Text for Selvedge Magazine by Holland Street's Designer Lauren Barfoot.
‘Crisp, abstract imagery, meticulous sense of colour and elimination of all inconsequential details’- with three concise phrases Grove Art online sum up the work of profiling Japanese graphic designer, Ikko Tanaka. (1930-2002)
He created a style of graphic design that playfully fused the principles of modernism with the Japanese pictorial tradition of ukiyo-e, or 'Pictures of the floating world'. Taken to a geometric extreme to Tanaka's blocks of pure colour remain recognisable as a geisha, a mountain or a flower and are blended with western typography. This link between ‘East and West’ captured my interest and to Tanaka's simple and timeless aesthetic sustained it. His work was visionary at the height of his success in the 70s and stays relevant to this day.
Tanaka bridged the gap between fine art and the commercial (Something many designers, myself included, aspire to achieve). He began as a textile designer but in 1960 he became one of the founder members of the Nippon Design Centre. Three years later he established the Tokyo-based Ikko Tanaka Design Studio.
Within a decade his reputation as a designer art director and editor, (he published many books on Japanese culture) was secure. He was inducted into the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame In 1994 and towards the end of his career created the Muji brand identity where he was art director until 2001.
As a designer it's impossible to look at Tanaka's work and not be influenced by his use of colour shape and simplicity. He creates an openness between positive and negative space that I find confident and self assured.
My aim is to create punchy innovative floral prints (subject matter often considered a design cliché) So Tanaka's flower prints resonate. The refinement and focus I strive for is there he can express the undulating softness of a petal in a solid, abstract form.
Like Tanaka, I design using block colours often black or white. I compose the shapes mixing smooth curves and straight lines. Tanaka used paper; I respond the tactile qualities of silk through digital and screenprint. I engineer my textile prints- currently paper cuts out roses, geraniums and peonies-To collars, cuffs and belts. I use digital printing to precision in a palette of pastel pinks and greys against intense cerulean blue and cobalt.
My collection of robes takes stylised inspiration from traditional Japanese dress. The kimono offers an expanse of fabric, the perfect canvas to display my designs. The IKKO collection is my own fusion of 'East meets West': British craftsmanship inspired by the legacy of a supremely talented Japanese designer.
Find Lauren Barfoot's robes and kimonos at Holland Street, www.holland-street.com.
Ikko Style: The Graphic Art of Ikko Tanaka, until August 2nd, Pacific Asia Museum, California, www.pacificasiamuseum.org.