NESHAN, The Iranian Graphic Design Magazine

Member of International Council of Design ico-D

English | فارسی

Neshan 28

Reference - 1

Harmony Prelude; A Review on Kazumasa Nagai's Works

Vanina Pinter

Some art pieces are like careers: dense, prolific, and impressive- and can offer their viewer an incredible feeling of lightness. Kazumasa Nagai’s career in art humbly resembles these words. Nagai was born in Osaka in 1929 and did not begin his creative studies until after the second World War- when the imperatives of reconstruction and independence were necessary creative needs for him. After sculpture studies at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music, Nagai participated in the 1960 launch of the Nippon Design Center (NDC) and for decades, he actively developed the Centre with Yusaka Kamekura, Shiego Fukuda and Kenya Hara. The NDC worked on creating the link between design and industry, and also on improving high levels of creativity and quality of work coming into the center. During his chair as Artistic Director, Kazumasa Nagai signed a large number of orders for important firms and commercial enterprises (Campaign for beer Asahi in 1965) effectively building himself as an industry great.
Kazumasa Nagai has always had a very special touch and feel in his work, all of which being in perpetual evolution have made his signature apparent. While working in Japan, the lessons of the Bauhaus profoundly influenced Nagai’s graphic compositions. On the other side of the Pacific Ocean, psychedelic art posters energized the streets of San Francisco. After moving to Europe in the 1960s to conduct research, he combined these lessons with kinetic art. Kazumasa Nagai began to design a multitude of posters and magazine covers, exploring, in his own way, his fascination of kinetic and geometric, generally centrifugal, abstract compositions (for example his work: Growth - Life Science Library, 1966). Nagai’s work played on perceptual effects and constant repetition of geometric shapes. His work from this period, with bright and strident colors, is hypnotic and occasionally even incandescent or clinical. The circles and stripes that concentrate in his pieces are like molecules that generate weightless forms and landscapes; often symbolizing the infinity felt when viewing photographs of the ocean. “And there I was... facing the vastness of the world, the depth, and the true terror of the limitlessness of space.”
In the 1960’s, during the cold war, the word “space” meant the promise of an odyssey; it was a real area of hope during the difficult times. Nagai used his poster art as a way to form philosophies. On the poster “No More War” (1970), Nagai called for peace with inflamed circles. The poster as a medium is a main vector of formal and ethical questioning: “Posters are the form of speech that is closest to painting; they are even readily familiar to laypersons. With a natural combination of words and images, they have a powerful persuasive ability”.
In 1966, Nagai was chosen to conceive and design the Sapporo Winter Olympics logo. Demonstrating his analytical mind, Nagai devised a logo design that had three interchangeable square units. Each unit represented an important aspect of Japan and the games. For example, the focus placed on the red circle in Japanese culture- drawn from the country’s national flag- was incorporated into the design. A representation of winter for the games was also used in the design through a stylized snow flake. Although poetry images are Nagai’s best known works, his keen knowledge of modeling perspectives enables him to create signs or forms which are always conceived with a “designers’ logic”.
Mysteries of Space:

While the 1979 Graphis magazine (vol. 34) mentions him as a “non-figurative artist,” Kazumasa Nagai allows his creative forms to guide him into a much more complex realm than meets the eye as he continues his relationship with abstraction. However, Nagai’s posters have a delicacy to them and some transcribe all poetry in geometric forms and landscape. Gradually, his love of drawing will prevail; in the tradition of Japanese landscape, nature is a revered master. In 1975, Nagai signed a poster for the International Ocean Exposition in Okinawa, which was an echo to the print of The Great wave by Hokusai (1831). For a group exhibition: 100 Landscapes by 100 Artists (Artist Paint poster Toyama, 1983), Nagai created a poster that depicted a starry night, with a golden rain streaking the sky. Each stream contained the names of 100 artists hidden within the hatching in the black background. The black scratch board material he used at the base of the piece was pointed, as he used it to transform the piece from a vast mystery to a veritable constellation of tranquility. The minimalist approach Nagai took with the piece resonated patiently with the appearance, and disappearance, of organic forms.
Since 1990, Nagai has shifted his work to portray a bestiary, realistic and completely fabulous, figured from traditional representations of animals in Japanese art. These series depict a change in his philosophy of nature (series composed for a solo exhibition with five animals on a black or bicolor, Ueno Zoo). His “Series Japan” (1988) cannot be missed. The series paints a world where creatures (turtle, frog, dragon) which in Japan symbolize the symbiosis between man and the earth, come alive and are enchanced through traditional motifs found on traditional screens and kimonos. The stylization of the pattern, the perfect fusion of forms to content, and the pattern in its environment corresponds in every way to the specificity of Japanese art, and the intentionality of his creations. These posters depict both the nostalgia and beauty of the contemporary world, and act as an impulse for contemplation on the promise of a return to paradise lost. “I present living things [in my work] because my philosophy is now based on the idea that the land belongs to all living beings and not just to man.”
In his personal series “LIFE” (a black and white series which is lightened here and there with touches of colour), the evidence in his message is universal and on first glance, his request for the care of our environment appears quite disturbing. His images proceed through the series with delicacy and sensitivity and are neither cries of alarm nor cries for help- but a representation of deep understanding. “We must find new sources of energy somewhere in the finite universe. I have confidence in the ingenuity of human beings and in their efforts to achieve this goal”.
In the series, Nagai supplants the human face (with a rare exception) in favour of encyclopedic and dreamlike images of flowers, with animals and insects. His images, by their desire to capture the evanescence of the world are injunctions of reflection. Over the decades, the purity of the line imposes itself as recklessness in classicism. This ability to dispose of knowledge evokes Matisse: “What I dream is an art of balance, of purity, peace...”. This insouciance results from the exercise of abstraction, a mix of fantasy, reality, ideas, and practices of drawing. “However what has remained unchanged is my idea that there must be a kind of universality, like a shared universe (...). This idea has to lead a series of works that are both abstract and material, using universal space- the space that we live in- as the reason. “

Note: All the citations are extracted from the website of the NDC, Japanese design 1950-1995, Pompidou Centre 1996.

Vanina Pinter

teaches history and critical studies of graphic design at Le Havre School of Art and Design (ESADHaR). She takes part in Une Saison Graphique — annual festival of graphic design— as co-organizator and co-curator of the event. Vanina has co-signed various contemporary exhibitions of graphic design for Une Saison Graphique such as Lieux Commun/Jocelyn Cottencin (2010), Julian House (with Jean-Michel Géridan, 2013), Pangramme/Fanette Mellier (with Yann Owens, 2014), Occur Books/Frédéric Tacer (2015). And Impressions Françaises (Chaumont, 2007) and Graphisme et architecture (Lille, 2010) along with Etienne Hervy. Former co-editor in chief of Étapes : magazine, Vanina currently writes about contemporary graphic design, with texts such as Architecture en noir et blanc, Ludovic Balland and Double Face/Laurent Fétis for étapes :, Barnbrook for Galerie Anatome, Across the grid, Frédéric Teschner for Fransciscopolis Editions, Signalétiques for Graphisme en France,… and more recently, various texts for the french online review

This small round world

Ebrahim Haghighi

> more

The Graphic Grab

Rick Poynor

> more

Iranian Contemporary Design

A tractor in parking

Behrad Javanbakht

> more

Project - 1

Homa, The Bird of Fortune

Alireza Mostafazadeh Ebrahimi

> more

Project - 2

Time, Space, Time; Pouya Ahmadi’s posters for Experimental Film Society

Kambiz Shafei

> more

design Today - 1

Hula Hula is that Design Studio.

Pablo Berger

> more

Design Today - 2

Ostengruppe – The chaos of diversity

Olga Severina

> more

Face to Face

The Brazilian Harmony: Kiko Farkas

Majid Abbasi

> more

Reference - 2

Andrzej Klimowski, Poet of Consciousness and Dreams

Marcin Gizycki

> more


Kieler Woche; History of A Design Contest

Jens Mueller

> more



Matthew Terdich

> more