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Japan’s Contemporary Art Masters

Japan’s Contemporary Art Masters

A country famous for its contemporary artists, Japan prides the eccentric masterpieces of these creators that made its mark worldwide. The arts they produce are culturally diverse and reflect today’s relevant issues.

“Japan’s contemporary art scene is richly diverse, home to pioneering artists who have transformed the industry’s landscape on a global scale. From Takashi Murakami’s Superflat movement to Yayoi Kusama’s polka-dotted universe, to collaborative and performative approaches to visual media and the futuristic use of technology in art practices.”

– Culture Trip

Its artistic innovation legacy is long, varied, and profoundly influential. Birthed to numerous contemporary creators, Japan continues to produce crafts whose influence is significantly felt, surpassing the island’s boundaries. We’ve compiled 5 contemporary artists surfacing their culture’s vibrancy through their eccentric arts. 

Hajime Sorayama

(b. 1947) Imabari, Ehime, Japan

A Futuristic Artist, known for his imaginative and highly accomplished paintings of seductive robotic women in the hyper-realistic style. His accomplishments are sensational, with recognitions from the most notable clients, museum institutions, and collectors. Using a specialized brush designed by the artist himself, pencil, and acrylic paint, this Japanese artist is widely respected for his perfect technique, proving himself as a master of his domain.

“Respected as a founder of airbrush technique, Sorayama‘s hyper-realistic artful depictions of sensual metallic qualities of robots are firmly established his reputation. “In pursuit of hyper-realism, I use the airbrush in a way that naturally depicts minute details of human skin, lips, eyeballs, hair, even individual body hair, or the feel of leather or silk clothes, the metallicity of the robot, the reflection of light.””

“Art is a kind of tenacity, an insistence upon asserting your own originality … by contrast, superrealism deals with the technical issue of how close one can get to one’s object.”

Hajime Sorayama

He spent more than four decades depicting human machines’ beauty, which gained international attention with his ongoing series on “Sexy Robots”. The airbrush wizard shows off ten portraits of the American Actress Manilyn Monroe and 3D manifestations of his renowned “Sexy Robots” at Nanzuka Gallery in Tokyo. The artist started this series back in 1978 and has been his most successful and recognizable body of work ever since. Following the Japanese focus on technology and science and his unique view of sexuality and female beauty, these works helped Sorayama establish his worldwide reputation.

Sexy Robot by Hajime Sorayama. see more

Mariko Mori

(b. 1967) Tokyo, Japan
Photo by David Sims

Known for her sculptures, videos, photographs, installation, digital imagery, and performance pieces, which often involve surreal or science-fiction-like objects and imagery. Mori herself is the main protagonist in many of her early artworks from the 1990s, often portraying a cyborg or alien-like heroine in an urban environment. An internationally acclaimed artist continues to explore universal questions at the intersection of life, death, reality, and technology. Her works have been acquired by several museums and private collectors worldwide. With her brilliant and creative interactive installations, she has gained international recognition. 

A stand-alone piece, made from fiber-glass, a droplet-esque structure that stands 14-feet tall, 17-feet wide, and 34-feet long, taking up the whole room. see more

Her famous interactive installation was the “2003’s WAVE UFO” which debuted at Bregenz, Austria in 2003; blending art, architecture, music, science, and performance into one condensed introspection zone. This large-architectural sculpture took Mori almost 3 years to produce, shown in New York, Genoa, Italy, and Venice Biennale, Italy. It was also featured in Oneness, Groninger Museum, Netherlands, Aarhus, Denmark, Ukraine, and Brazil. 

“In a computer-animated video projection, Mori sends the “travelers” on a trip to a spiritual cosmos”
K. Bregenz, 2003

“I am interested in circulating past iconography in the present to get to the future,”

Mori

Aya Takano

(b. 1976) Saitama, Japan see more

Has a great contribution to Kaikai Kiki–production studio created in 2001 by Takashi Murakami. A Japanese Superflat artist known for her bizarre and dreamlike paintings populated by androgynous female characters.

Painter, illustrator, sci-fi writer, and manga artist, built a universe of her own works, with significant influences from the erotic stamps of the Edo Period to impressionism, Osamu Tezuka to Gustav Klimt. She created infinite worlds in her masterpieces, a means of escaping reality, the restraints of gravity, and transcendence. See several artworks, installations, and publications here.

Secrets of the Thousand Year Spiral: Ozuka, 2013. see more

 One of her recent works is featured in Kaikai Kiki exhibit: Healing by Takashi Murakami, Masaki, Tengaone, Kasing Lung, Aya Takano, Chiho Aoshima, Emi Kuraya, OB, Otani Workshop, Yuji Ueda, and Shin Murata. This installation explores the multifaceted and eccentric universe that is Superflat and the far-reaching and deep influence of Japanese ceramic arts in the context of Bubblewrap

Kaikai Kiki Complexcon 2018
Figure Sculpture

“Where in the West art is predicated on the differences between ‘highbrow’ and ‘lowbrow’ culture, ‘original’ and ‘derivative,’ ‘art’ and ‘commodity,’ Superflat establishes itself as an independent lineage of Japanese contemporary art that roots itself in anime and manga.”

Takashi Murakami

Yoshitomo Nara

(b. 1959) Hirosaki, Aomori, Japan
Photo by NYTimes

best known for his paintings of children and animals that appear simultaneously sweet and sinister, as seen in his work Do Not Disturb! (1996)

He started in the 1990s Japan pop-culture and later became associated with the Superflat movement, collaborating with Chiho Aoshima and Takashi Murakami. His sculptures and paintings focus on such innocent subjects (often pastel-hued children and animals drawn with confident, cartoonish lines) with little or no background. The wide-eyed children appear to be cute and vulnerable, holding brandish weapons like saws and knives. 

See Also

“Up until [my twenties], I was really only focused on stuff I liked and was interested in. Then, entering into my thirties and forties and becoming more of an adult, I started seeing more of the world and even seeing things that I didn’t want to see. My perspective really opened up. Whether it was to do with society or the environment or the relationship between the two, my view of the world became much wider”.

Yoshitomo Nara

Being associated with the Superflat Movement and his collaboration with Takashi Murakami, Nara was able to help give a compelling voice of Japanese cultural identity in the world of Western consumer culture. 

Yoshimoto Nara’s products available here.

Yayoi Kusama

High priestess of polka dots. (b. 1929) Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan. see more

An Influential “Avant-garde” contemporary artist known primarily for her eccentric sculptures and installations; Most of her works are based on conceptual art, attributes of feminism, minimalism, surrealism, Art Brut, pop art, and abstract expressionism. It is also infused with autobiographical, psychological, and sexual content. 

Kusama is one of the most important living artists to come out of Japan” 

Midori Yamamura

She was able to develop a signature approach to her craft through her hallucinatory paintings of loops and dots (and physical representations of the idea of infinity) that continued to appeal to the imagination and the senses of the viewers, including dizzying walk-in installations, public sculptures, and the “Dots Obsessions” paintings. One of her most iconic masterpieces was rooted in her love of pumpkins, which shaped her practice for over 70years. She has created spaces that contributed significantly to popularizing contemporary art in Japan. Designed installations featuring a massive, free-standing sculpture of a ripe pumpkin (colored in yellow, with black polka-dots on it). On top of these several installations, her pumpkin sculptures became available as private collections around the world.

Pumpkin Sculpture by Yayoi Kusama. see more

“Kusama began to explore ideas of infinity by challenging the confines of the canvas’ four edges. It was her “Infinity Nets” that truly began to distinguish Kusama from other painters. Crescent-shaped, single-colored brushstrokes coalesce over a solid ground to form “nets” that ebb and pulsate hypnotically. Kusama has described these paintings as “very large canvases without composition—without beginning, end, or center.” She creates lattices of pigment that blur the boundaries of negative and positive space. Equally as immersive as her canvases were her process: Kusama claimed to work 50 to 60 hours non-stop on paintings.”

Radley, 2019
Infinity Nets. see more

Takashi Murakami

(b. 1962) Tokyo, Japan.
see more

Murakami completed his studies at Tokyo University of the Arts with a Ph.D. in Nihonga–traditional Japanese painting. He garnered international attention in the late 1990s with his cartoon-like paintings and sculptures. Interestingly, the events during the second world war urged him to re-create cartoon fantasies and harmless characters to reinvent their culture; thus, these icons began to gain popularity. In 2001, Murakami coined the term “Superflat” launching one of postmodern art’s most invigorated movements. This has become an international phenomenon, infiltrating all consumer culture areas from high to low art. It refers both to the flattened compositions that lacked a one-point perspective of historical Japanese artistic movements such as Nihonga and the flattening (or merging) of art and commerce. See full article on Takashi Murakami here.

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