Kono Takashi

I’m going to do something different for this post. I’m going to talk about a japanese graphic designer.

I’ve been studying graphic design during this semester and I’ve found a guy who was very interesting to me. so let’s jump in.

Takashi Kōno (河野鷹思) was a Japanese graphic designer known best for his ability to combine post-World War II western influences with his Japanese heritage. Kono was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1906. Unfortunately, not much is known about his life from his birth until the time he went to university. At Tokyo Art School (Tokyo Geijutsu University), Kono chose to study design. During his time at the university, Kono became an influence on Kenkichi Yoshida (a stage designer, art director, costume designer, and typographer) while helping him create the stage design for the Tsukiji Theater. While he studied here, he also joined the Second Japan Workshop (第二次日本工房), a theater where he did stage design, and ended up having an influence on the theater’s manager, Yousuke Natori (who formerly studied at the Bauhaus and later became and editor).

Kono graduated from university in 1929, and went on to work for Shochiku Public Relations department, where he created movie posters, magazine ads, and stage designs. He worked here for about 7 years, until in 1936 he became independent. After setting out to work on his own, he created several posters, newspaper illustrations, and bookbindings. He is known for his design of the cover and layout for the magazine “NIPPON”, which was a magazine about Japan targeted mainly at foreigners. The covers Kono designed for “NIPPON” magazine combined natural organic motifs, very simple but modern text, and somewhat saturated colors reminiscent of ukiyo-e paintings. He also spent time as an art director and stage designer for movies, as well as designing logos for companies. One of his most well known logos are the red heart on white background for the Kyuu Daiichi Kangyou Ginkou, which later became Mizuho bank.

In 1940, in the midst of the Second World War, Kono became the head editor and cover designer for the Nihon Shashin Kougeisha (日本写真工芸社), who had established a propaganda magazine called “VAN”. In 1941, Kono was drafted into the military and served in Java, Indonesia. When he returned from the war in 1946, he decided to work as a freelancer. Since Kono actually fought in the war himself, he incorporated this experience in his art. Many of his works express his feelings toward the war, and reflect the developments taking place after the war. He started the Japan Advertising Artists Club (日宣美) with other famous graphic designers such as Ayao Yamana, Hiromu Hara, and Yuusaku Kamekura, in an effort to promote Japan to the outside world. It was the first organization for graphic designers after the war. In 1955, Kono and the other founders of the JAAC held an exhibition called Graphic ’55, which was the first time a Japanese art exhibition recognized advertisement posters as art.

One of Kono’s most famous works was actually done during this period. It was a poster called “Sheltered weaklings- Japan” designed in 1953. The black background signifies the uncertain and unclear international political environment surrounding Japan in the early 1950s. Japan is expressed as a school of fish swimming behind a bigger, stronger, and vicious America. Two red fish on the right top corner symbolize the Soviet Union and China, alluding to the ongoing Cold War. There are 13 fish, and in western culture the number 13 represents bad luck or death. This might be Kono expressing the death of Japan in his eyes.

 

In 1959, Kono established a design company called “Desuka”. In 1960, Kono became a member of the World Design Conference, making him the first Japanese graphic designer to be recognized for his talent around the world. In 1964, he was on the design committee for the Tokyo Olympics. In 1966, Kono participated in the establishment of Aichi Art University, where he became a professor, and then later the Dean in 1983. In 1967, he held his first one-man exhibition called Kono Takashi’s Fish Exhibition, featuring many different fish motifs. In that same year, Kono also became the first Japanese person to be chosen as a member of the Royal Designers for Industry, which recognizes designers who have achieved excellence in their careers. In 1986, Kono was chosen to be a part of the Tokyo Art Directors club, and was inducted into the hall of fame.

Takashi Kono died in 1999 at the age of 93. Though he has passed, his legacy and influence has lived on. He is survived by his daughter, Aoi Huber Kono, who is also a graphic designer and an illustrator. Aoi was married to a famous Swiss graphic designer named Max Huber. As we have seen, Takashi Kono was also a teacher of his craft, teaching design at Musashino University, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Joshibi University of Art and Design, and Aichi Prefectural University of Arts and Music (where he became president). His teaching and influences have been passed down and are carried on at these schools to this day. Kono’s works themselves are still relevant today as well, because many of them have a very modern feeling. Though Kono uses simplified shapes, the combinations of colors and shapes makes his art fit right in with art from the 2010’s. A posthumous solo exhibition of Kono’s work was held at the Ginza Graphic Gallery in 2003, and again at the National Museum of Art in Tokyo in 2005.

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