Saturday, 7 April 2012

My new hero Ikko Tanaka, graphic designer, art director and artist

I found a small flyer a few weeks ago that sprang to my immediate attention, announcing the exhibition of Ikko Tanaka. My heart pounded just a little harder. Isn't the image (top left) utterly powerful and clever? Well, it is exactly what I love about graphic design. The power of it, the simplicity, the boldness and a trace of humor even. Based on this one image I knew I was an instant fan of Ikko's work. Googling being the first step to learn more, I found out that this year, unfortunately, is the 10th anniversary of Ikko's death in 2002. Sadly he died too young and sudden, but left a vast amount of amazing graphic art for everyone to relish.

Ikko left 120.000 works to the 'DNP Foundation for Cultural Promotion' after his death. For the exhibition 163 of the 550 posters he created in the years between 1950 and 1970 were chosen. Spanning 20 of the 50 years Tanaka has had an active part in establishing Japanese design in and outside Japan. Raised in ancient Nara and later living in Kyoto, the traditions and rich culture of his surroundings had a great effect on Tanaka's work. Mixing traditional aesthetics with contemporary elements was one of his trades, along with his view on typography and new ways of printing.

Ikko was allied to gallery 'ddd' where the exhibition was held. He designed their corporate identity (seen bottom left, which shows the brochure for gallery 'ddd' in Osaka and sister gallery 'ggg' in Tokyo). Gallery ddd has a small, but very pleasant exhibition space, a library, and exhibition books for sale at the reception. For instance the two books with the collected works of Ikko Tanaka. His early works, from 1935-1979 and his later works from 1980-2002. Respectively showing 163 and 150 of his works in full colour, English copy.

Galleries, or museums, focusing on graphic design are sparse in the world, so 'ddd' and 'ggg' should be cherished. Over the last 25 years they brought the world a 100 unique exhibitions with Japanese and international graphic artists alike. A book was published with an overview of those 100 showing an exemplary work from each of the artists. Names like Paul Rand, Kazumasa Nagai, Saul Bass, Bruno Munari, Katsumi Asaba, Makoto Nakamura, K2, Studio Dumbar (Dutch), Paul Davis, Ryohei Kojima, Paula Scher, John Maeda, Neville Brody, and Raymond Savignac are amongst them. An impressive line up, Tanaka not the least amongst his peers.

I would like to thank the staff of Gallery ddd for their friendliness and providing me with two wonderful books for this article. I am very grateful, どうもありがとうございました.

Poster design for this exhibition by Kazumasa Nagai.


  1. Wow, awesome colours!

  2. Thank you Christel for this thorough article. I came across this work before, but it's more comfortable to read about it in English... Being in Tokyo, I had no idea that ggg was the sister gallery of ddd.

    1. Hi Bruno. Thanks for the comment! Most of the exhibitions travel between the ggg and ddd. I think maybe this one comes (back) to Tokyo again, you could check the website maybe? It's hard sometimes to find information indeed. Not so much websites in English around in Japan, I'm happy Google translate offers some sort of solution. :)