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Born in 1962, Takashi Murakami’s initial interest in art came from his love of Japanese comics, leading to an early ambition to become an animator. His formal training began at the Tokyo University of the Arts, but his studies led him to explore a more classical approach. However, as with many exploratory artists, a slow disenfranchisement with the confines of fine art began to creep in, which led Murakami to find new ways to pry it apart and include the modern touches which got him interested in painting to begin with.
This initially took the form of satire, as Murakami was wary of the overreliance on “Western trends”’ in modern Japanese art. Indeed, one of his earliest works, a sculpture entitled My Lonesome Cowboy, remains his most lucrative piece at auction, fetching $13.5million at auction in 2008. The early 90s also saw him develop the first of his trademark characters, Mr. DOB — a mixture of characters from video games and manga, as well as images from Japanese folklore.
Again, much like Warhol, Murakami understood the artistic value of taking a commercial approach to his work, and opened a production workshop called Hiropon Factory, in 1996. This allowed him to broaden the scale and scope his output, creating it in an almost production line-like atmosphere. Later in his career, he also established Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., a New York and Munich-based artist management agency and studio, which seeks to “imbue art itself with a new social value.”
Takashi Murakami’s art takes its cues from recognizably Japanese sources, with a focus on the modern fixation on “cuteness”, known as kawaii. This is most easily found in Murakami’s flowers, most of which are graced with beaming cartoon smiley faces. These have become something of a trademark in his work, and are available as pillows and other homewares, as well as on some of his most expensive canvases.
However, despite his home-based influences, it was outside of Japan that Takashi Murakami’s art truly took off in popularity. His work has been exhibited in such prestigious spaces as France’s Château de Versailles, New York’s Rockefeller Center, and the Serpentine Gallery, London.
Murakami has also teamed up with internationally-recognized brands in the fields of fashion and lifestyle, creating exclusive variations on his trademark designs for Louis Vuitton handbags and a line of Supreme t-shirts. He has also collaborated with world famous musicians, creating a music video for Billie Eilish’s 2019 single “you should see me in a crown”, and drawing the album covers for Kanye West’s Graduation and Kids See Ghosts albums. Murakami has since used the figures he designed for these records in his own artwork, ensuring that the line between high art and high commerce continues to be blurred.
This blurring of boundaries has been defined by the artist himself as “superflat”, so-called because of its combination of the traditionally flat drawing style of Japanese art, and the increasingly level playing field between high and low culture. Murakami’s superflat art is equally designed for gallery walls and shopping malls, with figures and designs being applied to canvas and commercially-available items for collectors and shoppers alike.