Unpinning History : Japanese Posters in the Age of Commercialism, Imperialism, and Modernism

Arrival of Modern Commercial Design

If bijin or a beautiful woman is the quintessential subject of early posters in Japan, the arrival of posters with modern designs often meant a departure from bijin. Sugiura Hisui was one of the principal designers to propel the movement. Trained in Japanese and Western painting styles and exposed to Art Nouveau and German avant-garde art before and during his stay in Europe, he developed modern and creative, yet clear, designs, which he later called “sōsaku zuan” or “creative design.”[1] In particular, he stressed being conscious of the eyes of mass consumers, which could be achieved only by professional designers.[2] The assortment of simple, flat, and stylized forms; less yet clear coloring; and playful typography are evident in the posters by Sugiura and others in this section and the ones for the Ministry of Communications.   

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Initially making his name as the head of the design division of the Mitsukoshi Department Store, Sugiura helped the department attain status as a design-savvy business. He was also active as an independent designer, writer, and educator through the Shichinin-sha (Company of Seven), a collective of designers founded in 1924, and its publication entitled Affiches (“Posters,” 1927–1930). The emergence of graphic design as a profession also meant the integration of fine art and design, which had been divided hierarchically since the birth of “fine art” as part of the Meiji state ideology. (Rika Hiro)

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