Japanese designshowcased at the Triangle Gallery this month

By Karoline Czerski

A silhouette of a woman, yellow on a shade of lavish blue, catches the eye and creates a sensation–a desire, enticing you to purchase… a pack of cigarettes.

Shin Matsunaga, creator of the famous Gitanes Blondes French cigarette packages in the mid-1990s, is one of Japan’s leading graphic designers. His art encompasses advertisements, posters, book covers, calendars.

The Triangle Arts Gallery, one of only five galleries in Canada displaying graphic design art, shows a rare appreciation for the art form in its present exhibition: The Graphic Appetite: Shin Matsunaga Poster Exhibition, running until Aug. 28.

“Poster art has been ill-understood,” explains Triangle director and curator Jacek Malec. “Graphic design has been underrepresented–there is a lack of expertise.

“Combining computer imagery with artistic talent–drawing, designing, painting, even sculpture–graphic design is a unique art form with a very distinct following. While slow to gain momentum in North America, the art form has long been esteemed abroad, particularly in Europe and Japan.

Japanese graphic design, while mindful of the standard European form, has a particular edge–a unique composition of the traditional and modern that the Japanese balance in beautiful harmony.

A lit match against a solid backdrop, a simple image with sharp colour contrast, marks the first poster in the exhibit.

“The match, in a very symbolic way, creates a presence, the spirit of the artist,” starts Malec. “Everything must have a beginning.”

Further along in the exhibition, Matsunaga’s national interest takes heed. Burn up, Japan? Burn out Japan? boldly fronts an image of an enflamed red circle against the white backdrop of Japan’s national emblem. An image questioning the major changes in Japanese society at the turn of the twenty-first century.

“The Japanese are very clever in blending–using symbolic vocabulary, open to international movements, languages–without compromising their own system,” notes Malec of the Japanese graphic design aesthetic.

The exhibition flows from sharp graphic images to Matsunaga’s hand-drawn poster art, showing off his range.

“For a designer, drawing skills are essential to know the space, the image itself, versus if it were typeset,” Malec explains.

Blurry images line the far wall of the bottom-floor exhibit, forming optical illusions requiring second glances to restore order to these images. Matsunaga exploits the themes of life, of sustainability, of the environment and its disregard in a series of posters, including a piece for the 1989 World Design Expo.

Upstairs in the Triangle, the exhibition ends with a combination of hand-drawn centerpieces and computer-generated three-dimensional images. Malec is able to convincingly turn pessimism towards computer-generated images to at least an appreciation of the art form, displaying the expertise necessary to create a perfect image–the building of dimensions and of symmetry.

“What is very important in Japanese design is that you are not overloaded with imagery of text,” concludes Malec of the Japanese form. “The Japanese make balance in an unbalanced form.”

The exhibition itself is well-balanced, carefully placing the pieces in line with the confines of the gallery space, conscious of layout, design, and composition.

“An exhibition has to communicate that pieces speak to you individually and as a whole,” concludes Malec. “A visual quality creates a visual symphony.”

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