Issey Miyake; Ikko Tanaka Sharaku and Maiko dancer (Nihon buyo)


Sharaku and Maiko dancer (Nihon buyo), 2016, bring together the ideas, images and concepts of two of Japan’s greatest twentieth-century designers, Issey Miyake and Ikko Tanaka.

Issey Miyake gained experience during his formative years in the 1960s working in the Parisian ateliers of Guy Laroche, Hubert de Givenchy and Geoffrey Beene before returning to Tokyo in 1970 to establish Miyake Design Studio and become one of Japan’s highest profile fashion designers. Of the same generation as Miyake, Ikko Tanaka experienced the rapid modernisation of post-war Japan. Combining the traditional Japanese design aesthetics of historical craft, Rimpa school motifs and ukiyo-e prints with the clean lines and simple shapes of twentieth-century modernism he produced works that made him one of Japan’s pre-eminent graphic designers and art directors.

Ikko Tanaka and Issey Miyake met as young avant-garde designers in the 1960s and maintained an enduring friendship until Tanaka’s death in 2002. It is with respect to Tanaka’s ideas and admiration of the works they inspired that Miyake released this startling series costume and accessories. They featured in the retrospective exhibition The Work of Miyake Issey at the National Art Centre, Tokyo, 2016 and were also a part of his ready-to-wear spring 2016 collection.

Both Sharaku and Maiko dancer (Nihon buyo) consist of an haori (thigh-length) kimono that incorporates Miyake’s trademark polyester pleated fabric, and are accompanied by a handbag, necklace, comb and bangle adorned with designs, shapes and colours appropriated from two of Tanaka’s most iconic posters.

Sharaku is based on a 1995 poster design celebrating the 200th anniversary of one of Japan’s most celebrated ukiyo-e artists Tōshūsai Sharaku. Tanaka’s design, with his characteristic use of simple geometric shapes and flat areas of colour, recreate one of Sharaku’s favourite subjects, a kabuki actor with an accentuated expression. The work depicts the Edo period actor, Sawamura Sôjurô III as Ogishi Kurando from the play Hana-Ayame Bunroku Soga. The actor peeps, with distinctive Sharaku-esque piercing eyes, over a large green circle that takes its shape from the actor’s handheld fan. His hairstyle is rendered in a series of circles and his topknot is simplified to a long black shape that sits atop of a light blue area indicating his shaven head. A further two circles in brown and blue represent the collar of the actor’s kimono. Playfully the face reoccurs peeping up from the bottom of the handbag and stylised sections of the shaven head, topknot and kimono collar appear on the costume’s accessories.

The second work Maiko dancer (Nihon buyo), 2016, takes its motif from the Ikko Tanaka poster produced in 1981 for a traditional Japanese dance troupe and has become one of the designer’s best known works. Comprising a haori coat, handbag, necklace, comb and bangle, Maiko dancer is based on the image of a maiko, an apprentice geisha, again depicted with Tanaka’s idiosyncratic use of geometric shapes. Unlike Sharaku that uses circular shapes, Maiko dancer is divided into angular shapes that create a face on the coat and handbag while various shapes from the abstracted design are liberated from their original context and reappear in rhythmically vibrant abstracted compositions on the accessories.

Wayne Crothers, Senior Curator, Asian Art, National Gallery of Victoria (in 2017)