It’s Day 90 and there’s a rainstorm outside. My dogs were freaking out from the thunder and lightning and I was painting with glitter! Please join me in celebrating Takashi Murakami today.
Takashi Murakami (村上 隆 Murakami Takashi, born in Tokyo on February 1 1962) is an internationally prolific contemporary Japanese artist. He works in fine arts media—such as painting and sculpture—as well as what is conventionally considered commercial media —fashion, merchandise, and animation— and is known for blurring the line between high and low arts.
He coined the term superflat, which describes both the aesthetic characteristics of the
Japanese artistic tradition and the nature of post-war Japanese culture and society. Superflat is also used as a moniker to describe Murakami’s own artistic style and that of other Japanese artists he has influenced.
Murakami is the founder and President of Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., through which he manages the careers of several younger artists and organizes the biannual art fair GEISAI.
Takashi Murakami was born and raised in Tokyo, Japan. From early on, he was an enthusiastic follower of animation and manga (Japanese comics), and aspired to one day work in the animation industry. He attended T.U.A Tokyo University of the Arts, originally seeking to acquire the drafting skills necessary to become an animator, but eventually majored in Nihonga, the ‘traditional’ style of Japanese painting that incorporates traditional Japanese artistic conventions, techniques and subjects.
Though he would go on to earn a Ph.D. in Nihonga, he gradually became disillusioned with the field’s insular, highly political world and started to explore more contemporary artistic styles, media, and strategies.
Murakami was unsatisfied with the state of contemporary art in Japan, believing it to be “a deep appropriation of Western trends.” Thus,
much of his early work was done in the spirit of social criticism and satire. Efforts from this period include performance art (Osaka Mixer Project, 1992), parodies of the “message” art popular in Japan in the early 90’s, (DOBOZITE DOBOZITE OSHAMANBE, 1993), and conceptual works (e.g. Randoseru Project, 1991).
He also began developing his own pop icon, “Mr. DOB,” which would later develop into a form of self-portraiture, the first of several endlessly morphing and recurring motifs seen throughout his work. Though he garnered attention, many of his early pieces were not initially well received in Japan.
In 1994, Murakami received a fellowship from the Asian Cultural Council and participated in the PS1 International Studio Program in New York for a year. During his
stay, he was exposed to and highly inspired by Western contemporary artists such as Anselm Kiefer and especially the simulationism of artists such as Jeff Koons. While in New York, he established a small studio, which, together with the Hiropon Factory in Japan, became the precursor to his company Kaikai Kiki. After returning to Japan, he would develop the core concepts behind his artistic practice and begin exhibiting regularly at major galleries and institutions across Europe and America.
Murakami has expressed since early on a frustration with the lack of a reliable and sustainable art market in post-war Japan. Largely for this reason, he formulated a strategy wherein he would first establish himself in the Western art world and then import himself back to Japan, building a new type of art market in the process.
In order to create something rooted in his own Japanese culture and history but still
fresh and valid internationally, he began searching for something that could be considered ‘uniquely Japanese.’ After concluding that elements of ‘high’ art were confounding at best, he began to focus on Japan’s ‘low’ culture, especially anime and manga, and the larger subculture of otaku. He felt that these had the potential to be the key elements for his work. His signature artistic style and motifs (cute/disturbing anime-esque characters rendered in bright colors, flat and highly glossy surfaces, life-size sculptures of anime figurines) derived from this strategic concept.
In 2000, Murakami published his “Superflat” theory in the catalogue for a group exhibition of the same name that he curated for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The theory posits that there is a legacy of flat, 2-dimensional imagery which has existed throughout Japanese art history and continues today in manga and anime.
This style differentiates itself from the western approach in its emphasis on surface and use of flat planes of color. Superflat also served as a commentary on post-war Japanese society in which, Murakami argues, differences in social class and popular taste have ‘flattened,’ producing a culture with little distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’. The theory provided the contextual background for his work and he further elaborated on it with the subsequent exhibitions, “Coloriage” (2002, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, Paris) and “Little Boy: The Arts of Japan’s Exploding Subculture” (2005, Japan Society, New York).
These exhibitions helped introduce Japan’s lesser-known creative culture overseas and such curatorial projects would become an integral part
of Murakami’s multifaceted artistic practice.
In accordance with the Superflat concept, Murakami’s practice involves repackaging elements that are usually considered “low” or subcultural and presenting them in the “high-art” market. He then further flattens the playing field by repackaging his “high-art” works as merchandise, such as plush toys and T-shirts, making them available at more affordable prices.
In 1996, Murakami launched the Hiropon Factory, his production workshop, in order to work on an increasingly larger scale and in a more diverse array of media. His model inherits the atelier system which has long existed in Japanese painting, printmaking and sculpture, and is common to anime and manga enterprises, such as Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli. In 2001, Hiropon Factory was incorporated as Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd.
In 2002, at the invitation of designer Marc Jacobs, Murakami began his long-lasting collaboration with the fashion brand Louis Vuitton. He began by contributing artwork which was used in the design of a series of handbags. The series re-envisioned the fashion house’s signature monogram and was a huge commercial success. Though he had previously collaborated with fashion designers such as Issey Miyake Men by Naoki Takizawa, his work with Louis Vuitton won him widespread fame and notoriety as an artist who blurs the line between ‘high art’ and commercialism. It also elevated him to celebrity status in his home country of Japan.
In 2007, Murakami provided the cover artwork for rapper Kanye West’s Graduation album and directed an animated music video for West’s song Good Morning.
In both cases above, Murakami would later ‘re-appropriate’ these projects by incorporating imagery from such projects into his paintings and sculptures, further blurring the boundaries between art and commercial branding and even questioning the existence of such a boundary.
Asked by interviewer Magdalene Perez about straddling the line between art and commercial products, Murakami responded:
“I don’t think of it as straddling. I think of it as changing the line. What I’ve been talking about for years is how in Japan, that line is less defined. Both by the culture and by the post-War economic situation. Japanese people accept that art and commerce will be blended; and in fact, they are surprised by the rigid and pretentious Western hierarchy of ‘high art.’ In the West, it certainly is dangerous to blend the two because people will throw all sorts of stones. But that’s okay—I’m ready with my hard hat.”
Partial biography is from wikipedia.
As you can probably imagine, I was pretty overwhelmed in figuring out what I wanted to paint for this tribute. I decided to do something simple, but also in his spirit, BUT also make it a little my own. I read a review on one of his art shows and they mentioned that they thought he added glitter to his art so I had fun with that!
I hope you enjoy my tribute and I’ll see you tomorrow on Day 91…only 9 days away til 100! Whew. Best, Linda
Thanks! It was fun to paint. 🙂