2.21.2006

Biodata Of Ikko Tanaka

IKKO TANAKA is widely thought of as the father of graphic design in Japan.Tanaka was born in 1930 in the old imperial city of Nara and studied art in Kyoto and graduated from Kyoto College of Art in 1950. In these two ancient capitals of Japan, Tanaka absorbed the aesthetics of traditional Japanese art. He began his professional career in Osaka in 1952, moved to Tokyo in 1957,in 1960 he became one of the founder members of the Nippon Design Center and in 1963 he wet up his own design studio in Tokyo, since when he has been active in all areas of visual communication. He contributed to various national projects such as the Tokyo Olympic Games in 1964, Expo 70 in Osaka and Nara Silk Road Expo in 1988.

In 1953, at age 23, Tanaka was commissioned to design the poster for an Argentinean orchestra concert. Following his professional discipline of not beginning work before studying a problem in depth, he immersed himself in South American music. “Its rhythms became the image. The new notes, so unfamiliar, appealed to him. They lined themselves up, neatly in rows and fell fresh, Argentinean, colorful, onto the page. Musical notes became words, words became a vision: Orquesta Tipica Canaro” (Calza, 20). The Tanaka style was born.While fully engaged in his designing in Tokyo, Tanaka also continued his work on the series of theatre posters for the Noh theatre of the Kanza School in Osaka. At this time, 1958, he created what is likely his best-known work (see image on cover), one of the Noh posters. “On a blank sheet he drew a large quadrant subdivided into squares, densely and evenly colored very much in the traditional style. Over this, allowing it to bleed out at the top, he drew the essential features of a female mask of great elegance…painted with rapid brush-strokes…The result is magical, as though the outlines of a face were slowly emerging on to a dominant colored surface…”(Calza, 21)

Tanaka left the Nippon Design Center in 1963 to start his own business, establishing the Ikko Tanaka Design Studio. This forced Tanaka to take on work other than poster design. The following year, Tokyo hosted the 1964 Olympics, an event of extraordinary importance. It confirmed the universal acceptance of Japan’s full readmission into the international community. Tanaka designed the symbols and signage for the Tokyo Olympics as well as the medals.A year after the Tokyo Olympics, Dutch graphic designer Pieter Brattinga organized an exhibit of Tanaka’s work at the De Jong Gallery in Hilversum. Tanaka then toured Europe and the US, inviting graphic designers to take part in Persona, a new exhibition of graphic design for Tokyo in 1965. The Persona exhibition featured an international group of 16 handpicked artists, and was held in the Matsuya department store. The exhibit’s success exceeded all expectations.

Tanaka began to design posters for the annual Kanze Noh theatre in Osaka in 1961. He continued to design Noh posters for more than 30 years, combining traditional Japanese aesthetics with contemporary Westernized imagery and feelings. Tanaka designed posters for the newly opened National Theatre for Traditional Performing Arts in 1966, and for Saison’s Seibu Theater in Tokyo beginning in 1973. These posters reflected Tanaka’s interest in a wide range of repertoire - from plays such as The Cherry Orchard or Equus, to modern Japanese plays, to the contemporary music concert series Music Today programmed by Toru Takemitsu, and Tatsumi Hijikata’s Butoh performances.

The New National Theatre in Tokyo commissioned Tanaka to design posters, flyers and house programs for theatre and musical performances since its opening in 1996. Tanaka created 38 posters for this theatre over the past seven years, and the New National Theatre has graciously donated eight of their favourites for this exhibition.
Tanaka collaborated on many projects with Japanese fashion designers Hanae Mori, Kenzo Takada and Issei Miyake. He was a master book designer. He was Art Director of the Saison Group, and led numerous design projects of department stores, shopping complexes and theatres. Tanaka’s work is represented in the permanent collections from the Museum of Modern Art in New York to the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The Graphic Characters of Ikko
Tanaka, a solo exhibition, was seen in Toronto, Halifax and Calgary in 2000-2001, co-organized by The Japan Design Committee and The Japan Foundation Toronto. Tanaka’s theme in this show was human nature and a global concern for humanity, expressed through "characters" - both human and written.

Ikko Tanaka died of a heart attack on January 10th, 2002. The posters exhibited are a small memorial to a huge international talent.