Takashi Murakami (b. 1962)
Takashi Murakami is celebrated for his unique synthesis of refined classical painting techniques with an amplified mix of Pop art and anime. Murakami’s oeuvre encompasses a wide range of media, from painting and sculpture to fashion, branded merchandise, and animated films.
Whatever the medium, Murakami’s work is instantly recognizable for its extensive use of brilliant colors and psychedelic imagery. Dubbed “Japan’s answer to Andy Warhol” by New Yorker magazine, his art typically incorporates recurring motifs such as smiling flowers, skulls, mushrooms, Buddhist iconography, and the anime and manga icons prized by the “otaku” fan culture that originated in Japan.
Born February 1, 1962 in Tokyo, Japan, Takashi Murakami received his formal training at Tokyo University of the Arts (formerly Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music), where he received his B.F.A. in 1986 and Ph.D. in 1993. Murakami studied Nihonga (“Japanese-style painting”), which draws on classical Japanese subjects, techniques, and materials. The term Nihonga, coined around 1900 during the Meiji restoration of imperial rule, is used to distinguish traditional Japanese art from the appropriated Western style of painting known in Japan as Yōga.
Early on in his career, Murakami saw important parallels between the flat planes of color in traditional Japanese art and the boldly colored two-dimensional forms found in Japanese animation and comics (anime and manga). His style gave rise to the “Superflat” theory of post-modern art, which recognizes the legacy of two-dimensional imagery and flattened space in Japanese art history, in contrast to more naturalistic Western-style art that uses shading and perspective to create the illusion of depth and dimension. Additionally, Murakami theorized that Superflat also works as a commentary on post-war Japanese society, which cares less about social hierarchies than ever before, producing a “flattened” culture with little distinction between high and low art. Superflat explores social themes such as consumerism, fantasy and fetishism, drawing on otaku-culture obsessions and its embrace of a kind of protracted adolescence.
Murakami’s unmistakably graphic style and Pop-derived motifs, such as his self-consciously “cute” (if sometimes disturbing) anime-esque characters rendered in bright colors, has graced handbags, phone cases, skateboards, and album covers. Murakami’s particular blend of fine art and hyper-commercialism is a totem of his Superflat theory, perhaps most clearly exemplified in his notable collaborations with pop culture superstars.
In 2002, Marc Jacobs, then working with the house of Louis Vuitton, invited Murakami to redesign Vuitton’s Spring/Summer 2003 accessories collection. The artist produced several iconic designs including the must-have white “It” bag that re-envisioned the company’s monogram and became an integral part of the zeitgeist of the early naughts, effectively elevating Takashi Murakami to celebrity status.
Murakami is also well-known for designing the album art for “Graduation,” the third studio album by Kanye West, released in 2007. And just over a decade later, Murakami reconnected with West to produce the album art for “Kids See Ghosts,” a joint album with recording artist Kid Cudi, released in June 2018. Other notable collaborations include a line of plush toys and the design of the “Jellyfish Eyes” tee-shirt with Billionaire Boys Club, a streetwear brand developed by American recording artist Pharell Williams and Japanese designer Nigo, founder of the BAPE clothing label. He partnered with Macy’s to design floats for their Thanksgiving Day Parade (2010), developed visuals for the cover art of POP Magazine with Britney Spears (2010), designed the Casio G-SHOCK “Frogman” Watch (2010), and created three unique skate decks for the New-York based brand Supreme (2007). Murakami collaborated with contemporary visual artist KAWS and Christie’s auction house to raise funds for those affected by the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan. In 2015, Murakami joined forces with UNICEF, Damien Hirst and Lionel Messi in a campaign to create educational opportunities for underprivileged children in Asia. As with all of Murakami’s Superflat work, these partnerships often challenge the distinctions between fine art and commercial projects.
During his 20+ year career, Takashi Murakami has distinguished himself variously as a major producer, curator, theorist and entrepreneur of art. He organized the “SUPERFLAT” exhibition in 2000—an exploration of Japanese art which aimed to trace the origins of contemporary Japanese visual popular culture. From 2002 to 2014, Murakami organized a unique art fair called Geisai, which he developed to enable artists to interact directly with potential buyers. Time magazine named Murakami one of the "100 Most Influential People" in 2008, the only visual artist included in that year’s list. In September 2010, Murakami became the first Japanese artist, and only the third contemporary artist, to exhibit at the Palace of Versailles, filling 15 rooms and the surrounding park with his sculptures, paintings, and decorative objects.
In 1996, Takashi Murakami established the Hiropon factory in Tokyo. By 2008, this enterprise had evolved into an art production and management corporation known as Kaikai Kiki Co., which supports the marketing and production of Murakami's art and related work., Moreover, according to their website, KaiKai Kiki seeks “to create new and deeper links between art and the world at large,” functioning as a supportive environment for the fostering of emerging artists, among them KAWS, Virgil Abloh, Mark Grotjahn, Matthew Monahan, Anselm Reyle, Aya Takano, Chiho Aoshima, ob, Mr., Rei Sato and Friedrich Kunath.
Murakami’s work has been featured in many solo and group exhibitions in arts institutions worldwide, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2001, 2017); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (2001); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (2007); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (2017); the Museum of Modern Art, Oslo (2017); the Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow (2017); and the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, New York (2017).