MR. SUPERFLAT: Takashi Murakami

By on October 18, 2017

Takashi Murakami is arguably one of the most prominent Japanese modern artists. The leader and driving force behind the artists’ collective Kai Kiki Co, Ltd., Murakami and the artists of the collective are known for their mass produced but highly abstract and unique ‘superflat’ expression, alluding to the way various forms of graphic design, pop culture and the arts are compressed or flattened in Japan. The term ‘superflat’ refers to the two-dimensionality of Japanese graphic art and animation, as well as to the shallow emptiness of consumer culture in this country. Murakami first used it to label an exhibition he organized for the PARCO department store museums in Tokyo and Nagoya.

Takashi Murakami, Kiki,160 × 71 × 55 cm, Kaikai,181.5 × 71 × 53 2000–2005, Oil paint, acrylic, synthetic resins, fiberglass, and iron, Private collection. Courtesy Perrotin (© 2000–2005 Takashi Murakami Kaikai Kiki Co.)

Murakami’s work is predominantly inspired by anime and otaku culture. His art takes a dazzling array of forms, from paintings and sculptures to anime.

Pop art first rose to prominence in the 90s and Murakami is seen as one of its pioneers. His work is characterized by bright colors, simple lines and exaggerated effects. Despite the cheerful appearance of the characters he creates, such as smiling flowers and dancing pandas, his characters can in fact often be interpreted as a record of the struggle against social discrimination.

In an interview in the Journal of Contemporary Art, Murakami gives us some insights into his views of Japanese society. He believes that the stringent social conventions and expectations that burden people here have left behind a group of people who simply cannot fit in to the ‘normal’ social structure. Those people seek refuge in Japanese subculture, anime and manga in particular, and have come to be known as ‘otaku’.
Due to the rejection and difficulties that otaku encounter in the real world, they prefer to create a society in which they can share their passion for manga and anime. Anime offers them escape. The power of otaku fans can be witnessed in bi-annually hosted comic conventions known as Comiket, where thousands of devotees father celebrate their passion for anime and manga.

Despite the cheerful appearances of the character he creates, his characters in fact are a record of the struggle of people discriminated in society.

However, recent violent tragedies involving some “criminal’ otaku elements have sparked concern in Japan and created something of a backlash. Since these events, the refugee otaku seeking their virtual world has been branded as in denial, and the virtual world itself has been accused as encouraging extremist movements. Thus, otaku behavior is now viewed with distrust, and even fear.

Takashi Murakami Flower Ball Plush 2008 Limited Edition Collector’s Art Basel

Although strongly disapproving those rogue elements and expressing sadness at the tragedies, Murakami continues to express sympathy for the repressed and discriminated in society, and does not discount the possibility that the repression that consumes our lives and the dissent it ferments, could spark a kind of revolution.

However, he urges the importance of transforming such energy into a constructive force.

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