Friday, April 9, 2010

Chicago Library Is Turning Japanese

Tadanori Yokoo, Made In Japan, Silk Screen, 1998.
(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.

Tadanori Yokoo, Shin Sangokushi, silk screen, 1999.

The library's exhibit, co-sponsored by the 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.

Tadanori Yokoo, Poster for Atrium Gallery Exhibit, silk screen, 1999.

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.

Tadanori Yokoo, Echigo Tsurukame, silk screen, 2000.

The multilayered, jam-packed symbolism of Yokoo's work is a microcosm of the overloaded modern subconscious mind, so relentlessly bombarded with unfiltered images that space, time, and context no longer provide a meaningful framework. High and low, East and West, ancient and modern, all compete for the observer's focus. The meaning is in the delectably complex mixture, never mind the taste of any individual ingredient. Believers in "less is more" have got the wrong guy.

Tadanori Yokoo, Gohatto, silk screen, 1999.

Not surprisingly for a visual artist with such an amalgamated style, Tadanori Yokoo is also a filmmaker, musician, actor, set and costume designer, photographer, writer, and window dresser. (And he's pretty sure he was contacted by extra-terrestrials at some point.) One of his closest friends was novelist, poet, paramilitary right-wing ideologue, and 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.

Tadanori Yokoo, Change Izu Tourism Festival, silk screen, 2000.

Coupled with Mishima's death, a serious auto accident caused Yokoo to give up art for a period of religious reflection in the early 1970's. Travels for the study of Buddhism and Hinduism brought him into contact with spiritually inclined musicians. Yokoo reentered the art world by designing record album covers and commercial images for 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.

Tadanori Yokoo, Floating Bridge of Dreams, Noh Theatre Poster, silk screen, 2000.

Remaining true to his mix-master mentality, Tadanori Yokoo continued to seek wildly different venues for his artistic output. He created posters for the gangster movies of his friend, 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.

Tadanori Yokoo, Lucky Gods Festival, Kobe Harbor Circus, silk screen, 1998.

What sums up Tadanori Yokoo's work is that it can't be summed up. It is fine art and graphic art. It is successfully commercial and deeply personal. It is filled with pop culture images and suffused with spirituality and mysticism. It is distinctly Japanese and defiantly Westernized. Oklahoma graphic artist, and longtime friend, 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.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email