Executed in 1994, the present work is one of the earliest manifestations of Mr. DOB – the foremost character of Murakami’s Super Flat realm. The character’s name is an abbreviation of a phrase Dobozite, Dobozite, Oshamanbe, which combines an expression of a character from a popular 1970s manga Inakappe Taisho (The Country General) written by Noboru Kawasaki and serialised by Shogakukan (who notoriously mispronounces the Japanese word doushite meaning ‘why’ as dobozite) with a catchphrase of a popular comedian Toru Yuri. Murakami first used this nonsensical phrase in his 1993 sign piece created as a cynical response to American conceptualism, particularly to works by Jenny Holzer. Around the same time, shortly before departing from Japan for New York to participate in the P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center’s International Study Programme, Murakami created the figure of Mr. DOB. His first paintings with this motif were created after his arrival in the United States, which makes But, Ru, RuRuRu… one of the earliest pieces to depict this famous character.
The grinning two-eared figure of Mr. DOB, whose round head spells his name (the left ear showing the letter D, the right one the letter B, and the face forming an O), seems incredibly familiar. Depicted on all six panels of But, Ru, RuRuRu… at first glimpse the character strongly resembles Disney’s Mickey Mouse. However, it constitutes an amalgam of various other cartoon figures such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Doraemon, as well as Miffy, Hello Kitty and even the Russian character Cheburashka. This synthesis and consequent universality of Mr. DOB allows Murakami to question the global symbols of consumerism, thus extending the trajectory of artists such as Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons. In the present work, the focus on Mr. DOB’s face recalls Warhol’s close-ups of popular culture figures, while the repetition of the image in different colours references the artist’s experimentations with layers of colours on his silkscreen series of Flowers and his iconic Campbell’s Soup Cans. Apart from the humorous meaning of the abbreviation DOB, the name of the character could be translated into English as ‘why? why?’ suggesting that Mr. DOB questions the nature of the world around him via the infinite variety of forms in which he is represented. Moreover, while But, Ru, RuRuRu… shows Mr. DOB in full smile, the cartoon-like figure appears in Murakami’s oeuvre in a multitude of fusions and multiplications ranging from childish innocence and cuteness to more ominous portrayals. As Mr. DOB is the single most represented character in Murakami’s works, this variety of depictions has led to the belief that the figure represents the artist’s alter ego, which thus places the present work as a seminal piece within the artist’s career.
In his extraordinary practice, Murakami picks out and reconfigures the quintessentially Japanese ideas of a flat image taken from the visual culture of the Edo period, the world of manga and anime filled otaku culture, as well as the Americanisation of Japanese culture in the second half of the Twentieth Century. Murakami’s outstanding career, which blends the personal and the commercial has secured him the position of one of the most influential and acclaimed artists to emerge from Asia in the post-war era. Without a doubt, But, Ru, RuRuRu… is a prominent work which showcases Mr. DOB; a character whose first appearance had begun as a visual pun, but whose impact continues to influence the iconography and development of Murakami’s art.
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