Last Updated:Dec 15, 2014

A Not-Entirely Brief Guide to Supergraphics

A guide to Tokyo’s text-based public works

Stephen Powers, 'Now is forever' (2014). Street view, Harajuku.
Stephen Powers, 'Now is forever' (2014). Street view, Harajuku.
Photo: Nick West

As it’s understood today, a brief guide to Supergraphics is simply big graphics in an architectural setting. A not-quite-so brief guide would cite design critic C. Ray Smith (1929-1988) as the author who first coined the term in the 1960s as reaction to an aesthetic expounded by a previous group of architects known as Supermannerists. A not-really-very brief guide would define it as a term rooted in architectural theory that emphasised the use of graphic form and colour as a spacial, rather than decorative, experiment. And a not-entirely brief and quite possibly Tokyo-centric guide would start by noting the historic significance of Minoru Takeyama’s iconic buildings Ichibankan (1969) and Nibankan (1970) in Shinjuku, before sharing some recent examples of how Supergraphics are understood today; as is the case here.

Using one of the most ”super” of prefixes, the influential graphic designer Barbara Stauffacher Solomon surmises her arrival at Supergraphics during its original inception as:

In this superworld, with its supercharged, super-intense and superwoman exuberance, I combined the super-sized enthusiasm of California Abstract Expressionism with hard-edge Swiss graphics, and ended up with, however superfluous and superficial, supergraphics.[1]

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Nick West

Nick West

Originally from Brighton in the UK, Nick West first visited Japan to curate a solo show in Kyushu. Captivated by Japan’s bewildering calligraphy, its art history and the Mars-like surface of Mount Aso, he left London’s galleries for Tokyo in 2010. He currently teaches fine art and English in Shibuya, but spends his weekends stumbling across public art, loitering in galleries and scribbling notes whilst he researches a showcase of contemporary Japanese art at www.gensojapan.org. His blood group is A positive, so his personality traits include being earnest, creative, sensible, reserved, patient and responsible: most of which he denies.

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