Album artwork for The Monkees by Keiichi Tanaami.
Keiichi Tanaami was a part of the Neo-Dada movement that was born in Tokyo, a force in art spurned forward by the vitriolic anger that was postwar Japan at the beginning of the 1960s. The goal of the painters and other creative artists that were a part of the Neo-Dada Organization (as they were called) was to create works that were “suspended between art and guerrilla warfare.” Tanaami himself was a survivor of the U.S air raids during WWII that targeted Tokyo starting in 1942 which took the lives of more than 100,000 civilians (although some estimates place the number closer to 200,000) and had been deeply affected by the war. One of the horrors that Tanaami recalls during the air raids is the vision of his father’s pet goldfish deformed body still swimming around it its bowl when his family returned from a bomb shelter after his neighborhood had been destroyed. It was this and other unspeakable sights that according to Tanaami robbed him of his childhood.
‘No More War,’ 1967.
Thankfully Tanaami would find a way to channel his grief, anger and loss into a remarkable career as one of the Japan’s most loved “pop” artists despite the fact that his own mother and the vast majority of his family were emphatically opposed to his choice of professions after discovering his passion for art during high school. Tanaami quickly found work as an artist in print media and doing commissions while still in college which would lead to a gig with the pioneering group JAAC (Japan Advertising Artists Club). The pop art influence in Tanaami’s work is vividly aparent and much of his early work centers around pop-flavored eroticism. In 1975 he got another big break after becoming the first art director for the Japanese version of Playboy magazine, called Monthly Playboy. During a trip to Playboy’s New York offices (and according to Tanaami’s extensive bio on his website) the magazine’s editor (or Hugh Hefner I’m assuming) took Tanaami to Andy Warhol’s mythical studio, the Factory. As if this wasn’t transformative enough for Tanaami his path would also cross with underground comix icon R. Crumb along the way, yet another event that helped shape Tanaami’s ever evolving visionary style.
By the time the 80s rolled around Tanaami, though still working, had developed a penchant for boozing around the clock. A lifestyle that landed the artist in a hospital bed for four months where the combination of medication used to help aid his recovery caused intense hallucinations from which he recovered, armed with an arsenal of boundary-pushing subject matter on which to draw from.
Now a triumphant eighty years old, Tanaami’s compelling work is routinely shown at museums across the world and has been the subject of a few books that celebrate various eras in his life that have included collage work and impressive sculptural interpetations of his paintings such as Keiichi Tanaami: Spiral and Keiichi Tanaami: Killer Joe’s Early Times 1965-73. Some of our more astute, artistically-inclined Dangerous Minds readers may also recognize Tanaami’s artwork from the covers of albums by Super Furry Animals and Jefferson Airplane. I’ve included Tanaami’s album art as well as a large selection of his hyper-colorful psychedelic works some of which are slightly NSFW.
‘Vision in the Womb.’
‘Lost and Wondering Bridge.’
‘Cherry Blossoms Falling in the Evening.’
‘Crayon Angel,’ 2013.
Album art for the 2004 album ‘Answer’ by Japanese band Supercar.
The back cover for ‘Answer’ by Supercar.
Super Furry Animals’ 2007 longplayer ‘Hey Venus’
Album art for the 2009 album by Super Furry Animals, ‘Dark Days/Light Years.’ A collaboration with Tanaami and artist Pete Fowler.
More Super Furry Animals album art for ‘Dark Days/Light Years.’
‘Dark Days/Light Years.’
Artwork done by Tanaami for the fashion house of Dior, Tokyo.
Album art for the Japanese release of Jefferson Airplane’s 1968 album ‘After Bathing at Baxter’s.’
The back cover of ‘After Bathing at Baxter’s.’
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
Godzilla, girls and guns: Color-drenched Japanese sci-fi art