A full version of this article was first published on Tokyo Art Beat, edited by Emily Wakling and titled “A not-so-brief guide to Supergraphics”.
Stephen Powers, ‘Now is forever’ (2014) Harajuku. Photo: Nick West

Stephen Powers, ‘Now is forever’ (2014) Harajuku. Photo: Nick West

As it’s understood today, Supergraphics¹ is simply: big graphics in an architectural setting but it was originally a term from architectural theory emphasising the use of visual form and colour as a spatial, rather than decorative, experiment.
During the 1960s and 1970s, what characterised Supergraphics was the use of stripes and arrows, of zigzags and diagonals, of patterns that bent around corners, of blazing palettes and striking contrasts. Often grand in scale, it was as if their marks were uncontainable.
Some early examples of Supergraphics in Tokyo are Minoru Takeyama’s (now repainted) Ichibankan (1969) and Nibankan (1970) in Shinjuku.
Minoru Takeyama, Ichibankan (1969) and Nibankan (1970) Shinjuku. Photo: Nick West

Minoru Takeyama, Ichibankan (1969) Shinjuku. Photo: Nick West

Minoru Takeyama, Ichibankan (1969) and Nibankan (1970) Shinjuku. Photo: Nick West

Minoru Takeyama, Nibankan (1970) Shinjuku. Photo: Nick West

What Supergraphics means today, along with how large graphics fill the built environment, has changed. Owing to other art forms like public art and street art incorporating the built environment into their works, walls and public spaces are often co-opted for graphic works.
Another difference between the inaugural architectural experiments and the present crop of works is how technology now informs how we engage with our environments.
One of the benefits of Supergraphics is the ease with which they transpose from the page onto the built environment. If it can be written or drawn; it can be Supergraphic.
Stephen Powers, ‘Now is forever’ (2014) Harajuku. Photo: Nick West

Stephen Powers, ‘Now is forever’ (2014) Harajuku. Photo: Nick West

↑ Pink and white stencilled clouds form a patchy background to the American artist Stephen Powers’ statement on a privately-owned wall in Harajuku. Asserting itself in triplicate, at three metres tall, in an area noted for its followers of fashion is the statement “Now is forever”. For more murals in Tokyo: 12-tokyo-murals/
Terada Design Architects, ’N Building’ (2009) Tachikawa. Photo: Nick West

Terada Design Architects, ’N Building’ (2009) Tachikawa. Photo: Nick West

↑ Designed by Terada Design Architects in consultation with Qosmo, the face of N Building is a QR Code. Operating as a hyperlink that enables passersby to browse shop information, make reservations and download coupons, when N Building first opened you could also read the live Twitter feeds of those tweeting inside.
Felice Varini, ‘Senaka Awase no Maru’ (1994) Tachikawa. Photo: Nick West

Felice Varini, ‘Senaka Awase no Maru’ (1994) Tachikawa. Photo: Nick West

Taking advantage of a specific viewpoint, the Swiss artist Felice Varini used a projector to map and to paint a circle as part of Tachikawa’s public art programme Faret Tachikawa. Curated by Fram Kitagawa, it is part of a wider exhibition of artworks but is perhaps the only work that asks that you align yourself, just so, to see it. For more on Faret Tachikawa: Faret Tachikawa
Felice Varini, ‘Senaka Awase no Maru’ (1994) Tachikawa. Photo: Nick West

Felice Varini, ‘Senaka Awase no Maru’ (1994) Tachikawa. Photo: Nick West

Kenta Kaido, #BCTION (2014) Kojimachi. Photo: Nick West

Kenta Kaido, #BCTION (2014) Kojimachi. Photo: Nick West

↑ In an office building due for demolition, seventy artists took to the walls to create murals and installations. One of whom was the artist and illustrator Kenta Kaido, who painted this oversized hashtag character holding a spray can. For more on #BCTION: bction/
Takashi Murakami, Hello Mr. DOB (1997). Kamiooka, Yokohama. Photo: Nick West

Takashi Murakami, Hello Mr. DOB (1997). Yokohama. Photo: Nick West

↑ Curated by Fumio Nanjo, Yumeooka Art Project opened to the public in 1997. Seen from the side, Mr DOB is on a panel raised slightly from the wall in low relief. Graphically, Mr DOB’s silhouette also bears some resemblance to Disney’s famous mouse, only one whom may suggest a certain cynicism. To see more works by Murakami: Painting after pop.
Tamaki Architectural Atelier, Fukagawa Fudō Temple (2010-2) Monzen-Nakachō. Photo: Nick West

Tamaki Architectural Atelier, Fukagawa Fudo Temple (2010-2) Monzen-Nakacho. Photo: Nick West

A short walk from Monzen-Nakacho station is Fukagawa Fudo Temple. As part of a Buddhist temple built in the early eighteenth century, the Kyoto-based architects helped preserve this historic cultural property by extending the site with a new hall for worship. Surrounding the new hall are sutra panels that tell the Acala mantra. The result is a temple wrapped in a mantra.
Tamaki Architectural Atelier, Fukagawa Fudō Temple (2010-2) Monzen-Nakachō. Photo: Nick West

Tamaki Architectural Atelier, Fukagawa Fudo Temple (2010-2) Monzen-Nakacho. Photo: Nick West

¹ Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, https://www.uniteditions.com