Takashi Murakami cited in Exh. Cat. Paris, Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain, 2002, p. 73.
Powerfully colourful, The Double Helix belongs to Takashi Murakami’s celebrated Super Flat paintings. It depicts the most prominent character in Murakami’s oeuvre, the figure of Mr. DOB. First designed as a grinning amalgam of various cartoon figures such as Sonic the Hedgehog and Doraemon, over the years, Mr. DOB has come to serve as an alter-ego for Murakami himself. However, rather than having a fixed form, Mr. DOB follows ephemeral commercial trends; DOB constantly evolves to embody all the complexities and nuances of Murakami’s ever-changing artistic identity. In some depictions Mr. DOB smiles at the viewer with the childlike innocence of a cartoon; in others the enigmatic grin has morphed into a mouth of sharp teeth, revealing an almost demonic character. The Double Helix presents Mr. DOB in a form inspired by the coiled strands of DNA, reflecting the very essence of what makes up an identity and echoing the central message of Murakami’s project, which is the need to question the forces that shape the contemporary world.
Murakami remains strongly affiliated with Japan’s manga and anime filled otaku subculture, from which he has drawn his cartoon-inspired trademark themes. However, he also makes visual references to the school of Nihonga, which he studied extensively at University. Nihonga was formed at the end of the Nineteenth Century in response to the influx of techniques that came as a result of the Westernization of Japan and the rise of the Westernised school of art called Yoga. Nihonga, on the other hand, accepted contemporary subject matters whilst retaining the traditional techniques of Japanese painting. This traditional school emphasises the importance of outline and flat backgrounds, both of which are crucial to Murakami’s distinctive style. The decorative background and lack of perspective in The Double Helix can thus be seen as an allusion to Fifteenth Century Japanese gold leaf screens which depicted figures using a thick outline and marked space via the depiction of layers of clouds.
Murakami is widely recognised as an innovator of contemporary Japanese art, whose unusual style presents an original development in response to the conditions and sensibilities of the current postmodern and global age. Depicted in The Double Helix, Mr. DOB invokes the legacy of American Pop artists such as Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein whilst Murakami’s immaculate composition serves as a reflection on the technologically flat world of digital screens and billboards. As Murakami’s visual language becomes increasingly universal, The Double Helix can be seen as an enquiry into the constantly evolving status of contemporary identity.
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