is presenting French Fries with Mayo, a solo exhibition by Japanese artist MADSAKI. Following BADA BING, BADA BOOM at Perrotin Seoul last year, this is his first time exhibiting in Paris. The show will feature a newly completed series of paintings.
A graduate of New York Citys Parsons School of Design (BFA, 1996), MADSAKI was born in Osaka, Japan, and raised in New Jersey, USA experiences between two cultures that formed his aesthetics and personality. While much of MADSAKIs work centers on his interest in art history and critiquing mass culture with references to slang, movies and manga characters, the artist has recently been exploring more personal, intimate topics. To express this visually, MADSAKI developed a signature style using spray paint as a fine art medium, stemming from the fact that he has never participated in illegal graffiti on the streets. The artist is particularly known for his Wannabe series, which at first glance humorously targets old masters, yet their deeper meaning is a reoccurring theme that can be found throughout MADSAKIs artistic practice - an attempt to use laughter and humor as both distraction and therapy for his internal turmoil.
I was six when I moved to the United States with my parents. I spoke no English, so I drew to communicate. I grew up in a white suburb in New Jersey. It wasnt mixed at all. I was the only non-white there. It wasnt a problem at school, but outside, just walking around the neighborhood, people called me Pearl Harbor! This made me who I am and I believe this is the foundation of my expression today. Despite my Japanese appearance, I used to think that I was American on the inside, only to face at this very early age the fundamental gap between cultures. Yet I kept wondering: What are countries really, and how do they relate to cultures? I eventually went to Parsons, an art school in New York, out of a desire to understand each other beyond languages. Then I returned to Japan in 2004 at the age of 30 when my visa expired.
While living in New York, I had the opportunity to help create a large mural for the first time with the artists collective Barnstormers. I painted with either brushes or mops, but I never used spray cans. I started using them only a few years ago with my series of text paintings (Beyond Words Series) when I was already back living in Tokyo. The reason why I began to paint slang on canvas is because once again, I had hit this communication barrier, this time due to my lack of Japanese proficiency. There was nobody I could speak to in English in Japan. My text paintings are conversations between my imaginary friends and me. I am the one who is being crudely spoken to, or abused, if you will. Its like I wish someone saved me, even though I know it is impossible. So I am both the abuser and the victim in these works. Its my way of lessening the sin I feel living in this world.
As I continued to make many of these crude text paintings, beating myself up, one day I wondered: Why am I really painting? I thought about how my admiration for art history had encouraged me to escape from harsh days so far. That is how I started my Wannabe series, in which I embrace art history itself or attempt to become one with it. I first draw the rough sketch of a masterpiece with a marker, and then I recreate it with spray paint in one go. If only for an instant, I feel possessed by an artist from the past, which gives me the illusion of acquiring freedom from this world. That moment of ecstasy lasts about two to six hours until it comes to an end. I am heavily focused while spraying, so I always drop immediately after I am done.
This solo exhibition in Paris means a lot to me. Mr. Perrotin enjoys my Wannabe pieces and suggested that I revisit French classic painting through this new series. So, I went ahead and picked masterpieces by great artists found in French museums, including Gauguin, Monet, Manet, Delacroix, Ingres and so on. I can usually work rather quickly, but not always. For example, Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David took a lot of freaking time! I cant just fake it! Ive got to really dig into each composition and put a lot of layers of colors. I use the nozzles of various spray cans to get different effects and also make my own customized caps. When the canvas is relatively small, I sometimes use both hands. I actually made The Cardplayers by Cézanne by spraying two cans at the same time.
Takashi Murakami discovered me through Instagram in 2015. I had just finished a Matisse and as soon as I posted it online, he messaged me that he liked it. There was a blue check on his profile, so this was the real dude! He told me that he wanted to buy it. The same year, he included my works in his Superflat Collection exhibition at the Yokohama Museum of Art and I later joined Kaikai Kiki Gallery. Hes kept pushing me to dig deeper and explore beyond my boundaries. Hes actually the one who suggested me to paint something more personal. So I started painting portraits of my wife. She is my savior. When Im not painting, it is only with my wife that my soul regains calmness. Other times are truly distressing. That is why I always make people laugh. I actually laugh so hard that the people around me see me as a freak.
I used to be a messenger in New York, and once after work, one of my dispatchers said, Lets go drink mad sake tonight! Ive been MADSAKI from that day on. It just fits me. My signature with the drippy smiley eyes, it started out with the Wannabe series. Every time I spray the eyes and the mouth, it just drips. I found it interesting, so I kept it that way. People always ask me what it means. Id rather have the viewers think about it. Is it crying? Is it smiling? Its like a clown really. Its ambivalent.