"PB Grand Prix 02" by Keiichi Tanaami, 1968, Assini-Thomson Collection
Our artist of the week: Keiichi Tanaami
Japan's answer to Andy Warhol or Milton Glaser? A driving force behind post-war Japanese pop art? Or simply one of the most phenomenally successful and versatile artists of all time? It is hard to pigeonhole one of Tokyo's greatest artistic sons, but then, of course it would be - no one can seem to work out whether his legendary status rests most on his work as an illustrator, graphic designer or simply genre-bending fine artist.
Keiichi Tanaami's training for such feats began at a very early stage. Born in 1936 in Tokyo - the eldest son of a textile wholesaler - Tanaami was forced to flee his childhood home with his family in 1942, when World War II visited the city in the form of the first of an eventual one hundred or so firebombing attacks. They periodically rained down until global conflict ceased in August 1945, and the impressionable young Tanaami witnessed them all.
Tanaami soon become well-practised at observing his surroundings, commenting as an adult that his life could be likened to that of a magazine editor, "spent looking about at my surroundings constantly, wandering from place to place, engaging in a wide variety of work along the way." Taking particular prominence in his wartime memories was his grandfather's deformed fish swimming in its tank, which reflected the flashes of the bombs.
The further deterioration of war conditions led to Tanaami and his mother's evacuation to Muikamachi, Niigata, for the remainder of hostilities. From an early age, Tanaami was translating his wartime experiences into creativity on paper, and went on to study as a young adult at Musashino Art University, from which he graduated in the late 1950s. He got a job with an advertising agency, only to quit less than a year later, overwhelmed by the number of private commissions heading his way.
Come the 1960s, Tanaami's creative career truly took off. This was the decade in which he saw success as a graphic designer and illustrator, also becoming involved in the Neo-Dada organisation and experimenting with the then-new video art. Later in that decade, he encountered the works of Andy Warhol on a trip to New York, and duly made the great American his artistic role model. He declared later that "Like Warhol, I decided not to limit myself to one medium, to fine art or design only, but instead to explore many different methods."
The subsequent decades have seen such a philosophy thoroughly borne out by Tanaami, who became the first art director of Playboy magazine's Japanese edition, Monthly Playboy, in 1975. Today, with solo exhibitions and works in private and public collections in his native Tokyo and around the world, to add to a long list of other lofty achievements, the young boy who was transfixed by that deformed goldfish has more than gone on to fulfil his artistic destiny.
What's more, he is still going strong!