Kitazawa Yoshio, Hamada Masuji, Wantanabe Soshu, Tatsuke Yoichiro, et al. Gendai Shogyo Bijutsu Zenshu. (“The Complete Commercial Artist”). 24-volume-illustrated series (each vol. approx. 100-150 pp. including plates). 4to. Wrpps. Tokyo (Ars) 1927-1930. (46209)
Over the past five years or so, a loose cadre of visual data miners at blogs including BibliOdyssey, 50 Watts, but does it float, Accidental Mysteries, Agence Eureka, and La Boite Verte (to name but a few) have collectively developed an on-line pictorial archive of inestimable value to artists and graphic designers who wish to renew their powers in the streams of history.
So where did the creative class seek inspiration before the internet? Books and magazines, of course, some of them eerily prescient of today’s digital resources. F.A. Bernett has recently acquired the complete run of a 24-volume graphic art and commercial design series from 1920s Japan that bears a striking resemblance to some of today’s graphic design and visual art blogs in its serialized, taxonomic format.
Gendai Shogyo Bijutsu Zenshu(“The Complete Commercial Artist”), published from 1927 to 1930, is one of the foundational documents of modern graphic design in Japan. Known in English as the Ars series for the imprint which published it, Hamada Masuji’s magnum opus combines theory and history with thousands of examples of completed designs and design proposals arranged precisely by topic, from theatrical playbills in issue one, to product display windows in issues three and four, to billboards and product posters in issue six, and so on.
The sometimes wildly contrasting designs from Russia, Germany, Great Britain, the United States and elsewhere provide the reader with a Japanese perspective on emerging modernist aesthetics in the global print culture of the late 1920s.
According to scholar Gennifer Weisenfeld, (see her excellent essay, “Japanese Modernism and Consumerism: Forging the New Artistic Field of Shōgyō Bijutsu” in Being Modern in Japan. Edited by Elise Tipton and John Clark. 2000), Hamada’s careful documentation of the international scene had a profound effect on Japanese design practices, from typography and page design to retail display practices.
The final volume closes with a 100-page essay that gives expression to his theories of commercial design as a natural culmination of modern currents in industrial production and fine art.
One could easily craft an individual blog post for each issue. Its richness as a reference resource is incredible. Instead I’ll humbly close this post with a selection of graphic highlights, culled somewhat at random from the course of its complete run.
(If your RSS feed reader is anything like mine, this post is but a minor tributary to the rushing torrent of visual discoveries you’ll probably scroll through today. One can only imagine that if he were alive in our time, Hamada Masuji would delight in capturing and cataloging the most eye-catching among them. In which case the Ars series would be one hell of a graphic arts blog.)