Takashi Murakami is one of the most acclaimed artists to emerge from post-war Asia, known as “the Warhol of Japan” due to his blending of fine art and popular Japanese culture, and challenging of the distinction between commercialism and fine art.
Many individuals have chosen to invest in Takashi Murakami, and the artist has enjoyed an astronomical rise to fame in the contemporary art world as a result. In 2008, Murakami was the only visual artist included in Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” and his works often sell for millions of dollars.
Murakami has enjoyed solo exhibitions at the Serpentine Gallery and Gagosian Gallery in London, the Marianne Boesky Gallery in New York, the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and the Tokyo Museum of Contemporary Art. In 2010, he also became the first Japanese artist to ever exhibit at the Palace of Versailles.
Maddox Gallery is delighted to share some of his works with our visitors in London. Those looking to buy Takashi Murakami art, whether as an investment purchase or simply to enjoy in their home, should contact our expert team of art consultants to arrange a viewing.
Takashi Murakami art is a blend of commercial and traditional
Born in Tokyo in 1962, Takashi Murakami had plenty of Western influences. His father worked at a US naval base, and Japanese society was hugely influenced by American pop culture.
Inspired by a Japanese comic-book style called Manga, Murakami dreamed of becoming an animation artist and entered the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. There he studied a customary Japanese art form called nihonga, a style of Japanese painting dating to the late 19th century which fuses Western and Eastern art by mixing traditional Japanese subject matter with European-influenced painting techniques.
In the early 1990s, Murakami taught drawing and continued painting, but was disillusioned, believing that nihonga no longer appealed to the average Japanese person.
Frustrated with the lack of a reliable and sustainable art market in post-war Japan, Murakami began experimenting to find his own modern style, rooted in Japanese culture and history. He looked to Japan’s ‘low’ culture, especially anime and manga, and the subculture of otaku.
“I set out to investigate the secret of market survivability – the universality of characters such as Mickey Mouse, Sonic the Hedgehog, Doraemon, Miffy, Hello Kitty, and their knock-offs, produced in Hong Kong” – Takashi Murakami
Murakami developed a new form of Pop art entitled Neo-Pop, sampling elements of Japanese post-war consumer culture within the realm of high art.
He takes particular inspiration from the Japanese subculture of otaku – a group obsessed with the fantasy worlds depicted in anime and manga cartoons, which often feature the concept of kawaii (all things “cute”) as well as incredible violence.
Anime-inspired characters, overly cheerful cartoon characters and smiling daisies all gently critique Japan’s contemporary culture as well as the West’s encroaching influence.
“My aesthetic sense was formed at a young age by what surrounded me: the narrow residential spaces of Japan and the mental escapes from those spaces that took the forms of manga and anime.” – Takashi Murakami
The superflat movement
Takashi Murakami created his own art movement called Superflat in defiance of the Western-dominated art world. This style’s bright and easy eye-candy aesthetic immediately lured a wide audience, and has inspired an entire generation of contemporary Japanese art.
There is a legacy of flat, two-dimensional imagery in Japanese manga and anime art. Superflat also comments on post-war Japanese society, in which differences in social class and popular taste have ‘flattened,’ leaving little distinction between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art.
In accordance with the Superflat concept, Takashi Murakami art repackages elements often considered ‘low art’ and presents them in the ‘high art’ market. Similarly, he repackages his ‘high art’ works in the form of affordable merchandise such as plush toys and T-shirts.
“I don’t make my art intentionally childish just so I can appeal to children… Colourfulness, cuteness, simplicity-that’s my aesthetic. I take those elements very seriously.” – Takashi Murakami
Takashi Murakami as an iconic pop artist
Takashi Murakami art has achieved a widespread level of fame beyond the art world, and he is often compared to other iconic pop artists like Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst and Jeff Koons.
Murakami is also compared to Andy Warhol for his commercial production techniques and an approach to art as a business, with a large number of assistants helping to produce his designs. In 1996 he launched production workshop the Hiropon Factory, located just outside Tokyo, in order to work in a more diverse array of media on a larger scale. A second art factory is located in New York.
The artist shares Warhol’s fascination with computers too. He sketches designs on paper, scans them into a computer and manipulates the piece using Adobe Illustrator. The work is printed and the outlines are silk-screened onto a canvas, before assistants paint on endless layers of acrylics in the hundreds of colours that make up a typical Murakami original with its signature sheen. Pieces can take anywhere from two months to two years to produce.
“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.” – Takashi Murakami
Murakami further embraced commerce through the founding of Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., an artist management agency and studio based in New York and Munich which seeks to build an original and sustainable art market in Japan.
He also organised a unique art fair called Geisai from 2002 until 2014. Held once per year in Japan and once per year in a different city, artists were allowed to create their own booths and interact directly with potential buyers, rather than space being given to galleries.
Having first collaborated with fashion designers such as Issey Miyake Men by Naoki Takizawa, Takashi Murakami’s work with Louis Vuitton really blurred the lines between ‘high art’ and commercialism. At the invitation of designer Marc Jacobs, Murakami helped to design a series of handbags in 2002, re-envisioning the brand’s monogram by replacing the traditional brown and gold tones with jellybean-coloured logos. The collection was a huge commercial success.
In 2007, Murakami dipped his toe in the music industry, providing the cover artwork for Kanye West’s album Graduation and directed an animated music video for “Good Morning”.
In both cases above, Murakami later re-appropriated imagery from these projects into his paintings and sculptures, challenging the distinction between art and commercial branding. From 2007 to 2009, Murakami’s first retrospective earned widespread attention for, among other things, including a fully functioning Louis Vuitton boutique as one of the exhibits.
“I am looking for the crossing point between fine art and entertainment… I have learned in Europe and America the way of the fine art scene. Few people come to museums. Much bigger are movie theaters. The museum, that space is kind of old-style media, like opera. That’s why I am really interested in making merchandise for ordinary people” – Takashi Murakami