Who is Takashi Murakami?
Periods: Pop Art, Postmodern, Superflat
His work is cartoonish, loud, and full of characters that are perhaps more familiar in Japanese Manga or Anime, welcome to the art of Takashi Murakami.
Such Cute Flowers is a psychedelic work composed of a flat layer packed with cartoon flowers whose faces are all radiating the same caricature smile. Some of the flowers are big, some of them are smaller, but all of them are a multi-coloured and highly-glossed. Their facial expressions are lifted almost straight from the reels of a Hayao Miyazaki film; the face of pure, childlike joy that represents happiness in Japanese anime.
Such Cute Flowers, Takashi Murakami
My Neighbour Totoro, dir. Hayao Miyazaki
But even though his work is famed for its bright colours and glossy finishes, Murakami’s formal training is founded in the strictly traditional discipline of Nihonga, graduating in the subject from the Tokyo University of Arts. Nihonga literally means “Japanese-style paintings”, art that has been produced using traditional Japanese styles, techniques and materials.
Murakami soon found this restrictive method of working too narrow and insular, with institutions being too political and as a result the art being safe, formal and boring. So he looked towards applying his learned methods to contemporary subject matter and started to draw inspiration from commercial advertising, fashion, popular culture and other contemporary subversive cultures in Japan.
Murakami’s use of contemporary culture in art leads many to classify his work as Pop Art, which in this direct sense it is. But Murakami goes further, calling his particular type of work Superflat which encapsulates the flattened style of Japanese graphics, animation, pop culture, as well as what Murakami calls the “shallow emptiness of Japanese consumer culture”.
Still in line with his traditional training, Murakami’s contemporary subjects are hyper-Japanese in an effort to change the state of contemporary Japanese art which he sees as adopting Western trends and artists too readily. His prints are also produced on super delicate silk paper, a material traditionally used in Japanese fine art.
Murakami uses gold in his prints, just like in Nihonga.
A pioneer of the self-defined Superflat genre, Murakami has inspired many new contemporary Japanese artists to create art following the movement’s principles. Chiho Aoshima, Sayuri Michima (who's starting a really cool Facebook project), Aya Takano and Koji Morimoto are all described as producing Superflat art.
However, the influence of Takashi Murakami reaches far beyond the shores of Japan. He has enjoyed a long-term collaboration with the designer brand Louis Vuitton, producing designs for handbags and even completely redesigning the fashion house’s monogram. The blurring of lines between high-end luxury goods and commercialism suited Murakami’s Superflat theory and style, and propelled the visibility of his work to another international level.
Another very familiar example of Murakami is the cover art for Kanye West’s incredibly successful Graduation album. The cover sees the appearance of Kanye as one of Takashi Murakami’s 'cute' characters being propelled from a university. 'Cuteness' is a deliberate aesthetic of Murakami's work, being something many Japanese girls chase after in the wake of the 'mini' phenmenom. Murakami himself has a cute alter-ego, Mr DOB., who appears frequently in his works, notably, in the incredibly rare print Doves & Hawks.
So next time, when someone asks you ‘who is Takashi Murakami?’, you will be able to answer with confidence: he is that Japanese pop artist who creates colourful, cartoonish Superflat paintings, you know, the one who did that Kanye West album cover!