Takashi Murakami's Colorful Journey From a Tokyo Duplex to a Warehouse Loft

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Takashi Murakami's Colorful Journey From a Tokyo Duplex to a Warehouse Loft

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Takashi Murakami at an exhibition of his work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston this past October 13.

Takashi Murakami at an exhibition of his work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston this past October 13.


Photo:

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Takashi Murakami, 55, is a Japanese contemporary artist and founder of the “Superflat” art movement. His “Takashi Murakami: Lineage of Eccentrics” exhibit at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts will be on view until April 1. He spoke with Marc Myers.

One day in the early 1980s, when I was attending the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, a female upperclassman remarked that her boyfriend had a great sense of color and I didn’t. At first I was hurt, but the more I thought about what she said, the more I realized she was right.

Ever since I started drawing, I favored black-and-white over color. So I began to educate myself about color by studying Johannes Itten’s book “The Art of Color,” among others, as well as watching films.

I grew up in a low-income area of Tokyo. Like most homes in Tokyo, ours was small. It was a free-standing, two-family rental duplex built 30 years earlier.

We had only one room shared by my parents, my younger brother, Yuji, and me. We had a few pieces of furniture that we cleared in the evening and replaced with futons for sleeping.

Takashi Murakami circa 1967 with toys. As a youth, he tried to teach himself to draw anime, but he said it wasn’t a successful pursuit.

Takashi Murakami circa 1967 with toys. As a youth, he tried to teach himself to draw anime, but he said it wasn’t a successful pursuit.


Photo:

Takashi Murakami

My father, Fukujuro, drove a cab and my mother, Itsuko, was a homemaker. My parents often took me to see Impressionist exhibits. At home, I would paint pictures in a similar style.

At those exhibits, my parents were excited by the art, but I wasn’t impressed. I didn’t understand it. European culture was foreign to me.

I soon became very interested in anime [Japanese animation] and manga [Japanese graphic novels]. For children of my generation, anime was an escape from Japan’s loser complex following World War II. Anime wasn’t foreign. It was our own.

In the late 1990s, I began creating two-dimensional characters in bright colors on flat, glossy surfaces…I began to call it ‘Superflat.’

I tried to teach myself to draw anime, but I was so bad. To enter the animation industry, I knew I had to become a scenery artist instead.

After I was accepted at the university, I began studying a traditional Japanese-style painting called nihonga. At the time, nihonga was popular and lucrative. But I didn’t get along with my teachers.

By the time I emerged as an artist in 1995, painting had been exhausted. I had to think of a new way to express myself. I thought I should do something with manga.

So in the late 1990s, I began creating two-dimensional characters in bright colors on flat, glossy surfaces. This led to a show at a Santa Monica art gallery in Los Angeles.

To be accepted by New York City’s important art scene, however, I needed to create a new art movement. This required a catchphrase similar to other art movements such as “abstract expressionism” or “pop art.”

The day before my L.A. exhibit opened, a few clients were in the gallery. I overheard the owner describing my work as “super high quality and super shiny on super-flat surfaces.” I realized that this was a way to market my art. When I needed to explain my work, I began to call it “Superflat.”

The 2003 construction site of a Louis Vuitton store in Tokyo. Takashi Murakami created a version of the LV logo and lettering in a multicolor pattern.

The 2003 construction site of a Louis Vuitton store in Tokyo. Takashi Murakami created a version of the LV logo and lettering in a multicolor pattern.


Photo:

ASSOCIATED PRESS

In 2003, I collaborated with designer

Marc Jacobs

of Louis Vuitton to create a line of bags. I presented more than 200 ideas, and Marc picked my colorful monogram. I used the LV logo and lettering in a vivid, multicolor pattern.

The bags were radically different and became a success. So I began establishing a new grammar for color.

Today, I live in Japan in my studio in Miyoshi, just north of Tokyo. My wife and two children live in a different part of Japan. We communicate using the FaceTime app.

My studio is a gigantic warehouse loft. The studio operates 24 hours a day. I sleep in a separate room, in a small wood-frame box. It is just wide enough to hold my bed. I’m afraid of earthquakes, so I keep the room spare.

My works-in-progress are all around me in the studio. But the only art piece on the wall in my room is a calligraphy I created using a phrase by Rosanjin, a Japanese ceramist who died in 1959: “Renovation of art and beauty.”

As for my childhood, I don’t have anything saved from that period in my life. I’m not really hung up on the past.

By | 2018-01-09T16:45:48+00:00 January 9th, 2018|Comments Off on Takashi Murakami's Colorful Journey From a Tokyo Duplex to a Warehouse Loft