Keith's co-author, Jennifer Jenkins, gave me permission to post the following:
There will never be another Keith Aoki. We’ll miss you. Thank you for touching all of our lives during your too, too brief time. There’s more love for you, more heartbreak losing you, than your humble soul could ever have imagined.
Where to start? Sheer, playful, delightful talent - what Keith could do with a pencil or pen, the ways he transformed ideas into those stunning images, each with a unique Aoki imprint, every one was a new gift that you would need time to savor and get to know and Marvel at. In his Animated mind that Aoki library of influences, adored, stacked, sifted, understood, as only he did- “well, what I was thinking was, Jamie and Jennifer, this would be like Jamie Hernandez, Robert Crumb, Jack Kirby”; it went way beyond that, this movie, that book, the whole corpus of the art history canon, or the obscure gem in that dusty corner, this perfect reference no one without his Escher scaffolding and 4D Rosetta Stone could have summoned.
But it wasn’t just talent. It was the joinder of talent and innocent, playful love of art. I remember Keith captivated by something he needed to tell me, emphatically, with his always earnest expression (because he knew no other mode) – he wanted to tell me that the root of “amateur” was “amore”, love, and that’s what it was about for him, he simply loved to draw. (He liked music too. The Garden Weasels with those awesome posters, the much earlier Chameleons - of course he called the band “amusing nonsense from the lost years” when their music was really great).
Which brings us to the next uniquely Keith phenomenon – his utterly unfathomable humility. Like he’s an artist we could call an Amateur. I’m lucky enough to know a lot of extraordinary people that somehow remain incongruously modest, humble, understated, self-deprecating. But Keith really was completely unaware of his brilliance (I thought about saying unencumbered, but I wish he had the chance for just a moment to step out of his humble shell and fully appreciate himself). He always seemed to see himself as just a willing participant in the larger landscape, unaware that he was actually one of the stars that was illuminating the whole thing, adding hues that changed the whole scene. And he’s not brilliant just as an artist but a scholar, colleague, teacher, thinker, human being.
As a human being in particular – he is, really, the sweetest and most guileless person I’ve ever met. (The only moment of anger we ever saw was rightful, principled unwillingness to tolerate an injustice done to another. He had a purity of spirit unjustified by, resistant to, this world that is taking him way before his time.) When the “tiger mother” parenting trope was saturating every conversation, Keith was describing how his girls had discovered the physics of spraying soda all of him and the car (he was telling us this, of course, in the course of apologizing for his car being unsuitable). He smiled in that way that lights up his face - what a cliché, but you all know that smile, the happy warms your heart Keith smile - and said (perhaps I paraphrase), “I guess, in some ways, I’m the mouse dad!” The mouse dad, that was Keith.
“In some ways” – the tic that punctuated his speech. “This was, in some ways, an era when artistic production was intertwined, in some ways, with cultural arbitrage.” A characteristically qualified, self-deprecating set up that, in typical Keith fashion, tended to precede profound insights.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. If only we could do with words a fraction of what you could do when your pen touched paper. If only we could do something to keep you with us longer.
If only you knew how much you were loved (but I think you do... in some ways).
We are all better for having had the gift of knowing you. Thank you.
As we've mentioned in our prior posts on this, a fund is being set up for Keith’s two nine year old daughters, Sarah and Rachel. Anyone interested in donating should send an e-mail to Jamie Boyle at firstname.lastname@example.org for more details.