Discover art for sale. Buy and sell prints & editions online by Takashi Murakami. As Japan's foremost Pop artist, Murakami's alter-ego Mr. DOB is now an icon of contemporary culture.
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Dubbed the ‘Andy Warhol of Japan’ Takeshi Murakami draws from traditional Japanese painting to create his unique, kitschy characters and works. Working in traditional media, such as painting and sculpture, as well as commercial media, including fashion and animation, Murakami blurs the lines between high art and low culture, East and West, past and present.
Murakami’s art career began when, at 10 years old, he fell into a hole and consequently broke his skull. Unable to leave his bed, he fell behind in school and was unable to apply for universities. At this time, he had his sights set on making a living in the world of entertainment and becoming an animator; anime, manga, and international animated film later became central to his style.
Murakami initially studied ‘Nihonga’ (traditionalist Japanese painting) at the Tokyo University of Fine Arts and Music where he earned his BA, MFA, and PhD. Though he originally resented Nihonga, it would later join the concept of ‘otaku’ (a young person who is obsessed with an element of popular culture) as fundamental to his work. He first broke away from traditional Nihonga after viewing an exhibition of Shinro Ohtake’s Neo-Expressionist work in 1987, which was free from the politics and conflict integral to Nihonga.
Murakami’s first solo show was at Tokyo’s Ginza Surugadai Gallery in 1989, around the same time that he began travelling to and from New York after finishing his Nihonga studies. His rise to success came in line with the Nipponese Neo-pop movement and Japan’s economic crisis of the late 1980s, both of which can be seen reflected in both the ‘pop’ elements and materialist focus of his works.
Mr. DOB emerged at this point in his career, first as a DNA helix in ZaZaZaZaZaZa (1994), before going through a series of evolutions until he became a monstrous symbol of society’s addiction to consumerist culture in Tan Tan Bo Vomiting (2002).
Throughout the late 90s, Murakami worked in his self-made POKU style (a portmanteau of ‘pop’ and ‘otaku’), and works such as Miss Ko2 (1997) and Hiropon (1997) emerged. These pieces are examples of how his work began to deal with more explicit content in conjunction with commercial pop culture themes.
The success of Murakami’s work has led to many international exhibitions and high-profile partnerships. Not only has he caught the attention of collectors like Kanye West, but Murakami’s success led to collaborations with Pharrell Williams, Virgil Abloh, and Louis Vuitton.
Murakami directed a feature-length film entitled Jellyfish Eyes (2013), turned his hand to directing music videos, and printed his well-known motifs onto his own merchandise. But, while his work feeds into the world of celebrity and branding, it also appeals in a more critical, traditional sense, with work displayed at the Perrotin and Gagosian galleries, as well as places of huge cultural significance, such as the Palace of Versailles.
Created within the context and aesthetic of glaring, colourful consumerism, is Murakami’s most iconic character: his alter-ego, Mr. DOB. Named after the shortened translation of the Japanese for “why?” the character was born when Murakami’s friend bought an Apple computer. Murakami wanted to create a line that could not be reproduced by hand, and so he and his friend collaborated digitally until Mr. DOB was born. Over the years, Mr. DOB has taken many forms but is mostly recognised as a cute ‘kawaii’ character.
In 2000, Murakami curated an exhibition of Japanese art titled Superflat at the Parco Gallery in Tokyo. The exhibition acknowledged the movement toward mass-produced entertainment and its effects on contemporary aesthetics, and Murakami quickly adopted its name to describe his own work. Superflat attempts to blur the boundaries between popular art and high art, while simultaneously describing a larger shift toward the two-dimensional, particularly in consumerist advertising and mass-media.
Murakami’s influences are myriad. It was Bob Flanagan’s work at the New Museum in 1994, illustrating the needle fetish that had resulted from a lifetime of necessary medical injections, that taught Murakami that art was about much more than conventional beauty. It was Katsuhiro Otomo (who wrote Domu: A Child’s Dream (1980-1981)), animator Yoshinori Kanada, animation director Hayao Miyazaki, and George Lucas, who influenced his own bold, cartoonish style.
Other influences come from the likes of Horst Janssen’s drawings, Buddhist iconography, Zen painting, and 18th century Edo composition techniques. Murakami cites every exhibition he visited in SoHo when he first began exploring New York as an influence because of how cutting-edge the art was in comparison to what he had been exposed to in Japan.
Murakami’s interest in eliminating the hand of the artist, most apparent in the creation story of Mr. DOB, echoes throughout his production process. His studio, Kaikai Kiki (meaning ‘something both elegant and bizarre’), is based in Miyoshi, an industrial area outside Tokyo. There, Murakami is accompanied by a team of over 100 technicians, each of whom underwent extensive training as a prerequisite. All prospective technicians must pass the final test of painting the perfect mushroom, a skill crucial to collaborating with Murakami.
Despite criticism for using a factory of technicians to complete his works, Murakami advocates for a collaborative process in art-making, comparing it to film productions and invoking the processes of masters like Michelangelo. Murakami’s technicians are integral to his process and receive the corresponding credit on the back of each of his works.
Murakami’s mechanical attitude towards art lends itself to precision, and never more obviously than in his screen prints. As a standard, Murakami’s screen prints are 3 mm deep in order to present the appropriate texture and depth to the paint. Technicians then clean up each print with a Q-tip to eliminate any smudges; for Murakami, the goal is absolute perfection.
Murakami’s artistic career came from hard work and determination. While he knew that he loved to create art, he was never told he had talent as he was growing up. As a result, his skill was self-taught. When Murakami first travelled to New York in 1989, it was because he saw the city as one of the most important artistic centres in the world. He rented a small apartment in Brooklyn and struggled to make ends meet, before acquiring a career-changing residency position at the PS1 International Studio Program. Since then, he has turned his artistic vision into a brand that stretches across fashion, technology, entertainment, and beyond. Today, he runs a factory-like studio outside Tokyo of technicians who help him create his perfect works of art.
Murakami’s ability to blend mass popular culture with high art has led to his being called the ‘Andy Warhol of Japan.’ He has stated that, in Japan, art and commerce are often deeply connected, as art forms a critical part of the economy. The hierarchy of high art in the West is an alien concept that doesn’t match Murakami’s mission to create accessible, entertaining art.
Murakami’s original paintings sell for upwards of $2,000,000 at auction, while his limited edition prints sell for more deliberately achievable price tags. In 2019, his Flower Ball series of prints sold for around £1,200 each. The record sale for a Murakami original painting is held by Castle of Tin-Tin (1998), which sold at Sotheby’s New York for $4.4 million in 2012.
image © Christie's / The Simple Things © Takashi Murakami 2008-09
Created in collaboration with singer Pharrell Williams, The Simple Things displays seven items picked by Williams inside Murakami’s Mr. DOB’s gaping jaws. “Sometimes we forget the simple things in life,” explained Williams, who chose a can of Pepsi, a cupcake, Johnson’s Baby Lotion, Heinz Tomato Ketchup, a bag of Doritos, a Trojan Magnum condom and a Billionaire Boys Club trainer to represent the “simple things” he cherished most. Each object was then crafted in gold and 26,000 diamonds and precious gems. The dazzling unique sculpture was the star lot of Christie’s HI-LITE Evening Sale in Hong Kong on 23 November 2019.
Wow, Kaikai Kiki © Takashi Murakami 2010-11
Over six metres in length, the monumental five-part painting Wow, Kaikai Kiki combines the intricate techniques of 17th-century Japanese Rinpa School floral paintings with the playfulness of Murakami’s cartoon-inspired style. The work achieved HK$19.3 million at Christie’s HI-LITE Evening Sale in November 2019 – the second most expensive lot of the night.
image © Sotheby's / My Lonesome Cowboy © Takashi Murakami 1998
“The title comes from an Andy Warhol film called Lonesome Cowboys. The work shows someone masturbating and smiling. It doesn’t have a meaning,” Murakami has said of My Lonesome Cowboy. Despite the artist’s claims, My Lonesome Cowboy and its companion sculpture Hiroponare two significant works in Murakami’s “body fluids” period and seen as his early attempt to represent manga (Japanese comics) and otaku (nerd) culture using Western fine art techniques.
The important piece achieved $15.1 million against an estimate of $3-4 million when it was offered at Sotheby’s Contemporary Art Evening Auction in New York on 14 May 2008, and remains the most expensive work by Murakami at auction today.
Dragon In Clouds - Red Mutation © Takashi Murakami 2010