Keiichi Tanaami was born in 1936 as the eldest son of a textile wholesaler in Tokyo. He was 9 years old when Tokyo was bombed during the Great Tokyo Air Raid of World War II in 1945. Images seared into the back of his mind at this time would become major motifs in his art works: roaring American bombers, searchlights scanning the skies, firebombs dropped from planes, the city a sea of fire, fleeing masses, and his father’s deformed goldfish swimming in its tank, flashes from the bombs reflecting in the water.
Tanaami took to drawing from a young age, and as a junior high school student he often spent time at the studio of leading postwar cartoonist Kazushi Hara with the intention of becoming a cartoonist himself. After Hara’s sudden death, however, he turned to the pioneering field within manga of graphic novels, and went on to study to become a professional artist at Musashino Art University. Word of his talent spread quickly during his time there and in 1958, as a second year student, he was awarded the Special Selection at an exhibition held by the authoritative illustration and design group of the time. After graduating he took a job with an advertising agency, but quit before one year was up due to the numerous private commissions he was receiving. During the ‘60s he busied himself as a successful illustrator and graphic designer while also actively participating in the Neo-Dada organization, one of the defining art movements of postwar Japan. In the latter half of the ‘60s he immersed himself in making video art, the newest medium in the art scene
at the time.
In 1999, a retrospective of Tanaami’s works from the ‘60s was held at Gallery 360º in Tokyo. The exhibit was praised highly by Yamataka EYE (Boredoms) and KAWS, cultural leaders of the new generation born after the “60s, and as a result, Tanaami’s works once again became popular amongst youth culture. Since 2005, Tanaami has been presenting new works that fall in the realm of fine art. In these works, he continues to manifest images from his personal memories and from his dream world — personified goldfish, deformed characters, rays of light, helical pine trees, fantastical architecture, young girls — through the various mediums of painting, sculpture, film and furniture.
Tanaami has worked as a professor at Kyoto University of Art and Design since 1991, where he has helped bring up young new artists such as Tabaimo. Recent exhibits include “Day Tripper” at Art & Public in Geneva (2007), “SPIRAL” at Galerie Gebt. Lehmann in Berlin (2008), “Kochuten” at NANZUKA UNDERGROUND (2009), “Still in Dream” at Frieze Art Fair (2010) and “No More War” at Art 42 Basel (2011).