Tadanori Yokoo (1936- ) is known for his psychedelic visions that vibrate with moods, rather than messages—the pulse of Shinjuku neon, kabuki glamour, and subconscious desires deep in the historic memory of Japan. Throughout his career, Yokoo has developed a distinctive style that blends Japanese Manga with American Pop Art, psychedelia, Surrealism, and Modernism.
“A great deal of public interest was aroused by the ‘Persona Exhibition,’ a group exhibition by 16 designers, which opened at the Matsuya Department Store in the Ginza section of Tokyo in November of 1965. Yokoo, who had held his first one-man exhibition at the Yoshida Gallery in Nihonbashi that February, had excited the interest of both his fellow designers and art critics… It was Yokoo’s collection of posters which became the major talking point of the ‘Persona Exhibition.’ This poster was created especially for the [exhibition]. The caption to the poster is of a derisive nature and aimed at the artist himself: it is in English, perhaps because the message was meant to reach a world audience. It might be that the corpse hanging by its neck, centered against a background of the bright rays of a rising sun gleaming in a blue sky, a single full-blown rose clasped tightly in one hand, represents the artist’s departure from his previous style… The photograph of the baby in the bottom corner is the artist himself at the age of one and a half… What creates the powerful impression made by this poster is the strong contrast of red and blue in the pattern of the rising sun. We often come across this pattern in Oriental references by Western artists; one reason why it may be considered inherently Japanese may possibly be its association in the mind with the flag used by the former Japanese Empire” (Yokoo, p. 6).
“This poster was designed for the ‘Tenjo Sajiki’ theatre production Marie in Furs, which was described as ‘The beautiful, tragic story of a homosexual prostitute, performed in female clothing.’ For the poster Yokoo used a lithograph in the Japanese style by Pierre Bonnard, completely in its original form without any adaptation whatsoever, and although he includes a written apology to Bonnard for this act of plagiarism in the very center of the poster, the idea behind the design was to show his utter contempt for himself as a top-grade artist. Note, for example, the mock signature ‘Pierre Yokoo.’ The performances of the ‘Tenjo Sajiki’ troupe could best be classified as ‘happenings’ in which the audience often became part of the show” (Yokoo, p. 6). This is a silkscreen print.
This is one of Yokoo’s earliest posters, but already his distinct style is fully apparent: he’s combined Japanese Manga and American Pop Art styles with a modern superhero aesthetic. This design was created to promote a book by Isamu Kurita, for which Yokoo also made illustrations. In the book, Kurita wrote, “‘In considering illustration now in its newer, broader sense, we can think of it as having the position within the sphere of design which adds flesh to words, sounds and forms… Illustrations are likely to continue to search out new principles of distribution within society.’ Certainly it can be said that… illustrations, graphic design and posters are art forms which, as Kurita states, are opening up the possibility of acquiring a new form of community spirit… Yokoo’s poster for ‘The City and Design’ was reduced in size and used as an illustration at the beginning of the book… The globe at left suggests that the world is still ‘under construction’ and therefore it is up to us to complete it” (Yokoo, p. 6). This is a silkscreen print.
“Someone Yokoo greatly admired was Ken Takakura, the superstar of yakuza (gangster) movies, who took the world by storm during the so-called Showa Genroku—The Golden Period of Showa—a flourishing cultural style of the mid-1960s… This poster was completed before Yokoo became acquainted with Takakura, and it is a sort of fan letter. In the Japanese underworld, it was a custom to show loyalty to the gangster boss by cutting off a portion of one’s little finger; here, Yokoo symbolically severs his little digit to prove his admiration for Takakura. The poster advertises a book; the name of the author, Kenji Kanezaka, and his picture are in the coin at right; Yokoo’s name, picture and credit as illustrator appear in the coin at left. Going down the sides of the poster are phrases then in vogue in movies in which Takakura acted, such as ‘Tokyo’s Where It’s At’ (right) and ‘Not All Men Are Fit For Crime’ (left)” (Yokoo, p. 7). This is a silkscreen print.
An early, award-winning work by the artist, this poster’s English title is “Osen in Petticoats,” and references the inaugural performance of the 1960s troupe Jokyo Gekijo. Part of the counterculture movement, this troupe challenged traditional Japanese theatre while also acting as a mouthpiece of protest toward larger issues. “It followed that any poster for a performance by the ‘Jokyo Gekijo’ also had to take the form of visual agitation, [and] the posters Yokoo created… [reflect these] intentions exactly” (Yokoo p. 8). This is a silkscreen print.
“Enka” music can best be described as Japanese blues, melancholy strains overflowing with yearning for loves lost and one’s home town. And Hibari Misora is probably the most famous Enka performer to have ever lived. She began singing as a Kyoto teenager in the 1950s and continued right up to her sudden death in 1989. She was only 52 years old. She is often thought of as having comforted Japan through the difficult recovery from the devastation of the war years, and her name, which one has to assume is a stage name, roughly translates to “Skylark (in the) Beautiful Sky.” She made more than 300 records and recorded over 1,400 songs in her life. Yokoo concocts a multicultural graphic stew to set the legendary entertainer in the public’s eye, complete with a cameo of Lyndon Johnson and a rather derisive appearance by The Beatles, here transformed into “The Beates,” a quartet of heart-nabbing vampires.
In-gallery viewing February 24-March 25 (11am-6pm daily)