Do You Hear My Design? 你聽出了我的設計嗎?

It's known that music can respond and appeal directly to an artist's "internal element" and express spiritual values. On writing, the French poet Charles Baudelaire affirmed that "scents, colors and sounds answer one another". On painting, the Russian artist Wassily Kandinsky had this to say:

"Color is the keyboard, the eyes are the harmonies, the soul is the piano with many strings. The artist is the hand that plays, touching one key then another to cause vibration in the soul. It is therefore evident that color harmony must rely only on a corresponding vibration in the human soul."

If scent is the music for our nose, color is the music for our eyes.

I don't have a good ear to listen, but I appreciate music. Music allows me a freedom of imagination, interpretation, and emotional response on my design. I especially feel attracted to Bach, whose works are greatly admired for their intellectual depth, technical command and artistic beauty.

While working, I like to play Bach's music. I often picture myself walking through fields of paper, touching it with my pencil as if I'm composing the most enchanting music. To me, the organic and geometric shapes that I draw on my sketchbook are like Bach's musical notes that tangle with my joy and happiness.

I was enthralled by Kandinsky's curious gift of colour-hearing (synaesthesia), which he successfully translated onto canvas as "visual music". His artistic ambition got me thinking that, as a designer without the capacity to see sound and hear color, how I can conjure a visual presentation of music that illustrates the affinities between shapes and colors?

Therefore, I crabbed my pencil and started my musical adventure: I drew circles, triangles, and squares, one by one, and filled them in colors. Then, I made them sing with all the intensity I could to create a perfect visual harmony...

My dear readers, this is the creative process of this poster design that I pay homage to Kandinsky. Before you leave let me ask you. Do you hear my design?


Color of the Moment 剎那時光的色彩

One afternoon when I was writing the ‘color’ essay in my silver Mac power book in my New York apartment, it started raining like cats and dogs. The thunderstorm made the room so pitch black. Getting up from my black chair to turn on the yellow light, off-guardedly, I saw the colorful window… Looking out of the brown wooden-framed window, I was struck by the beautiful color abstract scene. I couldn’t see my neighbor’s red brick wall and the green trees in the back yard any more. The silver heavy rain was making the brick wall and the trees almost invisible in a blur of forest green and burgundy. What I was used to see is not what I was seeing. The rhythm of the falling rain is the sound of Ryuichi Sakamoto’s piano. The color vibration of my window is the color palette of Kandinsky.


Design with a Japanese Mind - A Conversation with Takeshi Wakabayashi 若林剛之

My name is Takeshi Wakabayashi
I owe a great deal to the nature of Kyoto.

When I need to be alone, I often take a stroll in Tadasu no Mori (糺の森), “the forest of truth”. I am happy and at peace with myself in this forest. It is natural, not pruned or planted by human beings. I also enjoy the late afternoon breeze in the spring. A kind of breeze is just like what the eccentric Zen Buddhist priest and poet Ikkyu Sojun (一休宗純, 1394-1481) described: “Break open a cherry tree and there are no flowers, but the spring breeze brings forth myriad blossoms”. The breeze carries away the day’s grievances of mine and puts me at ease.

From ancient times to the present, the Japanese people have celebrated the beauty of nature and the poignancy of its seasonal rhythm of the moon, the sakura blossom, the river and the forest. Inspired by nature impulses, they created meditations on the fleeting seasons of life and, through them, expressed essential truths about the nature of human experience.

Iki, the Japanese aesthetic ideal
The patterns of human experience forms culture, and the critical reflection on culture, art, and nature shapes aesthetics. Zen was formalized in China. Chan, as it is known in China, took root in Japan in the thirteenth century. Zen Buddhism’s emphasis on simplicity, emptiness, and the impermanence of the natural world generated a distinctive Japanese aesthetic. Therefore, the appreciation of nature has been fundamental to many Japanese aesthetic ideals, artistic expressions, and other cultural elements.

But the highly refined Japanese aesthetic sensibility is not only about the sensual appeal of elements of the natural world, but also about the human emotions it imbues them with. The main theme in Japanese aesthetics is that objects are alive and should be in harmony. Iki (いき, often written 粋), a traditional aesthetic ideal in Japan, illustrates this value of Japanese aesthetic.

Iki is not simply “Japanese things”. It can be used for almost anything, but especially for people. Iki is not found in nature itself, but can be found in the human act of appreciating the beauty of nature. Iki is associated with a thing or situation that is simple, improvised, straight, restrained, temporary, romantic, ephemeral, original, refined, inconspicuous, etc.; it can also be related to a person who is audacious, chic, pert, tacit, sassy, unselfconscious, calm, indifferent, unintentionally coquettish, open-minded, and restrained.

Satou Toshi-san, the owner of Tawaraya Ryokan in Kyoto, is the perfect example of Iki to me. I'm not only impressed by her personal style, but also influenced by her sense of fashion, architecture, taste, and hospitality. She is truly a pioneer in creating a new style inspired by Kyoto tradition!

Design with a Japanese mind
In my 20s, I used to be called “the American boy”, owing my obsession with Ralph Lauren's collection. But soon after turning 30, I started to question my running after Western fashion as a Japanese designer. Moreover, what is the “modern” Japanese style? Just like you, Della-san. Becuase you are educated in America, with roots in Asia, I don’t see you viewing art and literature only with the Western eyes, right?

The aesthetic system of Japan is significantly different from that of the West. For example:
• Contrary to the precise geometrical values in the Western world, Japanese use diagonal, rather than a centrally placed horizontal or vertical line when dividing a rectangle symmetrically.
• In the West, the pictorial quality is based on realm; in contrast, Japanese characterize the elements drawn from the natural world in an abstract from.
• The West worships a permanent beauty and a complex context; Japanese praise the beauty of nature and its harmonious simplicity.

As a designer, I am open to anything. But things that take full concentration and excessive training attract me the most, such as calligraphy, tea ceremony, and traditional craftsmanship. Therefore, inspired as I am by the sublime Japanese aesthetics, I see no need to adopt Western ideals. And as an upholder of the need to rediscover and appreciate Japanese traditional values, albeit in an apparently revolutionary guise, I established the “Made In Japan” brand – Sou • Sou.

Sou • Sou, pronounced as so – so in English, expresses the ultimate statement of Japanese lifestyle. It is a typical Japanese way to say the word when we make a nod to maintain a friendly and harmonious atmosphere during a conversation. Although the word doesn’t convey a meaning of “yes”, it implies “I agree with you” and “I understand you”.

Sou • Sou has always made the point: discovering and interpreting avant-garde art in Japan, and the roots that bind it to the cultural and aesthetic values of the country’s own tradition. It doesn’t matter if the design is for Jika-Tabi (split-toe shoes, 地下足袋) or textile; all of Sou • Sou’s works derive their aesthetic merit from the fact that it cannot be fully achieved without perfect execution!

Tradition is present
When I walked in the courtyard of Shimogamo Jinja, I saw the glow of sunset deepening and hanging on the torii gate . Even though Kyoto is a modern city of more than a million, the weight of history and the force of tradition have given the streets of the city an undeniable unified and harmonious atmosphere, beyond the well-known image of temples and geishas.

Tradition lives in the present, and it is our key to the past.