Often referred to as shockingly cute, Takashi Murakami’s work is influenced by consumer culture, Japanese anime and technology. Most famous for his brightly colored graphic designs, life size sculptures of sexualized anime characters and his supremely successful collaboration with Louis Vuitton (sales rose 20% after his collaboration) [i], most are surprised to hear Murakami was trained in the methods of traditional Japanese art. After receiving his BFA, MFA and PhD from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Murakami’s first widely known work was his Randoseru Project in 1991, which featured traditional Japanese school children’s backpacks made from skin of endangered animals. His wide-ranging body of work includes and mixes design, animation, fine arts, fashion and pop culture.
Randoseru Project, 1991
Murakami’s first major splash in the art world came from his highly sexualized full size anime sculptures. Before he created Miss ko² in 1997, nothing had been done like it before. [ii] Murakami has said that “cute is so fetishized in Japan that it’s actually also sexualized.” [iii]
Miss ko², 1997
Murakami produces his work in his Hiropon Factory (now called Kaikai Kiki Co.). It is made up of 25 assistants each performing different and specialized tasks to save time, energy and money. The efficiency of his “factory” has allowed him to produce a massive body of work on a large and powerful scale. Murakami said that he “was originally inspired by the Walt Disney Studio, Lucas Films and [Hayao] Miyazaki’s Ghibli Studio. (He) was interested in this kind of hands-on, workshop-style production space that even major film companies use.” [iv] In order to create his works, Murakami starts by sketching in small notebooks and scans those drawings into the computer. Because of the repetitive nature of his work, he keeps an electronic archive of illustrations from which he can pull files to combine together in Adobe Illustrator and create new pieces. Once scanned, he takes them into Adobe Illustrator to tweak shapes and experiment with colors. Then Murakami gives the final pieces to his assistants who print out the work, blow it up on a large scale and silkscreen the outlines on canvas. Once outlined on canvas, the assistants paint in the specified colors.
Jellyfish Eyes, 2002
His paintings and designs, often categorized as “superflat” as they reject depth and perspective, are a combination of high and low culture. Murakami’s work calls on the aesthetics of technology, the flat glossy nature of electronics. The flat characteristics of his work are also a comment on how he seeks to level the hierarchy of art and culture through his pieces.
Murakami often uses cartoon motifs in his paintings, drawing from his Japanese culture. Although Roy Lichtenstein was the first to take the cartoon aesthetic and transfer it to high art, Lichtenstein did it as a commentary on culture. Murakami rejoices in the commerce of cartoons and anime and the commerce in turn repays him. [v]
Me and Kaikai and Kiki, 2009
Murakami has a strong understanding of how to market and cash in on his art. His process is more focused on creating and selling goods than showing his artwork in big exhibitions, although he does. By creating multi million dollar pieces for exclusive clients and at the same time plush toys and $3 plastic characters filled with candy for the mass consumer, Murakami straddles the lines between consumerism and high art. He is often called a modern day Warhol, but there is a big distinction between the two artists. Warhol took from low and sold to high whereas Murakami takes from low and sells to everyone. Murakami is actually making major bank while he’s alive whereas Warhol’s major works were licensed after he died and have left a pile of money behind.
Frazzled Kiki Doll, 2009
Nowadays it might be passé to draw from low culture influences in one’s art, but in Murakami’s case, it’s completely different when you are selling your art both to collectors in world famous galleries and to children in the candy isle of your local grocery store.
[i] Laura Fumiko Keehn, “Takashi Murakami,” http://swindlemagazine.com/issueicons2/takashi-murakami/, May 2, 2010.
[iii] , 4 Magdalene Perez, “Takashi Murakami,” http://www.artinfo.com/news/story/17056/takashi-murakami/, May 2, 2010.
[v]Jeff Howe, “The Two Faces of Takashi Murakami,” http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/11.11/artist.html?pg=1&topic=&topic_set=, May 2, 2010.
Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., http://english.kaikaikiki.co.jp/, May 2, 2010.
Louis Vuitton, http://www.louisvuitton.com/info/products-selection-en/louis-vuitton-takashi-murakami.html, May 2, 2010.
Museum of Contemporary Art, http://www.moca.org/murakami/, May 2, 2010.
CNN, “Q & A Takashi Murakami,” http://edition.cnn.com/2006/TRAVEL/04/26/tokyo.qa/, May 2, 2010.
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