One of our esteemed readers recently suggested we take a look at the work of S. Neil Fujita and being as our readers have such good taste we decided to take this advice on board. Little did we know quite how much truly iconic work this man has created so it seems only fair to share his work with our wider audience and take a look at his life and career.
Born Sadamitsu Fujita in Hawaii in 1926 to Japanese immigrant parents he took the name Neil whilst at boarding school on Honolulu. From there he moved to the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles but his studies were interrupted in 1942 by WWII where he saw action in the 442nd Regimental Combat Team, a unit comprising Japanese-American soldiers that went on to become the most decorated unit in the war. He continued to serve after the war and left the army in 1947 to continue his Graphic Design studies at the Chouinard.
Once he’d completed his studies he joined a prominent ad agency in Philadelphia where his striking avant-garde work attracted the attention of Columbia Records who went on to employ him in 1954 with the remit of building up the art department that had been established by Alex Steinweiss (we’ll look at his work in a future post). At this time Columbia were struggling to compete with the legendary cover art of Blue Note Records and needed to establish their own signature look in the same way that Blue Note had so successfully done. During his time at Columbia Fujita created a number of iconic album covers most notably Dave Brubeck’s ‘Time Out’, Miles Davis’s ‘Round About Midnight’ and ‘Mingus Ah Um’ by our old friend Charles Mingus.
Fujita’s stay at Columbia was relatively short as he left in 1957 to set up on his own but shortly after re-joined Columbia where he continued until ’63. At this time he was asked to form a design subsidiary for public relations firm Ruder & Finn (who represented many celebrity clients, in fact their first was Perry Como) which went on to become Fujita Design. This new stage in his career saw him move into the field of book cover design and as with his Columbia Records period he designed some legendary book covers in particular ‘The Godfather’ and also Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’. He also designed the rainbow for the US network NBC’s ‘Today’ breakfast show which is still used some 30 years after it was first designed. He taught for many years at the Philadelphia Museum College of Art, the Parsons School of Design in Manhattan and the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn.
Fujita sadly died in 2010 at the grand age of 89 and left behind a legacy that continues to inspire many artists and designers to this day. Check out our selection of his work below.