Master of emotions

AT the opening ceremony of Louis Vuitton: A Passion for Creation, the artist most sought-after by guests for autographs and photographs was Takashi Murakami (pic).

One of Japan’s leading contemporary artists, Murakami – the only visual artist to make Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People” last year – proved to be a crowd-pleaser. Always smiling and accommodating, he granted the Asian media a brief interview.

Asked how the current art scene is driven by financial motives, Murakami, 46, says it is money that allows creativity to thrive. “At the end of the day, art needs a rich ground like Paris, New York and London.”

He is surprised by Hong Kong’s rise in the art world, and feels the city is headed in the right direction. For example, he points out, the recent Hong Kong International Art Fair (May 14-17) drew a record attendance and robust sales.

Asked what inspires him, Murakami says, “As artists, we need to feel emotions all the time. For instance, I attended a funeral last week and there were a lot of people crying. Although I was sad, I was inspired by all the emotions surrounding me.”

Another emotion that inspires him is anger. “That’s why I am always asking my colleagues to make me angry,” he says, drawing laughter from the crowded room.

His art pieces may be colourful and bright but Murakami explains that “I always emphasise that the dark side exists even in cuteness and in the thoughts of peace-addicted people.”

A graduate of the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, this prolific contemporary artist gained fame for his art style, called Superflat, which is characterised by flat planes of colour and graphic images involving a character derived from anime and manga. It is an artistic style that comments on otaku lifestyle and subculture, as well as consumerism and sexual fetishism, he explains.

In past media interviews, he was asked about straddling the fine line between art and merchandising. His reply: “I don’t think of it as straddling. I think of it as changing the line. What I’ve been talking about for years is how in Japan, that line is less defined, both by the culture and by the post-War economic situation.

“Japanese people accept that art and commerce will be blended; in fact, they are surprised by the rigid and pretentious Western hierarchy of ‘high art.’ In the West, it certainly is dangerous to blend the two because people will throw all sorts of stones. But that’s okay – I’m ready with my hard hat.”

According to the Wikipedia, Murakami – like the legendary Andy Warhol – takes low culture, repackages it, and sells it to the highest bidder in the “high-art” market. But unlike Warhol, he makes his repacked low culture available to other markets in the form of paintings, sculptures, videos, T-shirts, key chains, mouse pads, plush dolls and limited-edition Louis Vuitton handbags.

In November 2003, ArtNews had it that Murakami’s work was among the most desired in the world. At Christie’s last May, Chicago collector Stefan Edis reportedly paid US$567,500 (RM1.9mil) for his 1996 Miss ko-2, a life-size fiberglass cartoon figure. In May 2008, Murakami’s sculpture of a naked boy, My Lonesome Cowboy, sold for US$15mil (RM52mil) at a Sotheby’s auction.

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