“All my works are made up of special effects … My sources of inspiration in creating these effects can be found in Japanese art history and in the style of the Surrealists.”
Comprising a kaleidoscopic torrent of smiling flowers, Thinking Matter (Red) represents a consummate expression of Murakami Takashi’s artistic enterprise. Flawlessly executed in a luscious fuchsia colour palette, the work presents an optical play on dimensionality: the scarlet blooms seem to recede into the depths of the circular canvas, such that the work appears spherically convex on first glance. Speaking about these distinctive circular canvases, Murakami declares that he does not employ the procedures of traditional perspective, such that: “What you have, therefore, is a ‘false perspective’ […] The effect produces an illusion of space or rather, of volume. This is the illusion that I wanted to render symbolically in these works. In a word, as a kind of personal contribution, I wanted to offer the vision of a form of illusion different from the one we find in Western painting” (the artist cited in exh. cat. London, Serpentine Gallery, Takashi Murakami, 2002-2003, p. 85). Accordingly, Thinking Matter (Red) delivers a superlative feat, encapsulating Murakami’s era-defining Superflat corpus and the full spectrum of his definitive artistic project across its chromatically vibrant surface. Simultaneously rooted in the ancient Eastern practice of decorative flower painting on traditional lacquered or metallic panels and the Western canon of tondo (circular) canvases, the present work is emblematic of the historically multi-layered yet fetishistically flat production of one of the most important artists of our time.
Irrefutably one of the most pervasive and internationally acclaimed artists of our generation, Murakami is widely celebrated for orchestrating an artistic empire that operates at the complex intersection between the mass-market, popular culture, the contemporary art market, and Japanese artistic traditions. With an incisive and discerning conceptual vision, Murakami’s work stages an intricate negotiation between the past and present, orient and occident, high culture and mass consumerism whilst remaining acutely yet subtly politically oriented. Originally trained in the highly technical traditional Japanese art of Nihonga, Murakami’s highly organized production methods resemble that of Andy Warhol’s Factory in its replication of modern business models whilst retaining an extraordinarily fastidious pursuit for formal perfection. Murakami describes the convoluted production process for his circular flower ball canvases as such: “I would have liked to have used a three-dimensional computer graphics programme, but since that wasn’t available in my studio, I started by sticking each flower motif onto a three-dimensional model and then scanning the results, after which I reworked the drawing itself but without using the procedures of traditional perspective. What you have, therefore, is a ‘false perspective’ […] one has the impression that the motif is convex, that it is in three dimensions, but, to achieve that effect, I made absolutely no use of shadows” (the artist cited in Ibid.).
Densely repeated within the flat-bed plane of Murakami’s canvas, the proliferation of childishly cute or kawaii flowers confers a screen-like barrier that denies entrance to the illusionary pictorial realm associated with the monolithic tradition of painting on canvas. Smiling flowers represent the very hallmark and signature motif of Murakami’s ambitious oeuvre; in the artist’s own words, the employment of flowers as an endlessly repeated motif stemmed from a period of intense daily study of the flower itself: “I spent nine years working in a preparatory school, where I taught the students to draw flowers… At the beginning, to be frank, I didn’t like flowers, but as I continued teaching in the school, my feelings changed: their smell, their shape, it all made me feel almost physically sick, and at the same time I found them very ‘cute’. Each one seemed to have its own feelings, its own personality. My dominant feeling was one of unease, but I liked that sensation. And these days, now that I draw flowers rather frequently, that sensation has come back very vividly. I found them just as pretty, just as disturbing… So I thought that if the opportunity arose, I would very much like to make a work in which I would represent them as if in a ‘crowd scene’… I really wanted to convey this impression of unease, of the threatening aspect of an approaching crowd” (the artist cited in Ibid., p. 84).
Rooted within the Japanese art form of Byōbu, the traditional craft of highly lacquered decorative screen painting, the high sheen of Murakami’s immaculate floral canvas classically dates back to the Momoyama and Edo periods from the late-Sixteenth to the mid-Nineteenth Centuries. In line with the exacting standards enforced by the artist’s Factory-like studio setup, each individual flower in Thinking Matter (Red) is painted by hand with faultless and immaculate precision to deliver a synthetic flawlessness akin to computer screen-like perfection. Drawn from Japan’s ubiquitous culture of manga and sub-culture of otaku, Murakami’s mechanical exactitude does not simply represent an aesthetic choice or preference; instead, it is the physical manifestation of the artist’s pointed confrontation of the literal and metaphoric ‘flattening’ of Japanese culture in the second half of the Twentieth Century – heralded by the Atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 and perpetuated by the dominance of Western surveillance and influence thereafter. Idiosyncratically united under the term Superflat, Murakami’s oeuvre invokes a pluralistic artistic fusion that bears the disquieting insinuation of the profound impairment of Japanese culture. As the artist decisively declared in his Superflat manifesto: “Super flatness is an original concept of the Japanese, who have been completely Westernized” (the artist cited in Takashi Murakami, Superflat Trilogy, Tokyo 2000, p. 155). Infused with an abundance of referents, Thinking Matter (Red) is paradigmatic of Murakami’s phenomenal project by which he single-handedly unveils a new critical perspective whilst establishing a singularly original category for Japanese art.