Tadanori Yokoo

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Tadanori Yokoo
横尾 忠則
Born (1936-06-27) June 27, 1936 (age 85)
OccupationGraphic designer

Tadanori Yokoo (横尾 忠則, Yokoo Tadanori, born 27 June 1936) is a Japanese graphic designer, illustrator, printmaker and painter. Yokoo’s signature style of psychedelia and pastiche engages a wide span of modern visual and cultural phenomena from Japan and around the world.[1]


Train with eyes by Tadanori Yokoo, 2005
Okanoyama museum

Tadanori Yokoo, born in Nishiwaki, Hyōgo Prefecture, Japan, in 1936, is one of Japan's most successful and internationally recognized graphic designers and artists. He began his career as a stage designer for avant garde theatre in Tokyo. His early work shows the influence of the New York-based Push Pin Studio (Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast in particular), but Yokoo cites filmmaker Akira Kurosawa and writer Yukio Mishima as two of his most formative influences.

The designer’s ambition embarked on at an early age during Yokoo’s teenager years, and before moving to Tokyo, he had done graphic design-related works for a period of time for the Chamber of Commerce in Nishiwaki.[2] At the age of 22, Yokoo won an heritable mention at the Japanese Advertising Artists Club (JAAC) poster exhibition in Tokyo and joined the JAAC, and officially moved to Tokyo around 1960.[3]

The year of 1965 witnessed Yokoo’s rising as an eminent young artist in the post-war era. The first work of his to receive popularity, Tadanori Yokoo (1965) was on view at the Persona exhibition, featuring 16 designers and held at Tokyo’s Matsuya department store. This self-portrait poster shows the artist as a man who hanged himself, captioned in English with “Made in Japan/Having reached a climax at the age of 29, I was dead.”[4] The lower left shows a cutout of Yokoo's photograph taken at age one and a half and on opposing side we find another cutout placed at the back, showing likely a group photo taken at school during Yokoo’s teenage years. The rising sun, the most representative symbol of wartime Japan, dominates the layout. On the upper corners, the Shinkansen on one side and the nuclear bomb on the other, break through Mt. Fuji, another icon of Japan. Yokoo explained, “…with Tadanori Yokoo, these works represented a form of rebirth for me.” The poster, on the one hand, was a death statement the artist issued for himself, aiming to break away from his own past. On the other hand, the integration of a bold, collage-like style along with the presence of nationalistic symbols such as the rising sun, Shinkansen, and even Mt. Fuji, Yokoo set out to challenge the state of design, and that of culture and politics at large in post-war Japan. By acting against the Bauhaus-led, abstract design that prevailed Japanese graphic design during the 1960s, Yokoo delivered an audacious deviation that criticized the passive acceptance of Western modernism in Japan and on top of that, the country's rapid economic growth.[5]

Yokoo was frequent collaborator with choreographer Hijikata Tatsumi.[6] One of his best known works, A la Maison de M.Civeçawa (1966) was a poster designed for a performance by Tatsumi Hijikata's Ankoku Butoh dance company.[7] In A la Maison de M.Civeçawa, Yokoo again employed his stylish collage coated with dark humor, citing photos of Tatsuhiko Shibusawa (a novelist to whom the dance was dedicated to, top left corner), Hijikata and fellow Butoh dancer Kazuo Ohno (on the rose stem in the middle of the composition), and the famous painting Gabrielle d’Estrées and One of Her Sisters from 1594. In the backdrop we find again the rising sun, Mt. Fuji, and Hokusai’s great waves. Interweaving the sexual and the political, the historical and the modern, the Western and the Japanese, A la Maison de M.Civeçawa (1966) was another bold declaration of Yokoo.[8]

In 1967, Yokoo, together with Terayama Shūji and Higashi Yukata, co-founded the Tenjō Sajiki experimental theater troupe. Yokoo worked on several stage design projects as well as posters for various performances.[9] Along with the founding of the troupe, Yokoo and Shuji Terayama collaborated on the latter’s book — Throw Away Your Book, Let’s Get into the Streets. Yokoo mainly contributed to the layout and illustrations of this book, which was regarded as a radical statement on its own.[10]

Throughout the 60s and 70s, Yokoo also collaborated with musicians and designed albums, record covers, and concert posters for individuals and groups such as The Happenings Four, Takakura Ken, Ichiyanagi Toshi, Asaoka Ruriko, and several international rock bands including Earth Wind and Fire, The Beatles, Emerson Lake and Palmer, Cat Stevens, and Tangerine Dream.[11]

In the 60s and 70s, Yokoo’s virtuosity in drawing elements across culture was evident. By staging both the “nostalgic and satiric,” the designer offered his own statements on the Westernization of Japan in the post-war era.[12]

In the late 1960s he became interested in mysticism and psychedelia, deepened by travels in India. Because his work was so attuned to 1960s pop culture, he has often been (unfairly) described as the "Japanese Andy Warhol" or likened to psychedelic poster artist Peter Max, but Yokoo's complex and multi-layered imagery is intensely autobiographical and entirely original.

By the late 1960s he had achieved international recognition for his work and was included in the 1968 "Word & Image" exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Four years later MoMA mounted a solo exhibition of his graphic work organized by Mildred Constantine.[13] Yokoo collaborated extensively with Shūji Terayama and his theater Tenjō Sajiki. He starred as a protagonist in Nagisa Oshima's film Diary of a Shinjuku Thief.

Nishiwaki-Three-way, Tadanori painting
Setouchi Triennale, Teshima Yokoo House

In 1968 Yukio Mishima claimed,

Tadanori Yokoo's works reveal all of the unbearable things which we Japanese have inside ourselves and they make people angry and frightened. He makes explosions with the frightening resemblance which lies between the vulgarity of billboards advertising variety shows during festivals at the shrine devoted to the war dead and the red containers of Coca Cola in American Pop Art, things which are in us but which we do not want to see.[14]

In 1981 he unexpectedly "retired" from commercial work and took up painting after seeing a Picasso retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art (New York). His career as a fine artist continues to this day with exhibitions of his paintings every year. Alongside this, he remains fully engaged and prolific as a graphic designer.

See also[edit]


From Space to Environment, 1966[15] Word and Image: Posters and Typography from the Graphic Design Collection of the Museum of Modern Art, 1879–1967, The Museum of Modern Art, 1968[16] Graphics by Tadanori Yokoo, The Museum of Modern Art, 1972[17]


  1. ^ Tōno Yoshiaki, “Tadanori Yokoo: Between Painting and Graphic Art,” Artforum, September 1984. https://www.artforum.com/print/198307/tadanori-yokoo-between-painting-and-graphic-art-35469
  2. ^ Ian Lynam, “The Album Design of Yokoo Tadanori,” Red Bull Music Academy, https://daily.redbullmusicacademy.com/2015/06/yokoo-tadanori-album-design
  3. ^ Ashley Rawlings, “Dark was the Night: Tadanori Yokoo,” ArtAsiaPacific, issue 74 (July/August 2011): 102
  4. ^ Tadanori Yokoo, Made in Japan, Tadanori Yokoo, Having Reached a Climax at the Age of 29, I Was Dead, 1965. The Museum of Modern Art. https://www.moma.org/collection/works/7953
  5. ^ Tōno Yoshiaki, “Tadanori Yokoo: Between Painting and Graphic Art,” Artforum, September 1984. https://www.artforum.com/print/198307/tadanori-yokoo-between-painting-and-graphic-art-35469; Ashley Rawlings, “Dark was the Night: Tadanori Yokoo,” ArtAsiaPacific, issue 74 (July/August 2011): 104
  6. ^ Fumihiko Sumitomo, “Intermedia,” in From Postwar to Postmodern: Art in Japan 1945-1989: Primary Documents, (New York, NY: The Museum of Modern Art, 2012), p.242
  7. ^ Tadanori Yokoo, The Rose-Colored Dance, A La Maison de M. Civeçawa (Poster for a performance by Tatsumi Hijikata's butoh dance company), 1966. Collection of The Museum of Modern Art. https://www.moma.org/collection/works/6226
  8. ^ Ashley Rawlings, “Dark was the Night: Tadanori Yokoo,” 102.
  9. ^ Masatoshi Nakajima (compiler), “Chronology: 1945-1989,” in From Postwar to Postmodern: Art in Japan 1945-1989: Primary Documents, (New York, NY: The Museum of Modern Art, 2012), p.419
  10. ^ Steven Ridgely,“Total Immersion,” Artforum International, vol.51, issue 6 (February 2013): 204-206.
  11. ^ Ian Lynam, “The Album Design of Yokoo Tadanori.”
  12. ^ Alexandra Munroe, “Chapter 9: Revolt of the Flesh: Ankoku Butoh and Obsessional Art,” in Japanese Art After 1945: Screaming Against the Sky, (New York, NY: Harry Abrams, 1994), 193.
  13. ^ Heller, Steven "Mildred Constantine, 95, MoMA Curator, Is Dead", The New York Times, December 16, 2008.
  14. ^ Namba, Hideo. "Breaking Out of the Prison of the Ego: The Paintings of Tadanori Yokoo 1966-1996." Trans. Stanley N. Anderson. From Tadanori Yokoo. Tokyo: Heibonsha, 1996.
  15. ^ Environment Society, “The Objective of the From Space to Environment Exhibition (1966),” in From Postwar to Postmodern: Art in Japan 1945-1989: Primary Documents, (New York, NY: The Museum of Modern Art, 2012), p.239.
  16. ^ https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/2753
  17. ^ https://www.moma.org/calendar/exhibitions/2641

External links[edit]