Takashi Murakami is a contemporary Japanese artist whose playful and colourful works combine traditional Japanese art forms with popular culture and manga. His iconic characters, such as the figure of “Mr. DOB”, and large-scale installations with everyday objects have earned him a worldwide fan following. In this article, we explore Murakami’s life, his artistic style and his impact on the contemporary art world.
Life and initial training
Takashi Murakami was born into a modest family in Tokyo, with his father a taxi driver and his mother a housewife. He studied traditional Japanese painting at the Tokyo University of the Arts, but was more interested in manga and anime. In 1989, he held his first solo exhibition in Tokyo and graduated in traditional Nihon-ga painting in 1993.
Inspiration and influences
In 1994, Takashi Murakami moved to New York, where he was inspired by the work of Jeff Koons. He became interested in the production philosophies of film companies such as Disney and Studio Ghibli and assembled a group of collaborators to fulfil the production requirements of his work. Murakami’s work is characterised by the use of bright, bold colours and the incorporation of cartoon-like characters. He has also explored themes of consumerism and mass production, creating large-scale installations featuring colourful sculptures of everyday objects such as flowers, mushrooms and smiling faces.
In 1995, Takashi Murakami was invited to the Venice Biennale and the following year he founded the Hiropon Factory in New York. He has exhibited in various museums and galleries around the world, including the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis and the Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo.
In 2001, Murakami curated the exhibition Superflat at MOCA in Los Angeles, which became a new Japanese art movement. He later founded Kaikai Kiki, an artist collective and society that promotes and supports emerging Japanese artists. In 2003, he collaborated with fashion designer Marc Jacobs to design the Cherry Blossom bag for Louis Vuitton, which was a huge success. In 2007, Murakami created the cover for Kanye West’s Graduation album. His work was shown in a major retrospective exhibition at MOCA Los Angeles in 2007, which then travelled to other museums around the world.
Takashi Murakami Pillow Flower Cushion:
In 2018, Murakami sent a colorful stack of blurry flowers as a welcome gift to rapper Drake. "One of the first times I went to visit Takashi in his studio in Japan, he gifted me a two-meter flower cushion," recalls Brian Donnelly, the street artist better known as KAWS. "I have always been touched by Takashi's support and generosity."
Now, the flower cushion has become one of the most iconic objects that a collector can own.
One of Takashi Murakami’s most famous works is the ‘Superflat’ theory, developed in the late 1990s. This theory explores the connections between contemporary Japanese art and the history of the country’s traditional art forms, such as ukiyo-e prints.
Pop culture and commercial success
Takashi Murakami has been called a pop artist and compared to Andy Warhol for his inspiration from mass culture. He has claimed his cultural autonomy and stated that his aesthetic references are essentially related to Japanese pop culture and the Otaku phenomenon. He created the Superflat style, characterised by the integration of elements of Japanese subculture and culture, such as 1970s anime and 17th century Japanese paintings.
Murakami’s creative and commercial activity blurred the line between high and low art. He produced and marketed various consumer objects, including bags for Louis Vuitton, diaries, candies, toys and more.
Impact and Legacy
Overall, Takashi Murakami’s work has influenced both the contemporary art world and popular culture. His playful and colourful style has earned him a worldwide fan following. His innovative approach in combining traditional Japanese art forms with pop culture has inspired a new generation of artists.
-Super nova, 1999.
-Kawaii! Summer Holidays, 2002.
-If the double helix wakes up, 2002. Acrylic on canvas,
-Mr. Dob, 1992.
-My Lonely Cowboy, 1998.
-Oval Buddha, 2007.
Achievement prices at auction:
“My Lonesome Cowboy” (1998) sold for $15.2 million at Sotheby’s New York in 2008.
“Miss Ko2” (1996) sold for $6.9 million at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2019.
“Flowerball 3D (Gold)” (2018) sold for $3.3m at Phillips Hong Kong in 2021.
“And then x 6 (Red)” (2008) was sold for $2.7m by Phillips London in 2019.
“DOB in the Strange Forest” (1999) sold for $2.6m at Sotheby’s London in 2019.
“Flowerball 2” (2002) sold for $2.4m at Christie’s Hong Kong in 2019.
“An Homage to Monopink” (2012) sold for $1.8 million at Christie’s New York in 2019.
“Pom and Me: Big Kiss” (2016) sold for $1.5 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2019.
“Tan Tan Bo Puking – a.k.a. Gero Tan” (2002) sold for $1.3 million at Phillips Hong Kong in 2017.
“Flower Matango” (2001) sold for $1.1 million at Sotheby’s Hong Kong in 2018.