TOKYO, Japan / The Japan Times / Life in Japan / August 7, 2011
CLOSE-UP: Tadanori Yokoo
An artist by design
For Tadanori Yokoo, there was one precise moment when he switched from graphic to fine art
By Edan Corkill - Staff writer
In conversation, Tadanori Yokoo jumps nimbly between the past and the present. One moment he's watching the sky glow red as bombs rain down on Kobe during World War II. The next he's riding in a taxi with Yukio Mishima. And then he's back in the present again, here at his studio in Tokyo's Setagaya Ward, discussing his latest painting.
Yokoo was born in 1936 in Nishiwaki, Hyogo Prefecture, and was adopted by relatives — a doting elderly couple who had run a kimono fabric-making company.
A keen drawer as a child, Yokoo — despite having no formal training — gravitated naturally toward graphic design.
Yokoo's 1965 silkscreen-on-paper work "Tadanori Yokoo"
After marrying young, at age 21 — he now has two grown-up children who are both active in the arts — Yokoo moved en famille to Tokyo in 1960, just as the city was in the midst of violent student riots against the Japan-U.S. Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security, which had been signed that January.
There, he eventually made his mark by pushing in the opposite direction away from Modernism, which was then the dominant design trend.
Instead of following Modernism's mantra of simplicity and function-over-form, Yokoo introduced into his commercial posters and advertising graphic elements from his childhood: His text was reminiscent of the old kimono fabric labels of his childhood; his graphics were influenced by children's card games from the prewar period.
Yokoo's original approach won him fans in Japan's avant-garde circles — the locale of creators such as the filmmaker Nagisa Oshima, the butoh dancer Tatsumi Hijikata and the playwright Shuji Terayama, for whom he made posters for theatrical productions.
He also gained a following overseas — being feted with a solo exhibition at New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1972. It was the first time that a living graphic designer had been given a solo exhibition at the hallowed institution.
A decade later, Yokoo surprised his fans by switching his focus away from graphic design. In what became known as his "painter declaration," he announced that he would henceforth become a fine artist — a painter.
He didn't stop doing design work completely, but since then he has spent much of his time in front of his canvases — mainly at his Tokyo studio.
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