Memories of the Future

The master of futurism makes his long-awaited return

poster for Syd Mead: Progressions TYO 2019

Syd Mead: Progressions TYO 2019

at 3331 Arts Chiyoda
in the Chiyoda area
Ends in 9 days

In Main Article 2 Reviews by Paul Heaton 2019-05-10

With a career spanning almost six decades across multiple design disciplines, few illustrators have been as influential in shaping our vision of the future as Syd Mead. He is often referred to as a ‘visual futurist’, a handy moniker for an artist who has never belonged to any specific art movement. Mead once famously stated that science fiction was “reality ahead of schedule” and while his imagery has become an inseparable part of the DNA of science-fiction cinema (thanks to Blade Runner, Aliens and TRON), it’s only one chapter in an extraordinary life’s work. Now just days into the start of a new era in Japanese history, what better way to look forward than with the man who has made a career of predicting the future?

Syd Mead, 'Downtown City Scape' (1982), Photo: The Blade Runner Partnership

Syd Mead: Progressions TYO at 3331 Arts Chiyoda is essentially three different exhibitions in one: the original “Progressions” retrospective (which has been touring throughout the United States in recent years), a room based on Syd Mead’s movie art and a section dedicated to his numerous Japanese collaborations. With 150 illustrations on display, there is a wealth of artwork from every stage of Mead’s career for people to enjoy. This selection is still, however, only a small fraction of the work he has produced over the decades.

Syd Mead, 'Tokyo 2040' (1991), Photo: Syd Mead Inc.

Even his earliest works – automobile renderings from the late 1950s – display a high level of draftsmanship and still possess a timeless quality. It’s to Mead’s credit that few of the trends that have come and gone in the art world have seeped into his output to date his work. This consistency of style and vision was achieved, for the most part, by his faithful adhesion to one painting medium (gouache) and his deliberately limited colour palettes.

Syd Mead, 'The Movie Art Room', Photo: Paul Heaton

For cinephiles, the Movie Art Room is the high point of the exhibition. An entire wall is dedicated to the concept art for Blade Runner, where viewers can get a closer look at the exquisitely detailed designs for Deckard’s apartment and his spinner alongside his luminous visions of Los Angeles in 2019, which would go on to influence Akira, Ghost In The Shell and countless other feature films.

Unlike his work in Hollywood, some of Mead’s most high-profile anime projects will be less familiar to Western audiences. Yamato and Gundam are two of the longest-running franchises in Japan but have enjoyed less success overseas. Mead played an important role in updating both series, redesigning the iconic space warship for Yamato 2520 and the central mecha designs in Turn A Gundam.

Syd Mead, 'Turn A Gundam', Photo: Paul Heaton

At the end of the exhibition it is easy to feel as if you have been taken on quite a journey, while the story behind Mead’s life is mostly absent from the narrative. What does shine through is Mead’s continued optimism about the future and the potential of humanity. Even though Mead himself couldn’t make it to Japan to personally attend this exhibition, he can rest assured that his work has found a real audience here and that his visions of the future will continue to be an inspiration.

Syd Mead: Progressions TYO at 3331 Arts Chiyoda ends May 19. TAB app and MuPon subscribers receive admission discounts.

Paul Heaton

Paul Heaton. Paul is a graphic designer and writer from Central England. Having cut his teeth at design studios in Birmingham he skipped the obvious career move to London, choosing the bright neon lights of Tokyo instead. These days he spends his time working on various creative projects, looking after his son and exploring the different art spaces around the capital. www.paulheatondesign.co.uk » See other writings

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