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In praise of a Genius: Ikko Tanaka

For a few days more, the Nara Prefecture Art Museum, on the ninetieth anniversary of its birth, dedicates an exhibition to one of its most eminent citizens: the extraordinary graphic designer Ikko Tanaka.

by Giacomo Donati

The path taken by Ikko Tanaka probably follows the same of many other Japanese: after spending his childhood in the town of Nara, step by step he leaves the province to reach the big city, before going to study at the Institute of Fine Arts in Kyoto, where he also had his first experiences as a textile designer, then passing through Osaka, where he became a full-fledged graphic designer, ending up in Tokyo, where he founded his personal studio at the age of thirty-three.

Going into more detail, some dates in particular marked milestones in the evolution of Tanaka’s style:

- the first works as the assistant of the painter Jiro Yoshihara in Osaka in 1953, in which he began to experiment with techniques taken from collage combined with pure typography
- the discovery of Ryuichi Yamashiro's works in 1954, which led him to move to Tokyo and work more on pure typography
- the trip to New York in 1960 to deepen the direct knowledge of American graphic design
- the solo exhibition held in 1965 in Amsterdam, which besides gaining more international recognition to his work, puts him in further contact with European graphic design


The rest, as they say, is history; that of a genius, who builds the foundations of Japanese graphic design, merging eminently Japanese motifs and western geometric abstraction, with some of the most recognized graphics projects, at home and abroad, which involved some of the most important players: Loft, Muji, Saison, Seibu Department Store, Issey Miyake, to name a few.

An unmistakable trait, a unique sensitivity, which paved the way and still influences graphic designers and illustrators at every corner of the globe: this and much more is Ikko Tanaka, whose wonderful creativity cannot be summarized in a few words but should be savored little by little drawing directly from his works, as it is possible to do until March 15, 2020 in Nara, but also on the web and wherever an institution will (without a doubt) pay homage to him again.

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