Friday, February 5, 2010

Ikkō Tanaka (1930-2002)

Albeit somewhat tardily, it has to come to our knowledge that Ginza Graphic Gallery in Tokyo is currently holding an exhibition documenting the work of prolific designer Ikkō Tanaka (田中一光). Exactly 150 posters were selected for the show, highlighting the artist's output from 1953 to 1979. Incidentally, it was Tanaka's work with the Japan Graphic Designers Association that contributed to the establishment of the gallery over 20 years ago.

Tanaka was born in Nara City and educated at what is now Kyoto City University of Arts, the oldest arts college in Japan. He was an innovative and influential artist whose work helped define a sense of modernity in Shōwa-era graphic art. Beginning his career in advertising during the 50s, Tanaka established his own design studio in 1963. It was around the same time that he began to attract an international audience, holding his first solo exhibit overseas only two years later.

His work has been described as "strong, clean, and impactful", the volume of which is as diverse as it is simplistic. After producing designs for the 1964 Tokyo Olympics and the 1970 World Expo in Osaka, he became the creative director for Seibu Retailing Group (now the Saison Group) in 1975. There he oversaw a wide variety of work, including retail space and environmental design, product packaging and art direction for theaters and museums. Tanaka was later credited with developing the concept for Muji, the popular Japanese "no-brand" retail chain, and served as the company's first art director.

Distinguished amongst the graphic design community in both Japan and abroad, he was awarded numerous accolades and honors during his career including the Medal of Honor with Purple Ribbon, bestowed upon him by the Japanese government in 1994. Ikkō Tanaka passed away in 2002, just three days shy of his 72nd birthday.

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