Shin Matsunaga + EDW

Shin Matsunaga Poster Exhibition + Edmonton Design Week
Enterprise Square Gallery (Harcourt House’s off-site venue) .  September 21 – 30, 2017
Opening Reception: Thursday, September 21st, 2017 from 6:30 – 10 pm
10230 Jasper Avenue, Edmonton

Shin Matsunaga

The Japanese, by their geographic disposition and aesthetic temperament, have historically demonstrated an extraordinary talent for learning and adapting from outside sources without sacrificing and compromising their centuries-old system of traditions and beliefs. This is very much evidenced in Japan’s contemporary visual/new media arts, architecture and, particularly, in design. For the Japanese, design has served – through development and application of symbolic vocabulary – as a quiet and personal expression of the elegant as well as the ordinary. In addition, the Japanese have had a specific ability to reduce complicated representational ideas to simple forms and patterns that are visually tantalizing.

Art by Shin Matsunaga, Japan’s leading contemporary graphic designer, reflects these philosophical and formal principles. From the basic energies of visual form, to a continuing and fresh exploration of the relationships of plane in space, of volume, elements of typography, and of visual ‘sounds’, Matsunaga has constructed a language of graphic art which is expressed through symbols rather than descriptive statements.

The Graphic Appetite: Shin Matsunaga Poster Exhibition is the first major presentation of Matsunaga’s graphic design in Edmonton. The exhibition not only showcases Matsunaga’s impressive corpus of work, but also highlights his diverse range of symbolic idioms, and discusses visual vocabulary which has been so expertly articulated through the universal themes of his poster designs. His compelling, impeccably executed, but often puzzling imagery with its wide range of formal and symbolic vocabulary and application of new techniques, entices us to contemplate his works for longer that we had planned as we attempt to unravel the symbolism that obscures the statement he wishes to make.

The specific design of his posters subverts the notion that communication consists of a passive transfer of information from one party to another. Rather, his posters seize the viewer’s attention, engaging him/her in a process of negotiation with the image. Through a complex association of metaphors and historical references, the viewer not only unravels but also enhances and enriches the meaning veiled by the sophisticated interplay of word and picture.

Matsunaga’s poster designs refer to an abundant palette of colour enhanced by a rich visual and conceptual dictionary, and testify to imaginative and sophisticated compositions of unusual terseness of measures. The irresistible suggestiveness of his poster design, its intellectual character and the way Matsunaga treats the fundamental function of a poster (information, illustration, attraction), speaks volumes about the creative potential of their author.

Says Douglas Whitton, a Professor of Design at the Sheridan College in Oakville, Ontario in his essay for Matsunaga’s exhibition at the Japan Foundation Gallery in Toronto (2003): “… The diversity of Matsunaga’s creative pursuits forms a continuum between two opposites: raw, personal, hand-drawn images and cool, universal geometric computer-generated forms. In spite of the diversity of style, form and content that one experiences in the show, the viewer is paradoxically left with an impression of wholeness (….). Shin Matsunaga never succumbs to a compromise solution or a repetition of previous successful solutions. He never takes the easy way out. The unity of the work in this show is a result of the thought process behind it …”

Jacek Malec
Exhibition Curator
Harcourt House Artist Run Centre


Shin Matsunaga – JAPAN: Burn up, Japan? Burn out, Japan?, 2001; poster design on theme of “Japan”; Japan Graphic Designers Association Inc.; offset. Photo courtesy of the artist. Copyright by Shin Matsunaga.


Shin Matsunaga – Biographical Note

Born in Tokyo in 1940, Shin Matsunaga expressed an interest in visual forms in his early childhood. After graduating from the Faculty of Design at the prestigious Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in 1964, Matsunaga began his artistic career in the advertising department at Shiseido Co., Ltd. There, his posters for the company’s Bronze Summer suntan oil campaigns won him Tokyo Art Directors Club (ADC) prizes in three successive years (1969-1971). Subsequently, he established his own firm in Tokyo, Shin Matsunaga Design, in 1971 and, while continuing his free-lance design services for Shiseido, Matsunaga expanded his offerings to include corporate identity programs (Mazda, Hankyu), editorial design (Nonon and More magazines), books, calendars, and package designs, winning prizes in every category: Tokyo ADC prizes for calendar (1973) and editorial design (1978), top honours for package design from the Japan Package Design Association (1984, 1985, 1987), and the Mainichi Industrial Design Prize for his graphics and package designs (1986).

In 1982 Matsunaga reached nearly legendary status in Japan’s design milieu for his design of Visual Constitution of Japan, a book design with such visually appealing cover and graphics that it became a national bestseller. Since the late 1970’s, Matsunaga has exhibited his works abroad, receiving a Gold Medal for his poster designs at the United States-Japan Graphic Design Exhibition in New York City (1978, 1981), a Gold Medal at the International Poster Biennale in Warsaw, Poland (1988), and the American Clio Award for his package designs (1989).

His graphic design has become the subject of numerous solo exhibitions in Poland, USA, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Belgium, Slovenia and Canada. A major survey exhibition, Graphic Cosmos: The World of Shin Matsunaga toured Japan from 1996-1999. In 1997, the Shin Matsunaga Design World exhibition was held at Saison Museum of Art in Tokyo. In 2001, the Spring Has Come: Shin Matsunaga, Play With Details exhibition was held at the Ginza Gallery in Tokyo and the DDD Gallery in Osaka. A major survey exhibition, Shin Matsunaga: Poster Design was showcased at the Japan Foundation Gallery in Toronto in 2003, and in 2004 at the Triangle Gallery of Visual Arts in Calgary.


The exhibition “The Graphic Appetite: Shin Matsunaga Poster Exhibition” will be presented at Enterprise Square Gallery (10230 Jasper Avenue; Edmonton) – Harcourt House’s off-site venuefrom September 21 to September 30, 2017.

The official opening of the exhibition will be held in the Enterprise Square Gallery on Thursday, September 21, 2017 from 6:30 pm to 10 pm. Free admission/cash bar. Everyone is very welcome! 

Hours of operations/exhibition public viewing during 2017 Edmonton Design Week: Monday through Friday from 11 am to 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday from 11 am to 6 pm. Free admission.

Venue Sponsor: University of Alberta
Exhibition Partners: The Japan Foundation-Toronto, Edmonton Economic Development Corporation, and Bentall Kennedy (Canada) LP