At Large  January 6, 2022  Ivy Pratt

The Life & Art of Takashi Murakami

Although Takashi Murakami’s art typically appears happy and bright at first glance, the artist expertly wields cartoony symbols and fantastical imagery to make larger statements on topics such as technology, violence, and history.

Murakami was born in Tokyo on February 1, 1962. The artist eventually earned a BA, MFA, and Ph.D. from Tokyo University of the Arts, studying nihonga. The term literally translates to “Japanese painting” and emerged in a time of globalization for Japan—the Meiji period (1868-1912). Though it was initially used to differentiate between Western and Japanese art, it is now more often considered a stylistic or material indicator.

Sotheby’s

Takashi Murakami, Limegreen – Time. signed and dated 08 on the overlap. Acrylic on canvas. 71 x 71 in. (180.3 x 180.3 cm.). Currently listed in Private Sales.

Murakami went on to mix the formal, fine art techniques he learned in school with elements of anime. Rather quickly, he developed his signature “Superflat” style, which he still uses to render recurring symbols and characters such as his smiling flowers, bears, and Mr. DOB.

Many feel Murakami’s early work was primarily satirical—a commentary on the Contemporary art of Japan at the time. Others, such as critic Grace McQuilten, remain skeptical. Take My Lonesome Cowboy (made in 1998, auctioned in 2008), an early artwork that still holds the artist’s highest auction record of $15.2 million and remains one of Murakami’s most famous pieces.

Sotheby's

Takashi Murakami, My Lonesome Cowboy, signed, dated 1998 and numbered 4 APII on the interior of the head. Oil, acrylic, fiberglass, and iron. Estimate: $3,000,000 - 4,000,000. Sold: $15,161,000.

Art critic Roberta Smith wrote for the New York Times in 1999 that Cowboy and companion piece Hiropon were designed to “give the Japanese culture of cuteness a rude jolt..." while, "adding a touch of the extravagant violence often found in Japanese animation and video games.”

In contrast, McQuilten argued in her book, Art in Consumer Culture: Mis-Design, that neither piece was created as a critique of objectification, concluding that, “Instead, it directly appeals to the market.”

The Artist with his work at Saitama Prefecture

Regardless, Murakami’s early artwork—both controversial and tame—made an almost immediate splash in the art market. His career and notability have only increased over the following decades.

In 1996 the artist founded a part studio, part workshop called Hiropon Factory. Today, it has evolved into an art production, artist management company called Kaikai Kiki Co.

Sotheby's

Louis Vuitton Multicolor Monogram Coated Canvas Murakami MOCA Hands by Takashi Murakami Neverfull GM Gold Hardware, 2007.

Of course, a look at Murakami's career is not complete without a moment dedicated to his smiling flowers, which first debuted in 1995. Featured in exhibitions around the world and products through the years, their most notable appearance might be their cameo in the 2002 redesign of the Louis Vuitton monogram.

More recently, the flowers appeared in a 2020 Murakami collaboration with Supreme that raised over one million dollars for COVID-19 relief.

About the Author

Ivy Pratt

Ivy Pratt is a regular contributor to Art & Object.

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