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East meets West in the stunning typography of Takenobu Igarashi

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ne of Japan’s most prolific artists, Takenobu Igarashi attained international acclaim as a graphic designer in the mid-1970s through his axonometric alphabets and just in case you are wondering what this is, be prepared to enter the multi dimensional artistic landscape of a man who makes headlines anyway possible. Either as a featured artist himself or an editor and designer for publications that strived to introduce outstanding works of international designers Takenobu Igarashi is a true Japanese at heart. “My approach to design and sculpture has always wavered between my wish to do something useful for society, and my desire to create something beautiful with my own hands. In my opinion there are three essential things in work: passion, challenge and discovery. Without that, work gets boring; with that, work is enjoyable. And artwork that is enjoyable also results in success” he says.

Having designed visual identity programs for domestic as well as international clients such as Meiji Milk Products Co. Ltd., Suntory Holdings Ltd., Mitsui Bank Ltd., Tama Art University, Oji Paper Co. Ltd., and UHAG., the man who was born in Hokkaido in 1944 advanced into the field of product design in the 80’s, whilst he started making alphabet sculptures. The calendar with three-dimensional numerals, which he designed for eight consecutive years for the Museum of Modern Art is one of his masterpieces. In the late 80s he supported Japanese regional industries by designing products employing their traditional craftsmanship.

A man of many talents, just like the variety of materials he experiments with, Igarashi is a member of Alliance Graphique Internationale (AGI) since 1980 and he is actively involved in nurturing the younger generation as a teacher at Chiba University and the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), as a collaborator in the foundation of the Faculty of Design at Tama Art University (Kaminoge Campus) or as the first Head of Design Department there. In 1994, he ended his 25 years of design activity and moved to Los Angeles to become a sculptor and a decade later he returned to Japan where he has been producing various sculptures and reliefs for public spaces all over the country and has resumed his design activity from another view point as an artist.

What is amazing about Igarashi is his ability to transition toward product design and architectural sculpture as his career progressed. Igarashi’s work is varied. Heavy or delicate, grounded or airy, everything is there in as many materials as you can think of.  

“I’ve been greatly influenced by Swiss artists who explored grid systems and mathematical order. I’ve also been influenced by Japanese architecture, which relies a great deal on unit systems” 

A product designer by default, everything is crafted with a specific purpose and a spirit of invention by the man who is considered by many as a professed Modernist. His effort to lead a simple life even after attaining great status and success is outspoken, an enemy of consumerism and information pollution of megacities today. “I started making alphabet sculptures in the 1980s using various materials. The aluminum series, however, is the only one that is complete with 26 alphabets from A to Z” he commented on one of his numerous typographic projects and experiments in both 2D and 3D mediums showcased in his book, ‘Igarashi Alphabets: From Graphics to Sculptures’.

“I’ve been greatly influenced by Swiss artists who explored grid systems and mathematical order for form creation and space. I’ve also been influenced by Japanese architecture, which relies a great deal on grid and unit systems” added the typographer and artist whose purpose is to present great design ideas of pure yet modern clarity. Representative works are in the permanent collection of over 30 museums world wide and books on his artistry have been published in Japan, China, Korea, Germany and Switzerland. He has been awarded the Commendation of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Katsumi Masaru Award, the Mainichi Design Award, the IF Design Award and the Good Design Award for his achievements and activities in the field of graphic and product design and he is President of Tama Art University from April 2011. What an alphabet of artistic conquests for an AppleMaster of our times indeed.