The graphic art of Hideki Nakajima quietly challenges his audience. Hidden within Nakajima's graceful minimalist aesthetic are subtle visual plays, tricks, and illusions that are revealed only to those who are willing to actively engage with the works. Nakajima dares one to explore and discover the complex visual landscape of secret layers and crevices that is skillfully concealed under the clear and tranquil surface of his art.
Nakajima's work is a visual paradox in itself. Its pared down aesthetics, perfect proportions, highly abstract forms, and stylish components look undemanding and uncomplicated at first glance, or when reproduced on the pages of design books. It is only when one stands face of face with his work, when the viewer engages in contemplation as a connoisseur, that the subtle visual plays within Nakajima’s art and the traces of complex and precise technical processes that are the underpinning of all of Nakajima's work start to reveal themselves.
Nakajima is fond of pointing out that he has nothing specific to say with his work. Instead, he maintains that he wants only to achieve a certain vision and that his work is only meant as a catalyst to provoke viewers' individual reactions. Much like a Zen riddle that is meant to inspire inquiry into one's own true nature, Nakajima's work asks the observer to participate actively in the process of viewing, to decipher the visual clues, to absorb the complex visual message through the process of discovery, and to reach his or her own conclusion as to what the work provokes and means.
The hidden visual elements in Nakajima's work come in a variety of forms. The discreet irregularity of stitching on the binding of a book, the hidden words that will only appear after the printing ink on a poster fades over the years, the variation in printing method used within the same color that is not obvious at a casual glance, the slight change in color gradation that occurs in reaction to the human touch, a smudge on a poster that turns out to be hidden writing when inspected with a magnifier, a concealed page in a book that can only be discovered through careful examination, and a hidden message that appears when the paper is exposed to sunlight are a few of the visual delights that are waiting to be discovered by those who are willing to spend time with Nakajima's work.
Such subtle visual plays are possible only because of Nakajima's unparalleled knowledge and technical mastery of his chosen medium of print, a medium inherently open to experimentation and innovation. Choice of specific paper, use of various printing methods, grades of color and light, use of space, manipulation of typography, and ceaseless experimentation with new technology and techniques are all essential ingredients in achieving the multi-layered work of astounding precision that Nakajima produces.
Nakajima's innate drive to perfection and precision might find its origin in his family background. Nakajima recalls his grandfather, an imperial tailor, sitting in an enclosure made from four pieces of stretched pure white cloth, completely hidden from others' view, sewing the emperor's robe with precisely controlled stitches. Nakajima's retelling of his grandfather's description of how to achieve a perfect “pitch” in stitching to create an ideal robe for the emperor can also be used to describe the painstaking precision with which Nakajima puts together his graphic work. Uniform rectangular silk cloth is transformed into to a sturdy yet comfortable robe only with masterful use of pitch in stitching: tight and close where durability is needed, while subtly loose to allow flexibility elsewhere. So closely does this analogize with his own method and output that one might conclude that Nakajima's artisan-like dedication to intense labor and to absolute perfectionism are built into his DNA.
Another subject to which Nakajima often refers that might provide additional clues to unlocking his visual conundrums is his works' kinship with music. Nakajima has worked with many musicians in the past, including Ryuichi Sakamoto, for whose music he created visual interpretations in graphic form. Indeed, one critic has described Nakajima's work as “the musical score of a piece of music that I have never heard,” and his seemingly simple and pared down visual work is so full of resonance that it can be equated with a phrase of music played simply and clearly by a virtuoso, one that reverberates long after the performance is over.
Nakajima also often incorporates handcrafted elements in his finished graphic works to add what he calls “imperfections.” Examples include random punch holes applied individually to a series of posters painstakingly finished through a highly complex and lengthy technical printing process, resulting in unique works. In other cases Nakajima manipulates the angles, size, spacial relationship, and lines of individual letters in typography, with only his instinct as a guide, until he achieves the “certain vision” that he seeks. He explains that he wants thereby to reintroduce a virtuoso element, manipulating his works to achieve what he calls the masterful “flavor.” He further refers to this process as his act of rebellion against the tendency toward increasing uniformity in the graphic design field that has resulted from the use of digital processing technology.
Indeed, Hideki Nakajima's work stands on the threshold of graphic design and fine art. His chosen medium of print, his pursuit of technical perfection, his prolific commercial output, and the notable absence of a conceptual message in his works all seem to place Nakajima in the realm of graphic design. However, central themes in Nakajima's work, especially recently, seem to signal a fundamental departure from the central purpose of graphic design: to communicate simply and clearly a prescribed message to a mass audience through visual expression.
Nakajima's recent works show an increasing degree of abstraction. He seems unconcerned, however, that a mass audience cannot easily understand his work. Nakajima's incorporation of unique handcrafted elements to add imperfection to his works defies the assumption that graphic print work is designed to be produced in multiple examples. Nakajima himself explains that his current expression is moving away from design that is to be “seen” and towards design that is to be “read”—what he calls “tea ceremony like” works, the abstract and indirect expression of which can only be understood by true connoisseurs and practitioners. In this regard, Nakajima finally seems ready to affirm his affiliation with the realm of fine art, which he has been quietly producing for a long time.
Hideki Nakajima and I are alike, I would say.
That was my impression seeing his works.
And I'm definitely not saying this
just because he's designed ny CDs or done artwork
for me on numerous occasions.
Inside him there coexist a variety of factors,
and sometimes they seem to contradict each other.
There's the experimental side of him, and the punk,
and sometimes an extremely aesthetic side,
while at other times he is extremely abstract.
When I see how loosely varied he is,
for some reason it makes me feel like
I'm looking at my own works,
and it brings a smile to my face.
When I think that he too may be gazing upon
my music from the opposite side, it makes me chuckle.
The problem I'm facing today, Hideki Nakajima,
and where he's heading toward.
To put it simply, to know what defines Hideki Nakajima,
and where he's heading toward.
To put it simply, to know what makes us who we are.
When we were young, we did everything we could.
We can't do that anymore.
Sarah Suzuki (SS): In commercial work, does friction ever arise from client demands that go against the direction that you hope a project will take?
Hideki Nakajima (HN): That is an inevitable issue in production. It's hard, of course, to proceed exactly as one would like. For this reason it's necessary to adjust either my goals for a project or the aims of the client. I think that this sentiment is not only mine, but is common to most graphic designers.
SS: Well, when you work on a personal project, is it ever affected by a commercial job that you're involved with at the same time?
HN: The impact of such conflicts is considerable. When I'm involved in a project, a lot of ideas come out first. Then, ideas that are impossible to facilitate due to budget or physical limitations are rejected one by one. The ideas pile up like a mound of corpses in this kind of process, and the mound continues to swell. I bring these ideas to new projects, reconstructing them from fragments. Also, in my case. I don't really have any signature style, as it changes with each piece. Otherwise, I get bored with myself and my work. Therefore to avoid growing bored, I, with the sense that I’m switching one train after another, am constantly challenging myself with new projects. As my commercial work changes, my ideas increase and my personal work will naturally expand as well.
SS: Your work includes music, literature, and art, so you're involved in projects that span a wide variety of fields, right?
HN: I'm really thankful for the broad sphere of work I'm engaged in. I'm awfully blessed by my clients. I have been individually commissioned many times by artists like Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yoshitomo Nara, and Banana Yoshimoto. Since they selected me as their designer, I must respond with a high caliber of work. In such cases I'm being asked, I think, how I'll engage with the challenges in my line of work, as a designer, living my life along the career path that I choose. The most exciting thing, moreover, about the work I'm doing is the richness of the people I interact with. What makes them seem so rich is how they each are oriented in the direction that they are meant for. I gaze at that objectively from the outside and create designs that embody their ideas.
SS: For example, in working on a project with an artist like Ryuichi Sakamoto, what kind of position do you occupy?
HN: It depends on the specifics of the project. When I come in contact with Ryuichi Sakamoto, it's as if I always carry a sense of tension out of respect and admiration for him. As for Sakamoto's design work, an additional person will participate as creative director, so you could say we have the "synergy" of a triad.
SS: For you, what is the significance of graphic design?
HN: I think it inhabits the position of a translator between sponsors and an audience. However, I don't want to judge whether the translation is brilliant or second-rate. If a skilled translation is done, it doesn't necessarily mean that the translator is expressing a first-rate form of art. In this case, as in others, interesting information or visual surfaces make a momentary impact, but they are soon forgotten. I think that this is characteristic of information itself. Through my work, I want to confuse the spectator. I want to plant images deep within human memory by using information and impressions that are perplexing. And with regard to “visual design." everyone mistakes it for something that communicates only what one sees with the eye. If we consider a book, it stimulates with the five senses—it is felt and smelled, provides sound, and so forth. I think that one should design using all of these senses. Previously, I designed a book that makes the sound of paper crumbling like that of breaking bones. In any case, I also like designs that organically change with the passage of time.
SS: Please tell us about projects that you are currently involved in.
HN: A large retrospective will be held in China. I received a request from the venue to introduce an archive of past works, but as I'm not too devoted to space decoration, I think I'll exhibit pieces that are easy for everyone to understand. I also plan to include a few large size works.
SS: Having your previous works lined up for the exhibition, have you noticed anything new about them?
HN: I've been surprised in a good way, wondering whether I had really once made my own work. I don't really meditate much on my past works; Instead, I try to always think of future projects. My former works are in French museums and possessed by about ten other international sites. They are for anyone to see and they live an existence separated from my own. I do not think of myself as an artist, so I’m constantly thinking of how I can look into the future and what I can do as a graphic designer.
SS: And what are you working on now?
HN: A piece using the motif of Google Street View. Just as photographers do with street snapshots, I'm expressing the images of various places using graphic design. I'll design these as prints on canvas presenting all the lines on a street: the line in the center of a road, power lines, utility poles and so forth. I have been deeply impressed by something Daido Moriyama has said: "if we do not have street snapshots, it spells the end for us as photographers. " I want to try to challenge myself with something that I can do though graphic design. In addition, Street View is fraught with problems concerning privacy. As a designer, I want to convey to society my reaction regarding such key issues.
Interviewer：Sarah Suzuki (MOMA / The Museum of Modern Art)
John Warwicker （Creative director, designer and typographer)
We read the “character” of someone who we have just met from how they look. And often the most expressive， telling component of this “Iook” is the face.
There is no such thing as a neutral typeface. Each typeface has a cultural context that informs the read- ing of the word or words.
How it says what is says colours how we read it. We meet different people everyday and subtly adjust our grammar, tone and rhythm to suit the what we are trying to say to the type of person that we are saying it to and adjusting the mechanics of what we say according to the type of meeting that we are having In the same way the letter-spacing， line-spacing， size relative to context all plays a part in the function and presence (the character) of the word on a page or screen.
How this is achieved also is for the character of the designer and how it is understood speaks for the character of the reader.
Not only is there no neutral typeface there is also no neutral space.
Everything is in context and everything is in process， always changing， always shifting.
No matter how concrete the information or basic the typeface or layout there is always ambience and there is always aesthetics.
And the same is true within a single character， the balance and dynamic of the geometry of the positive and negative of the form as the spirit expressed in form of a letter or character; the way that one letter is placed next to another effects them both; and how the whole line or lines of type relates within itself and to the page or spacial field combine to create a ‘song-line’， a music， And within this， if created through sensitivity and passion， a poetic field for the typographer or designer to occupy and shape because typography and design is not pureIy an external activity or fact-it resides within the typographer designer and within the reader as an inter-nalised ‘voice” within the ebb and flow of thought and feeling.
And as a sequence of musical notes transforms into music and is able to create， on rare， meaningful moments， a feeling of transcendence so typography and design can transcend its context and its maker and reader and become ‘beautiful’. A beauty that is beyond words.
Hideki has both an open heart and an open mind. He is a sensitivesoul. But he is decisive. The work in this book is evidence of this.
A map of his journey. Or more accurately. a journey started. Of markers placed. Of response made. It is a long road walked slowly but purposefully.
Rather than accumulation it is process of leaving behind and never looking back. Of both filling and emptying. Where each cycle prepares and refines that preparation.
Shou Akiyama （Copywriter / CEO of Light Publicity)
Hideki Nakajima’s NAKAJIMA THIN is beautiful. As I gaze at these letters I wish that I could write catch copy in English. NAKAJIMA THIN conveys two images. One is functional. It covers the entire range of spaces from very small to very large. The sharp efficiency of mechanical manufacturing cost and electronic expression cost. It corresponds to all recent media and can be easily converted from sound to letters. The other image is Art. Materially it is ultra-light metal. This dense and elastic metal is synthesized using cutting edge technology. Additionally there is the image of letters. The letters look like watermarks and when one touches them, there is no sense of unevenness. The angle of the letters changes with the angle from which you look at them. The letters appear to be shadows. The image seem to have been created in the past. This is a story of something that has been lost. Some- thing that has disappeared in a forest. Something that has been swallowed Up in the mist. You could almost call it an echo.
The design of Hideki Nakajima reminds me of the musical score of a piece of music that I have never heard. It is the design of sound rather than music. Why does Nakajima’s design remind me of a music score? It can be said that music scores are a type of graphic design. Indeed Nakajima has worked jointly with many music artists “SAMPLED LIFE” is a graphic version of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s opera “LIFE” and every part of the music is expmsed visually. A more appropriate word would be deeply. Hideki Nakajima‘s way of thinking is similar to that of Ryuichi Sakamoto. His way of thinking， his sensibility, or something that is specific to him. Nakajima has seen that and captured it in his work just as Ryuichi Sakamoto expresses it through his music. Like a man and his shadow. The image and the mirror image.
Nakajima started off using the NAKAJIMA EXTRA BOLD font. His design is closer to models than symbols. Each of his fonts is a work of Art and the finished work is like a complete illustration. He said something about this in the past. He said that he cre-ates things that do not exist in this world. However， once a work has been created it’s as if it has been somewhere all the time. (He explains this more exactIy， “I climb a mountain for the first time， but I always notice footprints.” CLEAR IN THE FOG) That some- where is in Nakajima’s conscience. If you compare it with Haruki Murakami’s “The End of the World and the Hard Boiled Wonderland,” it would be “The End of the World.” This side is the real world， over there is the world of the conscience. Far at the back of the mind, probably in the world of the subconscious. Nakajima comes and goes between these two worlds. Sometimes there are moments when this world and that world exist simultaneously. Expression that solidi-fies the conscience is born. That’s NAKAJIMA THIN However， he ponders. That moment always exists. And so he tries to venture further to the back of the conscience. The darkness is deep. However, he will always find new light there and return to this side of reality.
Between Courage and Uncoolness
Hideki Nakajima – a designer with phrone-sis
A designer who tries to bring ambivalence (ambiguïté), instead of evidence (évidence), into the world of design: that is Hideki Nakajima. If design is deflned as an operation to classify a number of verbal and nonverbal messages and bring order by yielding a certain shape and color, I would argue that Nakajima’s design denies this con ventional notion in the sense that he does not provide design with a “single” meaning. Seen in that light, he has the courage of a rebel.
Courage – In the Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle said courage was the golden mean (mesotes) between recklessness and cowardice. He also called the virtue required to learn the golden mean “phronésis.” I believe this “phronésis” is the key to understanding the signif-lcance of Hideki Nakajima’s numerous works, which are compiled in this book.
Phronesis – this is an unfamiliar term even when translated to “practical wisdom” or “prudence.” Its concept, however, is not hard to comprehend in comparison to “epistéme(knowledge),” “nous (intuition),” “sophia(wisdom)” and “techne(technique).” First of all, there are two types of intellect: the intellect to pursue “things that cannot be otherwise,” and the intellect to pursue “things that can be otherwise.” “Epistes,” “nous” and “sophia” are categorized as the former: “nous” is associated with reason itself, “knowledge” is to argue based on reason, and “sophia” integrates these two actions. Ultimately, these are the intellect to discover the universal truth.
“Techné” and “phronésis,” on the other hand, are the types of intellect concerning “things that can be otherwise”; In other words, they are the intellect with which human beings try to change the world. “Phronésis” differs from “techn?,” though. While the purpose of “techne” is the things “produced (poi?sis),” “phronesis” is directed toward “practice (praaxis)” itself. Practice, as a matter of course, is linked to ethics for acting in good faith and living well. To conclude, it seems to me that Hideki Nakajima seeks to set design free from the conventional notion that design is synonymous with “production.”
I have asked Nakajima several times to work as an art director for exhibitions I have been involved in. The f-lrst one was the exhibition A Perspective on Contemporary Art Continuity/Transgression in 2003, which was followed by Yayoi Kusama. (Although I was an assistant in organizing these two exhibitions, I fully took part in art direction of exhibition catalogues and other printed matter). I also worked with Nakajima on the exhibitions Where in Architecture? Seven Installations by Japanese Architects in 2010 and Leiko Ikemura: Transfiguration in 2011.
Working with Nakajima convinced me that one of the features of his design was “overelaboration arising from contradictions.” For instance, we produced “a large and thin hardback” catalogue that compiled installation photos of the Continuity /Transgression exhibition. Some may imagine this catalogue was like a picture book, but our catalogue was different. The paper used for each page was very thin, making the entire book thin. Because each page was so thin, the cover paper was thicker than a text block. In the case of the Yayoi Kusama exhibition, the catalogue was relatively thick, with nearly 300 pages. Nakajima widened the square margin between the cover panel and the text block to provide the catalogue with a visually light impression. In these works, Nakajima introduced design that could have compromised the physical strength of the book.
This “over-elaborated design” is a double-edged sword; some may flnd it interesting, but others may consider it negatively because of its excessiveness. To the latter, Nakajima’s work may not appear cool at all.
I dare to argue that another feature of Nakajima’s design is this “uncoolness.” In some cases, the “uncoolness” is caused by excessive design. In other cases, materiality and tactual sense, which Nakajima tries to express, are the reason, because design focusing on tactual sense delays the speed at which it is perceived, giving the audience the impression that it is clumsy.
Nakajima also deliberately shows this “uncoolness” in graphical design. Take the cover paper of the Kodansha Gendai Shin-sho [Kodansha Contemporary Series] as an example. Frankly, I was stunned when I saw it for the f-lrst time. I could not flgure out what had happened to Nakajima. I am not saying that I preferred the old design of the book series by Kouhei Sugiura, but after Sugiura’s vivid design, Nakajima’s one with a simple square seemed nothing. I even thought Nakajima had abandoned design.
Of course, I was wrong. Nakajima’s simple color square was the correct choice to attract people’s attention to the book from among the numerous other books on store shelves. In the world of book design, not every book enjoys great design. Also, paper of high quality is not usually used for a paperback series like Kodansha Gendai Shinsho (thus, a designer cannot rely on the sense of touch). In addition, many books, es-pecially a paperback series, are displayed on the shelf showing the spines only, unless they are placed in a flat display. In these conditions, Nakajima’s square was the only solution to maintain the essence of his design.
Nakajima gives priority to ensuring that his design has solid presence as an object and maintains its autonomy rather than just creating a design with a “strong market appeal.” After all, it is design with presence and autonomy that leads to strong sales, so that is how design should be. Nakajima is aware of this. He also knows it is the most sought-after form of design, at least in the fleld of book design.
In this respect, Nakajima is vulnerable and robust at the same time. His bipolarity and concurrently cool and uncool design indicate that he fully understands the signiflcance of being ambivalent. His polarized, unique sense peaked in a tableau exhibited at the G/P Gallery in Ebisu, Tokyo in 2010. The tableau entitled Re-Street View/Line, which was almost schizophrenic, left me speechless, and I am sure that I was not the only one.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty discussed am-biguity in his lecture In Praise of Philosophy as follows.
The philosopher is marked by the distinguishing trait that he possesses inseparably the taste for evidence (évidence) and the feeling for ambiguity (ambiguïté). When he limits himself to accepting ambiguity, it is called equivo-cation (équivoque). But among the great it becomes a theme: it contributes to establishing certitudes rather than men- acing them. Therefore, it is necessary to distinguish good and bad ambiguity.
I am not saying Nakajima is a philosopher, but I cannot overlook his enthusiastic attitude towards ambivalence.
Let me put this differently: even the coolest design will eventually become outdated. The cooler a design is, the sooner it becomes obsolete. Nakajima is fully aware that design is the most uncool job in this respect.
The “uncoolness” of design arises not only out of its quickly expiring freshness. We see advertisements calling for ecofriendliness everywhere. Consider, however, where all the paper used for the ads comes from. How about ink? Of course we can use eco-friendly paper, ink, and other materials, but how about the energy used to convey these advertisements? TV ads need electricity. (Until recently, the demand for electricity was equivalent to the demand for nuclear power plants). Ads in newspapers lead to consumption of fossil fuels since the newspapers need to be transported by truck. As one becomes more deeply involved in the world of design, one is made to realize how uncool it is. The more conscientious a designer is, the more he/she has trouble with this contradiction.
So what is the solution? Should one give up design? Once we Japanese believed a strong spirit would conquer everything and were taught that we should “die, rather than being captive in disgrace.” If this is right, every designer should retreat from design rather than being imprisoned in the world of design.
Nakajima, however, probably knows such a slogan cannot reflect the true nature of our existence. Life itself is full of disgrace; thus, he knows we should leap before looking.
Then Nakajima made a leap in his own way. He exposed his plain nude body to the public in an unstrained posture. In doing so, he did not show Icarus-like heroism nor a Sisyphus-like tragic stance. Also, he had a tattoo of four letters meaning “design” on his left shoulder.
Note that the letters Nakajima inscribed on his body were not “design” in English, but the word spelled in Japanese Katakana, which is quite unstylish. The Katakana word for “design” is a phonetic replacement of the English pronunciation, which is neither translation nor interpretation. Although there are some Japanese translations of “design,” Nakajima did not select any of them. It may be true that translated Japanese words might sound oldfashioned, but Nakajima’s choice of Katakana instead of translation must have been deliberate, as he has committed himself to “design” so seriously.
Probably Nakajima could not call what he had done “design” in English but only in Katakana. Possibly it was a farewell to Peter Saville, a designer Nakajima admired, and the person who made him aspire to be a designer. “Design” spelled in Katakana. His determination is compactly signifled in these four letters. Furthermore, “design” in Katakana is not expressed in speech but is inscribed on his body as if he has tried to restore dematerialized letters to petro-glyphs, and then to oracle bone scripts.
Nakajima is not a fluent speaker by nature (at least I believe he is not). Besides, friends including Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yoichi Sibuya, and Sigeo Goto gather around him. This fact must have made Nakajima pose selfrestraint on speaking, thus, I imagine, he has become a person of action rather than speech. He considered designing was an action to commit himself to the world. This does not mean he wanted to do good through products he designed (because this is impossible) but he was determined in “phronesis manner” to ensure designing itself was good natured. The four letters on Nakajima’s left shoulder seem to me to be his statement of resolution.
Moreover, Nakajima later added letters meaning “graphic” to the tattoo, of course in Katakana. I would say he redeflned himself, changing from “design” to “graphic design.” Some may think that a transfer to a sub-category is regression, which is also quite uncool, even when we know that once inscribed, a tattoo can be changed only by addition. This addition of the word probably indicates that he gradually became ready to accept being uncool when he continued designing as action or practice (praxis). The letters express his awareness, in which we even sense his anguish, that what he has produced by his action is just a graphic design after all.
Here I have a suggestion for Nakajima. Or I have a question. Isn’t it necessary for him to have another word inscribed on his right shoulder? Unless he does so, he is not being true to himself since he understands the importance of being ambivalent (at least I believe he does). If being “Nakajima” is to take the golden mean, he should have another tattoo. (While I acknowledge that the golden mean is not a synonym for ambivalence, allow me not to clarify the exact meaning of these words in this paper, because Nakajima has made his way forward while wavering in the gap between the two notions).
Having said that, what is a suitable word for Nakajima’s right shoulder to oppose the word “design” or “graphic design”? Art? No one wants such a rubbish answer. Life? Design is life for Nakajima. “Death”? No, that’s not even a joke as he is not a death metal musician.
Only Nakajima knows the right word. Or perhaps he does not know yet. No one does.
However, concluding this paper in this way would probably be too affected. Therefore, I would like to offer my answer follow-ing Nakajima’s stance. I believe Nakajima cannot inscribe another word on his right shoulder; he is not allowed to do so. This is because a sense of uncertainty arising from the fact no opposite concept exists is the essence of design. Needless to say, this sense of uncertainty will pose a risk for any designer.
Nakajima sometimes tries to explore the outside world in a quest for a possible opposite concept, and convinces himself once again that such a concept does not exist, and that he must stay where he is because an alternative way is not the correct one. As a consequence, his ground becomes narrower and more acute every time he reafflrms the nonexistence of an opposite notion.
March 11, 2012 Moscow
Observers who have taken an overview of Hideki Nakajima’s artwork of the past 20 years will receive the impression that a certain pattern has been consistently repeated, even if, from time to time, there are changes suited to a given situation. This pattern, which we may call Nakajima style, possesses a high degree of independence, and it seems that any magazine layout, CD cover or book design, regardless of its theme or content, will be integrated into his def-lnitive style. This pattern, which is the stabilizing foundation for Nakajima style, has a distinctive characteristic. That is, an overwhelming predominance of Sans-serif typeface. Taking an example from his thick collection, published in 2006 by Dalian University of Technology Press, China, we count, from the vast amount of work con-tained in this book of over 1,000 pages, as few as 10 pieces created in Mincho (Ming-style) or serif typefaces. Where does this preference for sans-serif come from? In other words, how come he prefers a seemingly stamped-out typeface to one that appears to be handwritten with brush or pen?
First, let’s concentrate on Nakajima style itself, excluding the typography in question. It is a style where he has arrived at a so-phisticated layering of images by means of “printing,” taking an action, originally simple in itself, to its utmost limit, while connecting it to the support medium and/or the ink’s materiality. From this viewpoint, his style is close to those of printmakers who have pursued the possibilities of silk-screen to the extreme. The printmakers I primarily have in mind are the artists of “Maxi Graphica,” a group based mainly in the Kansai Area from 1988 to 2008.*1 It is not too much to say that almost all essential aspects of Nakajima’s grammar are already there present. (See f-lg.1〜6)
This is not to claim that Hideki Nakajima was influenced by Maxi Graphica (Maxi Graphica is known, unwarrantably, to very few outside of the print art community), or that the old Maxi Graphica is new and today’s Nakajima is old. If you were to say so, then, truth be told, the roots of both ex- pressions are old. Maxi Graphica’s methods are based on the concept of layering and collage that was convinced in the early 20th century, which, after many years, Maxi Graph- ica develops further through silkscreen media. Both Nakajima and Maxi Graphica styles employ expressions that commonly emerge when dealing, in print media (silk- screen and graphic design), with such issues as layering, materiality, and transparency.
For example, let’s look at one of the Nympheas [Water Lilies] in Musée Marmottan. (See f-lg.7) Monet collaged water lilies upon reflections of sky and light wavering through clouds, thus evincing a watery surface. That is, by adding the material of water lilies painted in oils, he highlights the immaterial surface, which is the invisible, transparent surface layer supporting the entire illusion of reflected water. In later years, Monet added willows draped from above, em-phasizing the presence of a framed picture plane, while exposing the supporting surface by leaving areas of the canvas unpainted. Water lilies, hanging willows, unpainted canvas, each a successive step–this work was achieved by overlaying 3 separate layers.
In the same period as Nympheas, Pi-casso and Braque replaced Monet’s water lilies with scraps of paper, thus inventing “collage.” Just as water lilies made the water surface apparent, when the scraps are col-laged onto the picture plane, the other elements emerge as a sheet of transparent layering. By repeating this manipulation, the artists accumulate layers. (See f-lg.8)
Collage is not a “composition” where various elements are well-balanced and distributed within a given frame, but is rather composed of repeated processes of overlapping a non-material layer with added materials. Various elements–the paper’s surface camouflaging the sup-porting media (such as paper, wall paper, wood grain), colored surfaces, newsprint (characters), free-hand line drawing, f-lgures, foreign objects, gaps, f-lssures–are added to create the sense of multiple layers of transparent surfaces. And the collage of such layers develops between image and the material itself. “Should be indirect; should be constructed in layers; segmented pro-duction process; equivalence of photograph/f-llm and handwork; imaging by transferring, juxtaposition, reversing, and repeating”.*2 In other words, Maxi Graphica developed Braque’s collage in the media of “silk screen,” while Hideki Nakajima carried out the same in “graphic design.” (See f-lg.9〜10)
Unlike Monet’s water lilies, the layers in collage do not necessarily overlap se-quentially. With such f-lgures as vase and violin painted so as to cross the top and bottom layers, the relationship between top and bottom is obscured, resulting in an interweaving effect. “Narrow scraps of paper, the lettering, the charcoal lines and the white papers begin to change places in depth with one another, and a process is set up in which every part of the picture takes its turn at occupying every plane, whether real or imagined, in it.”*3 That is, freehand lines (lines not drawn according to the perspective projection) are inde-pendent from the plane layer, and could freely produce volume and extensity. There-fore, such lines have the power to deny the order of layers.
Printed typeface has precedence over those that appear to be written with brush or pen–now you can see the reason for Hideki Nakajima’s preference. Typefaces that appear to be written with brush or pen have the feel of freehand line drawing, although they have lost the substance, and for this reason, they are anti-layering as opposed to printed typeface, which is pro-layering in terms of the printed plate. Silk screen and graphic design are expressive mediums that are, by their natures, depen-dent on layering. Thus, for an artist like Naka-jima, whose talent is in layered collage, any serif typeface that deviates from layering belongs to the exception.
However, this is not the end of the story. In fact, these artists have made no shortage of attempts to integrate non-layered line drawing and brushstrokes into layered ex-pression, which is an endeavor to construct silk screen and/or graphic design within the tensions between layer and non-layer. Maxi Graphica features such expressions as bold strokes (Hideki Kimura), sharp, roughly sketched lines (Nana Ando), and fabrics used as a material layer and a fake frame (Hiroaki Hamada), in attempts to overcome their dependency on the layering associated with silk screen (all of these elements are found in Nakajima’s work), and Nakajima’s “Street View / Line” series applies clear expression to create a layer of free-hand line drawing by a method called Frottage. Also, Mincho and serif types are certainly a part of Nakajima design, although their numbers are less. That is, the true reason for Nakajima’s preference for sans-serif typeface stems from somewhere else.
As far as silk screen’s and graphic de- sign’s use of “print” media, the only available choices depend on layers. Trying to be free from the mediums inherent condition, the artists have adopted various methods as listed above. One such method was to incorporate line drawings and/or brush-strokes into the picture plane as an essence that is not limited by a layer. Although this is the same as using line drawing and/or brushstroke as “non-layered” symbol, it doesn’t change the fact that, ultimately, they are used as a layer. The freedom presented by line drawing and/or brushstroke is a pseudo freedom.
What must be done to become free from this without contradicting the layering system? Hideki Nakajima’s typography gives an answer to this question. He conquered the issue by dividing the layers into units of character or type. Graphic design cannot survive without layers. So, he neither denies the layer, nor mimics non-layered elements. Instead, he thoroughly exploits layers. If there is a word composed of 5 letters, he creates f-lve overlays, and then divides one letter into two parts (for example, “A” is divided into “–” and “Λ,”) and each of these layers is overlaid twice. Speaking in the extreme, he overprints one layer per pixel. You can no longer call it a layer.
Of course, in terms of cost and visibility, it is impossible to literally carry out such ma-nipulation in commercial design. However, looking at various designs where he changes the size and color of letters according to a letter unit (“Cut” magazine, No.164, 170, 2004, and many others）, or prints divided pieces of a character above and below a square, cut-out hole (Clear in the Fog, 2006), or makes all layers three dimensional and packs them in a box (Ryuichi Sakamoto Sampled Life, 1999), it is apparent that a kind of three-dimensionality and extensity generated from division and polymerized layers always underlies an Hideki Nakajima design.*4 Fragments of letter and word freely float in the virtual space created by the overlay of layers. At the center of Nakajima’s design, which on the surface looks simple and minimal, there is this free floating situation, which releases graphic design from layering by carrying out layered collage at the level of typography.*5
In this way, what Nakajima seeks for typography is divisibility. Mincho or serif typographies are too strongly connected to the sequential nature of line drawing, and cannot be broken down into partial blocks as can be done with sans-serif. From this derives his preference for sans-serif typography.
*1. Led by Hideki Kimura, printmakers reinvented “silk screen” as a multi-layered media, regarded as picture as well as photograph, and by seeking its creative possi-bilities, expanded printmaking expression to the “maxi”mum and released it from the yoke of craftwork. See Hideki Kimura, Takashi Tanaka, Hiroaki Hamada, et al: “Maxi Graphica–zadankai Maxi Graphica no mezashita ‘Kaiga to Hanga’ [Maxi Graphica–Symposium: Picture and prints Maxi Graphica aimed at],” Hangageijutsu [Art of Prints], no.106, in its lead-off feature article titled “Screen Print no miraikei [Future Screen Prints],” 1999, pp.90-97.
*2. Hideki Kimura, “MAXI GRAPHICA hanga toiu nazo [Mystery of prints by MAXI GRAPHICA],” Kansai gendai hangashi [History of Kansai Contemporary Print], edited by Kansai gendai handashi hensyu iinkai, Bigaku Shuppan, 2007 (Bigaku Sosho No. 7), p.294.
*3. Clement Greenberg, The Pasted-Paper Revolution. The Collected Essays and Criticism, Volume 4, p.63. The University of Chicago Press,1993.
*4. On the cover of the collection-book referred to in the beginning of this article, the 20 letters comprising “NAKAJIMA HIDEKI DESIGN,“ along with a rectangle designed to echo the sections of sans-serif typeface, are divided into 10 layers (“ADEGIJKN,” “SeHIDEKI NAK,” “rectangle,” “d,” “rectangle,” “rectangle,” “AJIMA DESIGN,” “hi,” “k,” and “rectangle”), which are printed in various degrees of gray on semi-transparent papers as a mate- rialized layer. As a whole, the generated impression is that of each respective letter or word fragment floating freely in the semi-transparent space created from multiple layers of tracing paper. I can say that this is designer Wang Xe’s homage to Nakajima. Wang Xe literally cho- reographed the essence of Nakajima design.
*5. According to what I heard from Nakajima himself after f-lnishing this article, he actually substantiates layers (in the form of f-llm, etc.), combines and photographs them. This production method could be the reason why Naka-jima design is not a simple collage of layers, but exudes the sense of atmospheric extensity (spaciousness). If I may use a music metaphor, his design is not akin to that of a computer-stored mp3 player, but is rather an acoustic sound released into the air; and, for him, layered collage may be compared to multiple recording.