(Images Courtesy Of University of Chicago Libraries.)
Critics trying to sum up the work of artist Tadanori Yokoo have called him, "The Japanese Andy Warhol." That's like calling James Joyce, "The Irish Dr. Seuss." Both artists use silk-screen techniques to create prints, and that's where the similarity ends. Warhol's clear, linear, flat, and repetitive surfaces have a visceral visual impact. The eye instantly recognizes and grasps the content, often a colorful take on an already iconic image. Throw away all of that pop-art kapow, replace it with chaos, complexity, commotion, clutter, and more layers than a twelve-tiered wedding cake. The resulting merry-go-round of confusion is the art of Tadanori Yokoo. Viewers ready for Yokoo's wild ride should form a line at the University of Chicago's Joseph Regenstein Library. Dramamine is optional, but recommended.
Japan Foundation Toronto, the Center for East Asian Studies, the University of Chicago Library, and the Consulate General of Japan at Chicago, contains posters Yokoo produced for commercial advertising, art exhibits, theatrical performances, record albums, and cultural events between 1997 and 2005. These recent works are among the artist's most complex.
Born in 1936, Tadanori Yokoo was deeply influenced by Japan's rapidly-changing post-World War II culture. His art reflects Japan's transition from an insular, tradition-bound nation to a modern, global economic powerhouse. A single Yokoo silk screen can contain motifs from 19th century Japanese woodblock prints, Botticelli's Birth of Venus, traditional samurai swords, Dada photo collage, yakuza tattoos, Michelangelo's Laurentian Library, manga and anime characters, and 1960's psychedelia. About the only thing you won't find in Yokoo's everything-but-the-kitchen-sink aesthetic is any trace of hard-edged abstraction.
seppuku suicide Yukio Mishima. Several blood-tinged images of Mishima are found in his early works. Friendship with Mishima introduced Yokoo to the literary world. Both homoerotic Japanese poet Mutsuo Takahashi and American novelist and painter Henry Miller have been subjects of Yokoo's posters.
Miles Davis, The Beatles, and Carlos Santana. By the early 1990's he began digitally reconfiguring previous works with computer technology. Book design became a favorite outlet, notably intricate covers for Japanese manga, and the slip case and cover for David LaChapelle's compendium of photos, LaChapelle Land.
Ken Takakura, illustrated Japanese science fiction stories, and produced an ad campaign for Absolut Vodka. A thirteen-day retrospective exhibit of his graphic works in Japan attracted forty thousand visitors. He became fascinated by water imagery, putting a modern twist on the Japanese tradition of Ukiyo-e, or "the art of the floating world." The mutability of waterfalls as a symbol of the impermanence of life is a favorite motif. In 1999, in a group exhibition for the Mito Museum, Yokoo filled an entire room from floor to ceiling with postcards of waterfalls which were reflected in a black mirrored floor.
Paul Davis put it this way: "There isn't any other artist like him. Instead of taking a subject and just presenting it, he opens it up; and in finding so many ways to express himself and his passions, he has changed graphic design in the process." Visit the Joseph Regenstein Library to see Tadanori Yokoo's old-fashioned, avant-garde, commercial, outsider art. Whatever it is, it will be there through June 15, 2010.