NEW YORK, NY.- In his distinctive "Superflat" style, which employs highly refined classical Japanese painting techniques to depict a super-charged mix of Pop, animé and otaku content within a flattened representational picture-plane, Murakami moves freely within an ever-expanding field of aesthetic issues and cultural inspirations. Parallel to the familiar utopian and dystopian themes that feature masses of smiling flowers, elaborate scenes of toonish apocalypse, and the ever-morphing cult figures of DOB, Mr. Pointy, Kaikai and Kiki, he recollects and revitalizes narratives of transcendence and enlightenment, often involving outsider-savants. Mining religious and secular subjects favored by the so-called Japanese "eccentrics" or non-conformist artists of the Early Modern era commonly considered to be counterpart to the Western Romantic tradition, Murakami situates himself within their legacy of bold and lively individualism in a manner that is entirely his own and of his time.
In this new work, Murakami depicts the legend of the Karajishi or "China-lion", the mythological animal that guards the thresholds of Japanese Buddhist temples, separating sacred precincts from secular areas, averting evil, and promoting happiness and joy. Representations of lions were produced first by Chinese, and then Japanese, artists based on versions from India and Assyria that had been assimilated into Buddhist iconography, without the real animal ever having been seen. Thus these depictions of the exotic animal became increasingly fanciful. The Karajishi was a chosen subject of Shohaku Soga (1730-1781), the prominent iconoclast who mixed Zen and Chinese styles with wilder, virtuoso brushwork and equal measures of irreverent wit and inventiveness and whose interpretations of the Zen Buddhist ascetic Daruma, another famous outsider, were a key inspiration for Murakami's 2007 series.
On a large four-panel canvas of staggering intricacy and painterly detail, Murakami depicts the allegory of ritual and survival that attends the development of the Karajishi, whereby as cubs they are thrown off cliff tops by their parents in order to test their strength and resilience. On a macabre bridge built entirely from human skulls, the mature Karajishi sits while its cubs play about, presumably survivors of the Darwinian exercise. The heaps of skulls each one individually and painstakingly rendered in delirious color combinations -- are offset by atmospheric voids of abstract, oscillating hues, achieved by the use of various traditional patterning and painting techniques including kezuri, whereby the surface of the painting is created by applying then sanding away layer upon layer of paint to produce a rich and varied patina that fuses the refined depths of Japanese lacquer with the alchemy of Warhol's risqué Oxidation paintings.
Takashi Murakami was born in 1962 in Tokyo, and received his BFA, MFA and PhD from the Tokyo University of the Arts (formerly the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music). He founded the Hiropon factory in Tokyo in 1996, which later evolved into Kaikai Kiki, an art production and art management corporation. In addition to the production and marketing of Murakami's art and related work, Kaikai Kiki functions as a supportive environment for the fostering of emerging artists. Murakami is also a curator, a cultural entrepreneur, and a critical observer of contemporary Japanese society. In 2000, he organized a paradigmatic exhibition of Japanese art titled "Superflat", which traced the origins of contemporary Japanese visual pop culture in historical Japanese art. He has continued this work in subsequent impactful exhibitions such as "Coloriage" (Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris, 2002) and "Little Boy: The Art of Japan's Exploding Subcultures" (Japan Society, New York, 2005).
Murakami's recent major solo exhibitions include Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo (2001); Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (2001); Fondation Cartier pour l'art Contemporain, Paris and the Serpentine Gallery, London (2002). A comprehensive survey exhibition opened at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles in 2007 and traveled to the Brooklyn Museum, the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt and the Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao in 2008-9. Murakami currently lives and works in Tokyo, New York, and Los Angeles.