Makoto Saito has worked as a commercial art director, creative director, product designer and film-maker, as well as a graphic designer, but he uses the poster as his signature medium. His experimental and provocative images challenge every expectation of the format and have made him one of the most important and influential figures in poster design of the past twenty years.
Saito was born in Fukuoka, Japan in 1952, and discovered his talent for drawing and painting early in elementary school. He attended Kokura Technical High School and soon after graduation, without any further formal art education, began his career in visual arts as a printmaker. His early prints were exhibited internationally, and are represented in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In 1974, Saito joined the Nippon Design Center, a house agency for major corporations co-founded in 1960 by Ikko Tanaka in Tokyo. During this time he focused his energies on commercial work, his interest in poster design being prompted by a desire to reach a wider audience than that for fine art prints.
In 1982, at the age of 30, he launched his own firm, Makoto Saito Design Office Inc. The posters he has since produced for clients such as the clothing manufacturers Ba-Tsu and Alpha Cubic, for Virgin Japan and the Hasegawa Company, re-interpret the poster’s role. Saito’s designs are almost entirely devoid of text, the company name often emerging from the imagery almost as an afterthought. Rather than selling a specific product, the posters convey a sense of the character of the company, or seek to provoke a reaction to it.
Saito rejects computer technology, though his hand-worked designs may be subsequently recreated by an assistant in the computer environment. The finished prints, on thick, high-quality paper, meticulously printed in dense layers of ink, blur the distinction between promotional medium and fine art print. His posters are included in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the New York Museum of Modern Art, the Design Museum, London, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam and many others.
Saito’s work has won many awards worldwide, including a number of honours from the Art Directors’ Clubs of both Tokyo and New York.