Shigeo Fukuda was born in Tokyo to a family of toy manufacturers, in 1932. As a boy he enjoyed making origami, the Japanese art of paperfolding, which began in China in the first or second century and then spread to Japan during the sixth century. He was still a teenager, when he became intensely influenced by the philosophy the International Style, or the Swiss Style; which was a reflection of the modernist and constructivist ideals. Fukuda was interested in styles’ authentic pursuit of simplicity, and the idea that the beauty is inherent in the foundation of a purpose, and it cannot be the purpose of art was appealing to him. In practical terms, he followed the International Style’s keen attention to detail, precision, craft skills, and supported a system of graphic design education and technical training that would aim at a high standard of craftsmanship and art in design and printing as well as a clear refined and inventive lettering and typoraphy.
Shigeo Fukuda graduated from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1956. In 1966, Fokuda’s work gained prominence at a Czechoslovakian graphic design competition, and in the subsequent year his posters for Montreal’s Expo ’67 brought him the fame. His reputation began to snowball when Paul Rand noticing his work in an issue of Japanese Graphic Design Magazine helped him to exhibit his stunning, wooden puzzle-like sculptures at New York City’s IBM Gallery. The structures were based on the design of toys which he originally created for his young daughter. In 1999, the Japan Foundation in Toronto presented the show “Visual Prankster: Shigeo Fukuda.”
Fukuda’s talent in visual communication design, using minimal graphic dimensions was at the foundation of his fame. Shigeo Fukuda admired the clean and powerful design of Japanese woodblock traditions, and tried to link them to the modern global communication exigencies. Fokuda was an idealist, whose main body of work was created for social and cultural concerns. His 1980, poster for Amnesty International, which features a clenched fist interwoven with barbed wire, his 1982Happy Earth Day posters; one with an upside-down axe, with a sprouting wooden handle, and another with the image of the earth in the shape of an opening seed awash in a pristine sea-blue background, and his most celebrated poster, Victory 1945 , with a cannon barrel that its shell firing, backwards, destroying the cannon forever, are examples of Fukuda’s dark sense of humor, pointing to a childlike innocence that wishes for a better world. His Victory 1945 won the grand prize at the 1975 Warsaw Poster, and he devoted all the proceeds from the competition to the Peace Fund Movement.
Fokuda’s boyish playfulness and enthusiasm for various pranks were a reflection of his philosophical outlook towards the world that were represented in his 1960s visual illusion of “Ryu Mita Ka?” (“Have You Seen the Dragon?”) in the Asahi newspaper, and Idea Magazine ‘s “Visual Circus.” He had said;
“I believe that in design, 30% dignity, 20% beauty and 50% absurdity are necessary. Rather than catering to the design sensitivity of the general public, there is advancement in design if people are left to feel satisfied with their own superiority, by entrapping them with visual illusion.”
According to Seymour Chwast in his introduction to “Masterworks” (Firefly Books, 2005), a monograph about Fukuda;
“Fukuda is not a communicator who conforms to the principles of accessibility. With few exceptions, his purpose is to mystify.”
Shigeo Fukuda died in Tokyo on Jan. 11, 2009.
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