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The Complete Commercial Artist: Exploring Japan’s Design Transformation

Published Apr 10, 2024

In the late 1920s, a period marked by economic prosperity and cultural blossoming, Japan stood on the cusp of a design revolution.

This transformative era witnessed the birth of “The Complete Commercial Artist,” an ambitious publication by Tokyo publisher Ars, which from 1928 to 1930, sought to redefine the boundaries of commercial art. Spanning twenty-four volumes, this fully illustrated journal became a cornerstone for commercial retail spaces and print design, encapsulating a pivotal moment in Japan’s journey through modernism and avant-garde aesthetics.

Japanese designers, who were influenced by Western modernist trends, started exploring with bold new ideas. By merging these new ideals with traditional Japanese graphic and calligraphic styles, they used modern tools and techniques to produce strikingly original works. This fusion of traditional and contemporary, local and global, gave birth to designs that were distinctly Japanese yet universally modern.

“The Complete Commercial Artist” served as a platform for these pioneering designers, showcasing their most inventive creations. It covered a wide range of subjects, from typography and logo design to interior decoration and architectural sketches, offering a comprehensive overview of the commercial art scene of the time. The publication not only reflected the zeitgeist but also helped shape it, pushing the boundaries of what commercial art could be and inspiring a generation of designers.

In an effort to preserve and celebrate this historical Japanese publication, Letterform Archive, a nonprofit organization known for its commitment to documenting and showcasing exquisite examples of typographic design, has recently introduced their new book “The Complete Commercial Artist: Making Modern Design in Japan, 1928–1930.” Far more than a simple reprint, the book is a fascinating read, delving deeply into this unique collection that has long been overlooked in the annals of design history.

Through meticulous research, art historian Gennifer Weisenfeld provides a comprehensive historical overview and detailed analysis of each volume, accompanied by a plethora of beautifully reproduced full-color images. The book is a delightful and revelatory journey through one of the most important Japanese design publications of its time. It reveals how, in just a few short years, Japanese designers reimagined their craft, infusing everyday life with vibrant colors and expressive forms.

For anyone interested in the history of design, commercial art, or Japanese culture in general, Letterform Archive’s latest publication is a fantastic resource. It not only documents a transformative period in Japanese design but also celebrates the creativity and vision of artists who dared to imagine a more beautiful, more dynamic world.

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