and in which, should the process be flawed in any small way, so will the final piece be flawed.
What follows is a selection of Tatsuo Horiuchis’ beautiful spreadsheet artworks as well as a link to the original Microsoft Excel spreadsheet files, should you be tempted to try and reverse-engineer it in order to better understand the Japanese mans’ artistic process.
What’s truly interesting about this artist is that, had he decided to spend the money for a copy of Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, we’d probably never have heard of him. What do you think? Would you be able to do artwork this complex using nothing but Microsoft Excel?