Harumi Yamaguchi is a seminal Japanese artist, whose illustrations evoked female equality in an era of great political and social reforms. When she embarked on her career, in the early 1970s, Yamaguchi was the only eminent illustrator working with the airbrush medium.
Yamaguchi was born 1941, in Matsue in Japan’s Shimane prefecture. She attended the Tokyo University of the Arts, graduating with a degree in oil painting. She worked in the publicity department of Seibu Department Stores, before becoming a freelance illustrator.
In the late 1960s Tsuji Masuda had taken over as president of the ailing Marubutsu Department Store. Masuda wanted to create a department store that functioned as a cultural hub, combining retail, museums, theater and publishing under one roof. Masuda headhunted art director Eiko Ishioka, copywriter Kazuko Koike and Harumi Yamaguchi. The store opened in 1969, under the new name, PARCO.
There was important social shift in Japan during the 1970s. A new women’s liberation movement emerged called uman ribu (woman lib). The movement had an emphasis on the liberation of sex (sei no kaiho), which was Distinct from previous feminist movements. Furthermore, the movement aimed to liberate both sexes from the oppressive aspects of a patriarchal and capitalist system.
PARCO’s rebrand was reflexed the changing Japanese society and Yamaguchi’s work for PARCO embodied the changing era. Using an airbrush, Yamaguchi illustrated women who were modern, confident and celebrate their own sexuality. She deliberately placed her women in traditionally male-dominant roles including boxing, baseball and skateboarding.
Yamaguchi’s work has continued to diversify and evolve. It won the Warsaw International Poster Biennale special prize and the Tokyo ADC Award. Since 1992, there have been multiple exhibitions of her work. Most recently HARUMI GALS held by POST to commemorate the publication of Harumi collection of works.