One of the most influential and acclaimed artists to have emerged from Asia in the late twentieth century, Takashi Murakami (b. Tokyo 1962) blends fine art and mass culture in order to blur boundaries between cultural genres and dissolve the hierarchies into which they are often organized. Observing in the history of Japanese art a lack of distinction between “high” and “low,” especially as compared to that of the West, Murakami theorized an aesthetic of “Superflat,” which he ascribes to traditional Japanese painting as well as to contemporary anime (animation), manga (comic books), and his own work. He uses Superflat to allude not only to the plane that high and low culture share in Japan, but also to the prevalence of two-dimensionality throughout a range of Japanese artistic disciplines, where perspective is distorted or compressed to achieve a flat overall pattern of colors and shapes. Murakami asserts flatness as having already existed in the past and continuing to exist—now also a manifestation of what he regards as Japan’s “infantile capitalist condition in the postwar era.”
Murakami was formally trained in nihonga painting, a style focused on traditional Japanese techniques and subject matter, and he continues to draw on early sources ranging from Buddhist imagery, twelfth-century picture scrolls, Zen painting, and eighteenth-century Edo period compositional techniques to render his own brand of pop-culture imagery. His oeuvre as a whole conveys a magical realm in which characters including Cosmos, Kaikai, Kiki, Inochi, Oval, Mr. Pointy, and his alter ego, DOB, appear in numerous contexts and iterations, lending a narrative quality to his work.
Like many pop artists before him, Murakami elevates cartoon figures and corporate logos by positioning them in the realm of fine art. The artist goes further, however, by recasting his fine-art creations as cheap mass-produced goods such as stickers, key chains, cell-phone holders, and stuffed animals. As CEO of his own company, Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., he is involved at all levels of production, from paintings to plastic figures. The concept of copyright itself holds an exalted position within Murakami’s practice, rooted in the acknowledgment of his work as simultaneously interweaving deeply personal expression, high art, mass culture, and commerce.