ANATOMY OF DESIGN
Psychedelic design was one of the first indigenous American graphic design
mannerisms. Born of LSD and marijuana drug crazes in the late 1960s, it was
the language of the alternative rock-and-roll scene. It was also a code
designed to appeal initially to those exponents of the youth culture, but it
quickly spread like a virus into the mainstream of popular culture, where it
lost much of its contraband aura.
Tadanori Yokoo, one of Japan’s leading designers, was smitten by
psychedelia’s vibrating colors, free-form images, and quirky perspectives and
introduced Japan to his own brand of psychedelic style. In turn, he influenced
the postmodern sensibility in America with his blends of controlled anarchy,
brilliant palette, neo-surrealist compositions, and graphic wit. Being immersed in
the chromatic woodcuts and linear virtuosity of Utamaro, Toyohara, Utagawa,
and Hokusai further contributed to Yokoo’s distinctiveness. But he also owes
much to the eclecticism of Push Pin Studios, which itself took influential cues
from Japanese woodcuts and then influenced leading psychedelic designers.
Yokoo’s diverse appropriations of cultural imagery are not typically Japanese, so
in that sense he has made his own niche.
But back to psychedelics. By the 1970s the psychedelic style had been
completely co-opted and, therefore, was on the wane in America, yet Yokoo so
deftly and seamlessly incorporated certain of its underlying traits into his own
personal style that it never went out of fashion in his hands. Despite his
frequent recycling of graphic tropes and conceits, his work has always
expressed his artistic integrity. So as late as 1997, when he designed this
poster for the luminescent violinist, American-born Andre Kohji Taylor, Yokoo
drew on psychedelic color combinations, Indian mandalas, and kaleidoscopic
optical effects to create an image both timely and unmistakably his own. The
poster is both advertisement for Kohji Taylor and timeless art.
Yokoo’s design is the design of illusion and delusion. He roots much of
his work, and this poster in particular, on deceiving the eye while embedding
memorable images on the conscious and subconscious. Here the deception
relates to optical illusions practiced by many contemporaries and ancestors. He
draws on M. C. Escher’s blinkered perspectives as much as on Milton Glaser’s
playful eye/mind exercises. Yokoo’s visual games are spellbinding, and by
placing a demonic-looking Kohji Taylor with hypnotic eyes as the bull’s-eye of
the composition, he hopes to mesmerize his viewer just as the violinist
controls his audience.
Similarly, the kaleidoscopic sensibility is used to great effect by framing
Kohji Taylor while giving the viewer considerably more visual information
designed to allure. In general, kaleidoscopic images are hard to ignore. The
perfectly symmetrical repetitions and circular rhythms have a curiously soothing
emotional and visceral effect on the senses. With this poster, the repetitive
violins framing Kohji Taylor trigger a smile in the eye.
Most of Yokoo’s work is based on the conventions of collage, the
controlled (yet often surprising) juxtaposition of disparate and discordant
pictorial elements creating new and unexpected images. Yokoo has long
perpetuated those collage experiments initiated by cubists, Dadaists, surrealists,
and Pop artists who reconstructed new reality as well as peeled away layers
of visual matter to create new surreality. This poster exemplifies Yokoo’s
mastery of combining fantasy and reality into a single, unique expressive work.
Andrew Kohji Taylor
Designer: Tadanori Yokoo
1997 Andrew Kohji Taylor poster
ad,d: Tadanori Yokoo s: Studio Magic c: Wea International
Poster done in a psychedelic manner for a young violinist.