Artist Takashi Murakami loves all things anime and manga—so much so that he often refers to himself as an “otaku,” loosely translated as a “sci-fi geek.” It’s nearly impossible to imagine Murakami as anything but the essence of cool. He is after all known as “the Warhol of Japan,” and famed around the globe for his hallmark Superflat art theory—a postmodern art movement—as well as devising an artistic genre wholly his own. The dynamic creator regularly collaborates with a Who’s Who of culture, including art and clothing projects with Pharrell Williams, artwork for Kanye West and J Balvin’s album covers, and recently directing and animating a music video with Billie Eilish.
Animation itself was actually Murakami’s first love and course of study. Raised in Tokyo, he attended Tokyo University of the Arts, where he earned a PhD in traditional Japanese Nihonga painting. Over time, Murakami (b. 1962) became increasingly dissatisfied with both his studied art form, as well as Japan’s contemporary art scene, which he felt was essentially a watered-down appropriation of Western trends. In response, his early work laid the foundation for his psychedelic, color burst aesthetic and developed his signature character “Mr. DOB,” his alter ego and pop iconic symbol.
Inspired by Western contemporary art, Murakami moved to New York in 1994 to attend PS1’s International Studio Program. Even upon returning to his native Japan, these Western ideals continued to inform his creativity, depicting Japanese “low” culture as fine art with saccharine kawaii manga characters and bold flower and mushroom motifs. Memorably, in 2000 he produced an art historical moment in curating his legendary exhibition of “Superflat” artists for LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Pointing to the legacy of flat, two-dimensional artwork in post-war Japan, the Superflat approach views Japan’s culture as compressed into a space with little distinction between high and low. The show proved to be pivotal in establishing the artist’s unique style, and spurring the Superflat art movement.
Murakami’s criticism of Japanese art and social modes is readily visible in satirical works, such as his notoriously edgy sculpture, “My Lonesome Cowboy.” His most expensive piece to date, it was auctioned for over million at Sotheby’s in 2008. In the succeeding decade, the ever-experimental Murakami has collaborated with numerous designers, including Comme des Garçons and—of course, Louis Vuitton, where he had a 13-year tenure imagining cherry blossoms and rainbow monograms onto the brand’s iconic bags and luggage.
A major streetwear enthusiast, the artist has also teamed up with names-to-know in the genre, such as fellow multihyphenate and frequent art/fashion ally, Virgil Abloh. Murakami regularly partners with Supreme on designs for everything from skateboard decks to the just-released—and much-coveted—COVID-19 relief tees to combat homelessness with HELP USA. In recent years, his diversified art focus has led to establishing Kaikai Kiki, a platform to cultivate and support the next generation of international artists, as well as his endeavors into music and video. Here, CR MEN speaks with the art legend about the dualities—East and West, and high and low—that anchor his artwork, his recent ventures in fashion, music and film, and just how his impromptu Vuitton collaboration became the impetus for his creative future.
How does your creative style incorporate a mix of art history, contemporary culture, and futuristic themes?
“I was one of the first-generation Star Wars fans, and it had a life-changing impact on me. At the time, anime and science fiction were all the rage in Japan as well, and I was very excited about the big movement that was shifting the structure of Hollywood, brought on by CalArts alumni [George] Lucas and [Francis Ford] Coppola, as well as their contemporary, [Steven] Spielberg, with their Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Apocalypse Now, etc. The revival of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey and the monumental work of Japanese science fiction anime, such as Galaxy Express 999 and Space Battleship Yamato were also released around this time, and I was knocked out by everything I saw.
I have been making animation as a hobby and watching sci-fi fantasies for a long time now, and I just cannot leave those worlds behind. I asked myself why this is so, and I concluded that the main reason was that I needed them to escape from reality. The only time I feel liberated from my obsessive thoughts is while I was watching a science fiction or fantasy film. Thinking earnestly about aliens or puerile science theories makes me feel exhilarated so I really wanted to work for the entertainment world [when I was younger]. But I wasn’t good at drawing in anime style, and I couldn’t come up with interesting stories, so I gave up on working in the industry. I tried my best to improve my skills and techniques in Nihonga Department at the University of the Arts, however, I couldn’t get used to the world, which seemed to be organized like a feudal society, so I shifted gears to contemporary art.”
Which Eastern and Western influences have most inspired your aesthetic?
“Princess Amidala’s costumes [in Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace] were adapted from Middle Eastern and Japanese garments, among others, and I think this kind of ethnic sensibility is unique to our generation. It was important for me to have that kind of hodgepodge sensibility, where I could mix and match all sorts of different cultures and evolve them into something new, whether it’s a decorative design or something simple.”
How do you feel that your art is understood and regarded across different cultures?
“My work is perceived as very self-deprecating by the Japanese. People criticize me and my work, saying that it is ‘outrageous’ and ‘disgraceful’ that I present the Japanese culture as inconsequential and fawning to the overseas audience, when our culture is in fact, not at all shallow. However, my goal has been to introduce Japanese-anime-style beauty to people outside of Japan, and to that end, I believe it is justice to blow up and express what I consider to be its crucial aspects. And it has proven to be tremendously effective.”
Over the past two decades, how has your trademark Superflat theory evolved?
“When I first proposed the idea of Superflat in 2000, the Internet culture hadn’t yet emerged. I came up with the idea at a time when the iMac had just come out, and cell phones had a very weak signal with a lot of noise when you were talking. After Japan was defeated in World War II, the post-war Japanese sensibilities were calibrated to the ideas that ‘wealth is evil’ and ‘the poor are good,’ making it impossible for a hierarchy to be established within the society. By now, in the year 2020, the disparity in wealth is so self-evident in Japan, yet the rich are still living in hiding, pretending to be commoners. In such a society, the flattening of the value itself became the proper modality. For example, in [the art movement] Ukiyo-e, excessive guidance of gaze within the two-dimensional realm has become the originality of Japanese art. However, the basis of this mechanism also extends to the way human society is constructed in Japan.
The art and culture that came from China were three-dimensional, but when they arrived in the island country of Japan, they became flat like a stage backdrop. And that was what I referred to as Superflat. Then the world on the web opened up and, subsequently, with the arrival of social media, the whole world ended up becoming completely superflat. There came a truly happy few years after the moment it became possible for everyone to share information democratically in name and substance. Methods of spreading fake news have emerged explosively as if to infiltrate the flat, saturated net environment. As a consequence, ours is now becoming a world with great disparities. Like pop culture and Pop Art, I think Superflat culture and Superflat art will be a culture that will continue to exist on the flip side of pop culture.”
How did your interest in fashion become such a prominent part of your creative practice?
“My first-ever collaboration in the fashion world was with Issey Miyake Men by Naoki Takizawa. They used my eyeball motifs and mushroom paintings as patterns. When I collaborated with Louis Vuitton, it was Marc Jacobs that reached out to me. His assistant had seen my exhibition at the Cartier Foundation around that time and that was how we got connected. At the time, I didn’t know anything about fashion or luxury business at all. I wondered what maximum effect could be achieved by my participation as an outsider, what crucial factor Marc was hoping for. I thought it might be a translation of the Japanese, anime-like, childish mode of communication, so I made a hypothesis based on this and submitted about 200 versions of the monogram design. Marc sent me an email saying that he liked the panda character in my painting Tan Tan Bo Puking—a.k.a. Gerotan, and I ended up creating the LV Panda and their friends, Onion Head and Flower Hatman. But now that I think about it, I’m amazed that Marc and the LV headquarters had agreed to do everything in order to create these strange characters.
I think LVMH’s CEO Bernard Arnault ultimately had the final say in all these matters, but when it came to creativity, his basic creative decision must have been to accept a proposal as long as he found it interesting. I have finally come to appreciate recently how extraordinary Mr. Arnault has been.
I was able to make a giant balloon of the panda character to float above the runway show, as well an animation. He sponsored the party for the Venice Biennale exhibition From Rauschenberg to Murakami, curated by Francesco Bonami—at the said party, incidentally, I was seated next to Karl Lagerfeld for the first time, which led to our subsequent heart-to-heart relationship—and made a tremendous effort to connect art and fashion.”
After these many fashion collaborations, what do you find most interesting about the bridges between style and art?
“Kanye West and Virgil Abloh, who must have been in their early 20s at the time, had seen my collaboration unfold at the LV boutique in Chicago. According to Virgil, who told me about his experience almost two decades after the fact, there weren’t many proper galleries and museums they felt welcomed in the city back then. He said that the window display at the boutique was the first-ever experience of art for them. So, in that sense, unbeknownst to me, an invisible baton had been passed on in the fashion world.
The collaboration with LV wasn’t received well in the art world, I have to say. I was criticized for daring to drag a money-making context (an LV shop) into a museum (LA MOCA), among other things. In my mind, however, placing a shop within the authoritative institution of a museum was precisely the Superflat context that I had proposed. And I am still grateful to Paul Schimmel, the chief curator at the MOCA at the time, Jeremy Strick, the then-director, as well as Yves Carcel, the then-president of LV, and Bernard Arnault for allowing me to make it happen. I subsequently collaborated with Kanye and made an animated music video for his song “Good Morning.” And that, in turn, led me to the current phenomenon of ComplexCon and street fashion. I was able to collaborate with Virgil as well. In any case, the impact of my collaboration with LV was tremendous. Since then, I have been involved in a lot of collaborations in the fashion world.”
How have technology and innovation expanded the possibilities for your artwork in 3D and moving images?
“Technology is increasingly making up for my handicaps. From about fifth grade to my senior year of high school, I was developmentally challenged, shall I say, and couldn’t keep up with learning in a regular way. In particular, my memories were practically non-functional, and I couldn’t learn history or do math at all. At the time, however, I didn’t realize I had a developmental disability, so I thought I could do everything if I only tried, and couldn’t give up on myself. I would inefficiently stay up all night and go through the motion of studying for exceedingly long periods of time for naught. I had trouble remembering peoples’ names due to the memory impairment, and that made it hard to communicate with people. But nowadays, so long as you know how to search online, you don’t need to memorize things; on social media, people’s names and photos come up right away. It has been very helpful to me that technology is developing more and more.”
You have said that you rarely think of your creative past because you are more focused on the future. Where is your current creative focus and what do you envision for the future?
“I wrote the lyrics for one original song and had [Yumiko Ohno and Zak Onpa] compose the music to it, and even made a music video. The title of the song is ‘Let’s Go See the Nuclear Reactor.’ At that time, I also sang a cover of a ’70s Japanese folk song called ‘Coffee Blues,’ and I am planning to release these two at some point this year. It’s not that I want to be a singer, but I want to convey my messages in as varied a media as possible, and I am taking on whatever media I think I am able to.”
prev link: https://www.crfashionbook.com/mens/a32405824/takashi-murakami-art-superflat-louis-vuitton/
createdAt:Thu, 07 May 2020 17:09:40 +0000
displayType:Long Form Article