Takashi Murakami is a pioneer in Japanese contemporary art. He combined background in traditional Japanese art with the manga culture to create an innovative system of visual language. Traditional Japanese painting emphasises the composition on the flat plane. It is important that the work inspires the viewer to contemplate and establish a spiritual exchange with the artist across time and space. Through this supernatural connection, the viewer enters the work from the two-dimensional space and arrives in the fourth dimension that transcends the bonds of time. In this regard, manga and Japanese painting are similar conceptually and technically: they do not adhere to the use of linear perspective that dominates Western art. On the contrary, they strive to open up a space for the imagination in the two dimensional plane; their objective is to convey content that resonates with viewers. The works of Takashi Murakami precisely capture the characteristic flatness and visual stimulation demonstrated in traditional Japanese painting and manga.
TAKASHI MURAKAMI AND THE DECLARATION OF NAIVETE
Flower Matango (d) (Lot 54) uses close to 300 different pigments. The candy like hues bring viewers of any age back to their childhood. It is an experience that is filled with pure contentment. In The Declaration of Naivete, Murakami said, “The aesthetic of manga is unique. It will touch your inner child and let you reminisce the beautiful moments in your childhood.” The brilliant colours of Flower Matango (d) are complemented by the sweet and vivacious characters that are similar to the ones found in manga. The work takes the viewer back in time to relive those precious moments. This is exactly the allure of manga. It is also a unique experience that Murakami deliberately evokes in viewers by infusing elements of manga culture in his works. By conjuring the childhood memories of the viewers and establishing connections across time, Murakami introduces them into a space that is filled with nostalgia and fantasy.
The intense colours and the child-like adorable elements in Murakami's Flower Matango (d) are reminiscent of the works by the French painter Jean Dubuffet. Towards the end of Dubuffet's artistic career, he directed his output to graffiti and drawings in an effort to capture the power of innocence - it was the artist's tribute to children's paintings. In his mid-career work Metro (Fig. 1) and later work Les pas perdus (Fig. 2), it is apparent that Dubuffet was trying to emulate the irrational and irregular brushstrokes and vibrant colours in children's paintings. Dubuffet aimed to convey the magic in naivete and the sense of purity through this particular execution, so that the work would resonate with the viewer’s inner-child. This approach perfectly parallels Murakami's childlike elements according to the Declaration of Naivete. Both artists attempt to fulfil the spiritual needs of viewers by inspiring them with dazzling colours and loveable subject matter.
Conceptually, Flower Matango (d) stems from mutations in nature. It is a species that is completely novel, widely proliferating, and infectiously joyous. Copious amounts of flowers sprout from the body of Flower Matango (d), its twisting vines dancing in every direction. It is similar to how the sun in the solar system radiates light, warmth, and positive energy. (Fig. 3) Smiling flowers are often represented two-dimensionally in Murakami's works. Bringing this flower into the three-dimensional world clearly asserts that his art is not just emulating manga– it exists independently in the concrete reality. The visual experience of viewing Flower Matango (d) is similar to gazing at the images of the galaxy: at first glance, it appears to be too fantastical to be real, yet it is a fact in objective reality that the galaxy exists.
Kawaii elements are not exclusive in the works of Takashi Murakami; ubiquitous in Japan, they are an important part of culture. Because of many geographical factors, Japanese people are constantly confronted with the forces of nature. This omnipresent threat of natural disaster teaches them to cherish every moment, celebrate fleeting beauty, and worship traits that are delicate and childish. The tension in the workplace as well as the highly formalised customs in society exert tremendous pressure on their lives. For these reasons, many Japanese find escape in manga culture in an attempt to depressurise themselves in the virtual and flat world. The vividness of Flower Matango (d) is an actualisation of the child-like qualities that are valued in Japanese culture. Like our favourite childhood cartoon characters and the laughter of children, they are highly contagious and full of vitality. When viewing this work, people are freed from the shackles of the tedious reality. The smiles of the flowers prove to be an excellent therapy. It is where the mind of the viewer enters into a state of relaxation.
ENCOUNTERS AND EXCHANGES BETWEEN EAST AND WEST
In terms of creative concept and visual approach, Murakami's works are remarkably similar to Western Op Art in principle. Op Art demands rigorously configured lines in order to stimulate the visual system and subsequently produce a visual illusion, producing a visual experience similar to tradition art. (Fig. 4) Murakami took the image of a flower, an element of nature, and repeatedly assembled them to form Flower Matango (d). Each flower was meticulously coloured and positioned. Similarly, Op Art artist Victor Vasarely also observed the prevalence of geometric shapes in nature. To him, as long as there are shapes and colours, the world could be represented entirely as symbols. Murakami's extensively use patterns and manga elements in his works so that he can evoke synaesthesia in the viewers. It demonstrates Vasarely's belief that it is necessary for a work to trigger resonance from the viewers.
A parallel can be drawn between the visual experience of looking at Flower Matango (d) and viewing Japanese Rinpa art and Western Op Art. The vines and branches in Flower Matango (d) sprawl and stretch in all directions, invading and permeating the space around it. In Japanese Rinpa art, foliage is often depicted in an abstract manner. The graphic treatment is concise and stylised. The exaggerated expressions in Rinpa art are similar to the tension in Op Art that created by lines. The format of Flower Matango (d) also embodies these qualities. Rinpa art was also somewhat of a pop genre during its time, with its subject matter drawn from nature and cultural life. The majority of Rinpa works were executed on panel. The visual illusions in Op Art and the adorable manga imagery is comparable in the sense that they can be understood by viewers of any background. Anyone can participate in this visual dialogue that transcends space and time.
Flower Matango (d) was the only sculptural work from the series shown in the Palace of Versailles. Louis XIV, the monarch who expanded the Palace to its current splendour, was an advocate of progressive art; as such, the Palace of Versailles can be considered as the cradle for forward-thinking art. Basking in the grandeur of the Palace, Flower Matango (d) initiates a dialogue between East and West, as well as an artistic exchange between traditional and contemporary. The artist's confrontational attitude aptly responds to Louis XVI intrepid spirit in promoting art. Flower Matango (d) is a vehicle for historic dialogues, which makes it an paramount work from the series.
Flower Matango (d) is an exceptional work that successfully crosses the boundaries between traditional and contemporary, historical and fantastical, as well as Eastern and Western cultures. With his astonishing power of imagination, Murakami developed the lone motif of a flower into an extensive visual vocabulary. Not only is this work richly layered in meaning, but it also has the power to galvanize an emotional response within viewers.