Tadanori Yokoo (横尾忠則, Yoko-o Tadanori) was born in Nishiwaki, Japan. As a teenager, his modest dreams were to work at a post office and to paint. He entered the profession by replicating paintings, designing store wrapping paper, and drawing posters for the Chamber of Commerce.
His first notable work, a self-titled poster at the Persona group’s 1965 joint exhibition, attracted attention because it diverged from contemporary graphic styles. This shocking poster featured a hanged man against a blue sky with red rays emanating from a rising sun. The rising sun motif, considered old-fashioned at the time, recurs throughout his body of work and has become emblematic of ‘Yokoo style’ and an international symbol of Japanese pop art.
Following this success, Yokoo became involved in the Japanese avant-garde scene of the 1960s and began designing for a number of dance companies. His 1968 poster for the Tokyo Gekio Theatre Company was named the work best encapsulating the spiritual atmosphere of the decade at New York’s Museum of Modem Art’s 1968 Word and Image exhibition. In the 1970s, after injury in a traffic accident and the hara-kiri suicide of his close friend Yukio Mlshima, Yokoo stopped work to reflect. He became fearful of death and increasingly fascinated by Indian culture, Buddhism, UFOs, and extraterrestrial civilizations, and began to create collages using images of the universe and various religious symbols.
Through his spiritual quest, Yokoo became acquainted with rock and folk musicians who often asked him to design their posters and album covers, including the Beatles, Emerson, Lake and Palmer, Carlos Santana, and Cat Stevens. Yokoo was especially close to John Lennon and Carlos Santana. By the early 1990s, Yokoo added computer design to his technique vocabulary and changed his style even further, by reassembling previous works digitally. For the first time in many years, a large-scale exhibition of Yokoo’s posters was held in 1998 in Japan. Forty thousand people crowded the thirteen-day event, exposing a whole new generation to his work.
Tadanori Yokoo’s work, while highly successful commercially, is deeply personal. Employing his own themes, pictures, and references to himself and his anti-modernist collage style, his approach is instantly recognizable and individual, and his work crosses the border between design and fine art.