Tadanori Yokoo Story

Posted by Dash Shaw on September 29
1 Comment

Since Ray posted those Tadanori Yokoo cartoons, I’m going to tell my brief, moderately interesting Yokoo story:

I got into Yokoo because Paul Pope would talk about him all the time in the nineties THBs. He belongs, in my mind, to the group of artists you’re into in high school and then fall out of love with in college and then rediscover later. This group is different depending on the generation and geography of the high school. It’s largely determined, I think, by who’s accessible, which artists have monographs available at the local Barnes and Noble or whatever. Teenagers in NYC probably had a different crop than those in Richmond, Virginia. From what I can remember, the favorites in my class were H.R. Giger, Francis Bacon, Basquiat, Alice Neel, Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt. I’m sure it was different before my time and different after– but I suspect that the internet has changed this and now there’s a wider range of artists that the teenagers of the world are into. They have access to so much more stuff, so they probably each have more specialized interests. But their relationships to the figures are likely the same: get into them, dismiss them, and then get back into them. I mean, all of those artists I remember are awesome, although I still haven’t warmed back up to Klimt. Maybe I will later.

Anyway, I remember staring at those Yokoo prints thinking “How did he do that? How did he know to put that circular insert or scroll or whatever right there? How does he make it all balance? What’s the secret?!

Then, a few years after college, Frank forced me to get all of these dynamic symmetry books and started preaching that stuff to me. I got the books, did all of the exercises and wrapped my head around it. One day I picked up a Yokoo book and looked at it again and BAM! It all locked into place—I could see it! I pulled out my compass and ruler and started mapping it out.

All of his prints have dynamic symmetry orchestrating them. Maybe this is a coincidence. It’s possible he did all of this intuitively. I donno. It’s so consistently following the basic rules of dynamic symmetry, in a way that the older ukiyo-e and Push Pin prints don’t. It’s really Dynamic Symmetry 101 at work in his prints. He later strayed from it when he did his paintings starting in the seventies.

I learned two valuable lessons: (1) Yokoo and those people I liked in high school are still awesome and (2) listen to Frank.

These top and bottom images are color guides from the book Tadanori Yokoo: Be Adventurous!

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  1. ryan says:

    Great post, Dash! I had a similar arc, though slightly compressed, with Yokoo. I saw his stuff when I was visiting Japan in late-high school as an exchange student— first his Beatles poster, then his Mishima one, and only later the less recognizably “POP CULTURE ICON” collages…

    I immediately went nuts for his most garish collage stuff, then was sorta suddenly over him after overdosing on what I could find easily in Michigan on the rudimentary internet connection– seeing really only a certain subset of his work. It wasn’t until mid-college when I read stuff by Prof. Goodman about avant-garde theater in Japan (his ANGURA book, etc) and getting the context for his poster work (and seeing his magazine stuff and paintings) did I come back to really appreciate the dude.

    I only really get the basics of dynamic symmetry, but it does feel like some DA VINCI CODE, THE SECRET unveiling when you apply it here. The fundamental balance of his work– esp. in the composition of his jigoku/underworld collages.

    Anyway, just wanted to say– thanks for this post (and the link to that Dover book, will check it out).

This is a shared production blog for the forthcoming animated feature, "The Ruined Cast," written and directed by Dash Shaw. Produced by John Cameron Mitchell, Howard Gertler, and Biljana Labovic. Contributing artists are Jane Samborski, Frank Santoro, Lily Benson and Ray Sohn. Music by James Lucido.