Last Saturday in Japan, the Niigata Prefectural Museum of Modern Art opened an exhibition of art from the 20 volume design publication Creation, launched in 1989 by the famous Japanese designer Yusaku Kamekura (1915–1997). "I'm Coming Apart," my painting from 1990, is being featured in the exhibition.
So is a letter with a drawing of a bull on it that I sent Mr. Kamekura when he invited me to be one of the 20 artists featured in the cover stories. But more about the bull drawing in a moment.
Creation was published quarterly over a period of five years by the Recruit Publishing Company of Tokyo. It was the last major work of Yusaku Kamekura who had long been a driving force on the front line of Japanese graphic design. The occasion is the 100th anniversary of his birth.
According to the Museum: "In this exhibition, we aim to introduce the charm of the artists featured in Creation alongside their supplemental materials, such as their manuscripts and rough sketches. Through these items, we are offered the opportunity to peer into Kamekura’s perspective on design and examine the devotion with which he produced Creation."
Yusaku Kamekura was born in Tsubame City in Niigata Prefecture and in a lifetime of inspired work, he helped establish Japan's international reputation for modern graphic design. You can find a lot of his own work on the Internet and read about him at the Art Directors Club Hall of Fame website.
In editing Creation, Kamekura envisioned an arts magazine with no advertising that would be limited to just 20 issues. It was to be his final statement about the art world of his lifetime and he made all the editorial decisions. He chose the artists. He oversaw the text. He designed the layout. According to Randall Ross of modernism101.com "while CREATION was around, it was a true heavyweight in its presentation of both vintage and contemporary graphic design."
"I'm Coming Apart," from Creation #6, was first published in Longevity Magazine, then republished as a poster for the Art Directors Club of Cincinnati. The poster won the Hamilton King Award at the Society of Illustrators that year and is in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art, Toyama Japan.
Since then, it's been re-published a number of times in other countries for other purposes. For example, this book jacket from Italy's Giunti Blu.
It was also published as an album cover for Champs Du Possible by the popular French singer Bernard Lavilliers.
And as part of the publicity campaign for the album, the painting was made into large banners and stand-up displays for the record stores and was widely reproduced throughout France on subway, bus and kiosk posters.
I've always found it ironic that this picture, which is one of the least commercial things I've ever done, should end up being so widely published. When I painted it for Longevity, the magazine was in between art directors and I don't remember anyone even asking for a sketch. The painting itself just came, and came so quickly and so directly that I hardly remember doing it.
That contrasts with the letter I sent Mr. Kamekura, and which is also being featured in the current exhibition. It's not much really, just a quick thank you note I sent him that year. But I had a lot to thank him for.
When my issue of Creation was published, Mr. Kamekura arranged for an exhibition of my work in Tokyo and invited me and my friend Jennifer Phillips to spend two weeks there. It was our first visit to Japan, and with his many connections, Mr. Kamekura arranged things for us that, as outsiders to the country, we could never have arranged for ourselves. In addition to being a fantastic designer, he was a very kind, thoughtful and generous man.
The drawing of the bull however, developed a history of its own that I think Mr. Kamekura would have appreciated.
Buills had begun to turn up in my drawings and paintings around the same time as my exhibition in Tokyo.
It started because I had spent some time hanging out with rodeo clowns in the Southwest and wrote an article about the experience for Texas Monthly. I did 12 paintings for the feature, all based on sketches I had done at various rodeos and in off-hours hanging around the bull chutes.
So between the dozen finished paintings for the series and all the preliminary sketches, I found that I could draw bulls in my sleep and very nearly did.
So anyway, that year the Society of Illustrators asked me to design a poster for their annual call for entries. With my rodeo experience still fresh in my head, I had bulls on the brain, and since the Society's Gold Medals have a bull on them – an homage to the bulls of Lascaux – I decided to do a painting of a bull for the poster.
I asked Jennifer, who’s a brilliant designer, to do the typography for it. She suggested that since the Society's gold medals are round, we should do a round poster.
This semed like a great idea to us, but it met with some considerable opposition from the poster committee at the Society. They told us that posters are square, they're not supposed to be round. But to us, that seemed like an even better reason to do one, so we did.