Takashi Murakami

Apparently, I’m drawn to old Japanese men named “Murakami.” (The writer Haruki Murakami being the other.) Last night I saw an exhibition of Takashi Murakami’s paintings and sculpture at the Gagosian gallery.

What I like about Murakami is that his ultra-flat, extremely well-crafted works resonate with a feeling I often get living in our capitalist/consumer society: a sense of being overwhelmed by a perverse, explosive over-abundance of products and messages – all of them screaming ENJOY! HAPPY! MORE! MORE! like devil-possessed Teletubbies.

Murakami’s works have a fractal element so that walking closer to them feels like zooming in on a Mandelbrot set. (e.g. this Mandelbrot Video.)

Here (above) we have a Happy Flower made of flowers holding flowers in one hand and child-Happy-Flower in the other. Even the eyes (if I were able to zoom in further) are themselves multi-colored and micro-detailed.

There is so much fractal detail in th painting below that it ultimately exhausts and overwhelms any attempt to take it all in.

As one moves closer, the details are “self similar” to wider patterns of manic bunnies, rainbow flowers, a drippy glowing fluids. This is about 4% of the entire painting.

As we go even closer on one of the tiny individual characters, we find alive with disturbingly rich micro-detail. These little skulls are about a centimeter in diameter.

All the images are “Ultra-Flat.”

By ultra-flat, I mean that all the visual cues that usually provide depth (perspective, overlap, relative size, tone, hue) are eliminated or undermined so that the entire panel asserts itself in an insistent, overwhelming foreground.

Not only is no psychotic bunny in front or behind any other; all the bunnies seem to leap forward to assault the viewer at once. ENJOY! ENJOY! LOOK AT ME!

This same ultra-flatness is in all the details …

The scale of the pieces, echoing Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art, enhance the sense of being overpowered and overwhelmed by these “cute,” hyperactive demons of enjoyment.

Ultimately, I came away with a deeper interest and appreciation for his work. In the past, because I am not particularly inspired by Pop Art and I am not a big consumer of Anime, his work didn’t resonate with me on a personl level as it does now. Perhaps it’s only recently that I’ve felt so assaulted by the obscene consumer-culture imperative to ENJOY.

Looking back over his earlier paintings, there is a lot that’s intriguing and worth more study.

… And lastly, Murakami’s signature character Mr. DOB looks weirdly similar to my signature character, Little Boy Bobby.

One thought on “Takashi Murakami”

  1. You know I was thinking, even before the last paragraph, that this 15 year-old kid named Sean Hood used to draw cartoonish images of ostensibly banal people that, upon some inspection or even taking a second look, were discomforting so much so that I pled with him at times not to show such seemingly innocuous images to particularly fragile classmates (Jeannie K. for example). At the time, I didn’t consider why the images were unsettling. After all, they were on the surface mundane portraits (“Little Boy Bobby”, who came later in your work, being a good example). Murakami has captured my interest. . .and I didn’t even have to leave the house to be introduced to and enjoy some of his counterintuitive work! I say “counterintuitive” because, to a passerby on a subway, lost in the hypnosis of well-crafted images designed specifically to convey a psychological equation of: Lack + This = Bliss, one’s intuition would likely be to dismiss Murakami’s paintings of the Flower Parent holding the Flower Child’s hand as simplistic, meaningless, unskilled, and without purpose. The buzz I felt by looking in at the close-ups was in part due to how unexpected they were and yet simultaneously how logical it was to find a sea of indistinguishable and vaguely malignant wannabe happy faces containing, upon even closer inspection, more honestly unsettling images of even more faces that would never exist the consciousness of a busy man walking down the street to his next business meeting. For example, when I see a billboard advertisement for, say, Capital One credit cards, the broad stroke image seems at first pleasant (e.g. a man with his family on a yacht at sunset) if not completely unrelated to the product being sold and yet I semi-consciously or more often unconsciously know that this image has manipulative links to more raw realities on closer inspection, such as 29.9% interest rates on accrued consumer debt that haunts most Americans who are almost hypnotized to carry a monthly credit card balance with Capital One. (Not picking on Capital One—Coke or Apple or Nike would all be in the same profit-obsessed and thus manipulative set). Also, I’m certainly no demonizing employees of these corporate beasts—the individuals working for Capital one are likely simply a cross section of the general population in their personal altruism, kindness, or whatever. It’s the forces behind the facade that seem insatiable and uncontainable, like a micro-image of a section of one of these paintings that show thousands of tiny and less bending images. Anyway, thank you for posting this.

    The oddity of the coincidence that this visual artist’s last name is the same as Haruki the author’s is not lost on me. Indeed, the coincidence of names also happens to be a coincidence of style and thematic focus. The author Murakami, on the surface, uses simple and often seemingly artless prose throughout his books. A writer’s workshop at UCLA would shred any few pages of his books to bits for its lack of style or its use of repetitive language. Yet, the deeper one delves into the work as a whole, the more those ostensible banalities disappear into a mind-fucking and multilayered and almost nightmarish experience below the veneer.

    Finally, it’s not lost on me that both Murakami’s, in this respect, pay homage to undergrids. Things are never as simplistic as they seem on the surface and we can assume that, upon closer inspection, there is an array of deeper and perhaps (dare I say it?) more authentic and unsettling and at times brutal truths “under the grid”.

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