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It has always been possible to discern a surprisingly muscular aesthetic in much of the output of graphics in the Belle Époque and modern eras. A.M. Cassandre was the most articulate and obsessive of such artists. Much later, in Japan, the endeavors of Kazumasa Nagai elicit a world of overarcing drama by which to convey a set of workaday promotional tasks.

The first upshot—of the extensive activities featuring distorted figures in disorienting compositions, oddly juxtaposed and with a daring palette of colors—recalls Surrealist painting.

And, by virtue of interviews and articles, we can definitely gain an orientation in terms of the “more real” (but usually closed off) of the golden age of the “sur-real.”

“And there I was, facing the vastness of the world, the depth, the true terror, the limitlessness of space. I realized that each of us is totally alone in the world and that in space each of us is weak and afraid.”

Over and above the frisson, such alienation would seem to preclude a career in convivial hosting apropos of commercial and social objectives. But there is copious evidence—explicit and otherwise—that the horror he has broached can be tempered by individual energies, and that the fertility of Nagai’s craft consists in having “trapped his wilderness within himself” as a historical player of an extraordinary communicative scope deriving precisely from an unwillingness to adopt venerable gestures.

Being an accomplished draftsman, he readily produces figurative aspects of the persuasive goal that can please and entice more conservative instincts. But, make no mistake, his output draws a special bead upon a marketing target willing and able to seriously (which is not the same thing as abrasively) challenge conventional taste. An example of his earlier work, “Asian Performing Music Arts/UCLA” (1981), deploying uprooted material elements (the satellite could be either the Earth or the Moon), extends traditional Asian ethereality into a more bemusing realm.

In this account, however, we’ll focus upon more recent strategies, beginning with corporate assignments. The poster celebrating the 75th Anniversary of the Yokogawa Electric Corporation clearly has no interest in nostalgia, but instead emphasizes that inspired reflection can carry off the globe to exciting parts unknown. Similarly, the poster titled, “Science Vision” (c.1990), constructs a rather turbulent (“wild”), predatory apparatus lifting a world historical eye in such a way as to imply some violence and damage.

In fact Nagai’s muse has as much to do with horror movies as with contemplative Surrealism. In “Graphic Design Today” (1990)-- one of a large battery of promotions in poster form for the sake of generating a clientele for his controversial initiatives—we have an image from a nightmare. Such dangerous excitements pose the question, “Precisely where is he going with items like this?” Let’s ask ourselves, what does that flaming and plunging black triangle have to do with the woman being carried into blue buoyancy by the golden bird? Its plunge is countered by a gaze (hers?) upon the mysterious moon. Is there in the devotion to a small but essential entity (with respect to which she is a kin), a moment of a process by which the “wilderness” can be pulled out of a dismaying tailspin? Such questions can only be compelling to a clientele instinctively drawn to the strange dynamics flaming out at us from the sizzling lithos and silkscreens.

Nagai has been abetted in these motives by cultivating a business predominantly linked to mavens of art and mavens of ecology. What is especially intriguing about this niche market is its premium upon very young and very daring patrons. In the hands of Nagai, poster stimulants allied themselves with cutting edge movies, like those produced by the Coens, David Lynch, Wong Kar Wai, Quentin Tarantino, Catherine Breillat, and especially, the dark and playful visuals of Tim Burton. The poster for a US/Europe Art Show (1992) depicts an ominous predator looming above the bland landmark of First World progress. In “Corporate Support for the Arts” (1991), the plunge of the triangular space is stabilized by a hand that is not without its own unsteadiness.

Nagai has been quoted as confessing, “If I were not able to relate to society by design, I’d likely be living under a bridge somewhere.” His ongoing project on behalf of the eco-system has been widely embraced in Japan and beyond. It spans a range of considerations comprising, first of all, a special attunement of “wild” creatures. And at the other point on the spectrum, we have animals, like the monkey shown here, that may be redolent of dangerous discord. Nagai is fond of depicting a prominent set of teeth on popularly beloved creatures, to imply that it’s a jungle out there. Also, there are uplifting beasts who display unmanageable energies, but in such a way that we are encouraged to get into the fray as seen in the goat and fantasy creature silkscreens.

Please enjoy more Nagai graphics at this link: