We get a lot of inquiries about the Fisherman Poster. The poster hangs on our shop's walls at 815 Broadway, amongst a collage of other eye-catching display items, prints, and ephemera, but this arresting image stands out and begs many questions: Who is that man? What's he wearing? Is he facing forward or are we seeing his back?
Our friend, designer Anders Arhoj of Studio Arhoj created the Fisherman Poster for Umami Mart in 2012, during the shop's earliest days in Oakland. He helped design the store's layout, our branding, as well as some of our products, including The Fisherman Poster, which is a stark black-and-white silhouette of a fisherman from Feudal Japan. I got in touch with Anders to ask him to take a jog back down memory lane, recall his inspiration for creating this iconic image for Umami Mart, and help answer some of your burning questions about this enigmatic figure.
What compelled you to create this poster? What was it about the feudal-era fisherman that fascinated you?
It was during the build-out days of Umami Mart in 2012 that I realized I didn't have enough motifs for the big display collage wall – an essential part of the interior that had the important job of invoking the essence of the store: the meeting between Japanese historical crafts and modern clean design. I wanted a mix of classic Japanese products, found antique objects, hand-drawn ink paintings, and then also some prints you could actually buy from the store.
Before flying into Oakland for the build-out I had spent months diving deep into the history of Japan and its crafts. When looking around for the last motifs for the wall I stumbled upon a story about Japanese fishermen and their straw coats, which fascinated me. Their coats were made of many layers of thick straw that protected them from rain and windy weather when spending days by lakes and rivers waiting for fish to bite. These coats must have been heavy, moist, and probably quite smelly and moldy... The image of a man in his coat and hat had a feeling of solitude and loneliness, which must have been a common feeling among these fishermen. But also peace, concentration, and focus.
Why did you decide to design the image as a silhouette instead of a detailed drawing?
The shape of his coat and huge hat made him look almost like mythical forest beast and when I traced the outer shape and created a silhouette, I thought it was quite a beautiful picture: a meeting between man and creature – an ongoing theme in my own work as a designer and artist. You question what is natural or not by removing almost everything. It also made the motif more modern and timeless to fit people's homes today without being an ornate historical drawing.
Customers sometimes ask if the fisherman is facing forward or if his back is turned. Can you resolve this debate for us? Or did you purposefully make it ambiguous?
I would say he's standing with his back to us. To me at least, that gives it a feeling of us observing him in his own world. We are not a part of the scene and he does not acknowledge us. We do not belong in his world of yesteryear and intense zen.
I love the one big, cartoonish eye on the fish on the line. It gives an otherwise stark image a bit of levity. Was that what you were going for by adding that small detail?
Thank you! When the print was done I realized it lacked two things: levity as you say and also balance. The fishing pole had no fish on it and so the motif of the fisherman was falling to the left. So I drew the little fish at the end of the pole: to make up for the potential sadness (he finally caught a fish!) and by adding the cartoon eyes it would push it into a little more modern and Japanese pop mainstream territory. As a typical Scandinavian I like the mix of melancholy and humor, ha.
You created this poster several years ago. Looking back on it now, do you have any new thoughts or feelings about it?
Well, I think I have grown to like it more and more through the years. It was created quite fast and in the midst of an intense month of building and creating the store. I really like being allowed to have 100% creative control within a limited time and unique design theme, and sometimes you don't realize what actually happened and what you made until several years later. I'm happy The Fisherman is part of the constantly growing Umami Mart family heritage.
Thanks, Anders, for answering these questions and for creating this piece of Umami Mart history. For those of you who are as drawn to this image as we are, The Fisherman Poster is available in our shop for purchase.