Animal Crossing: Oil paintings by Mayuka Yamamoto of enigmatic children dressed as animals

Little Sheep Boy © Mayuka Yamamoto

It was the cute, welcoming game of mundane fruit picking and creative crafting that got us through the first lockdown; now Animal Crossing has inspired a new series of paintings by Japanese artist Mayuka Yamamoto.

Regarded as one of Japan's leading second-generation contemporary artists, whose works depict children sporting animal features and enigmatic expressions, Yamamoto's latest oil paintings appear reticent and introspective. The emotions of her child characters, or "animal boys" as she often calls them, are meant to be a mystery to us. They exude an aura of otherworldly calm and demeanour that belie their true emotional and psychological states, juxtaposed against subtle settings painted in soft, muted colour tones.

"It's been nearly 20 years since I drew a picture of a child wearing an animal costume or becoming an animal," Yamamoto tells Creative Boom. "The reason for this is that, even though I am no longer a child, when I asked myself why I draw these pictures, I still feel the nostalgia of my childhood as an adult and it is still in my heart.

"It seems that my way of preserving this feeling is to continually paint these pictures. I have a certain memory of when I was young: My parents were always working very hard, but Christmas time was our family time together at home. It was a special day. Even now, when I smell the candles on a Christmas cake, my heart returns to my childhood as clear as if it were yesterday. It's the same feeling as when I finished drawing these pictures. When I look at my work, I feel a little sadness and longing, but also happy."

Born in 1964 in Okayama, Japan, Yamamoto received her master's degree at Tokyo's Musashino Art University in 1990 and joined the Japanese Government Overseas Study Program for Artist to continue her studies in London until 1999. Her works have been shown in several solo shows held by Japan's Gallery Tsubaki and her 2007 solo show, titled Deer Boy and Other infants, was hosted by Canvas International Arts gallery in Amsterdam.

Mayuka Yamamoto's Animal Crossing goes on show on Saturday 3 October at the Corey Helford Gallery in Los Angeles.

Little Snow Dear © Mayuka Yamamoto

Little Snow Dear © Mayuka Yamamoto

Little Red Bear in a Box © Mayuka Yamamoto

Little Red Bear in a Box © Mayuka Yamamoto

Little White Owl © Mayuka Yamamoto

Little White Owl © Mayuka Yamamoto

Little Polar Bear Boy © Mayuka Yamamoto

Little Polar Bear Boy © Mayuka Yamamoto