Pop art that is superflat but not superficial
Acclaimed Japanese artist Takashi Murakami with one of his paintings, featuring the popular cartoon character Doraemon, on display at STPI. (Photos: Claudio Chock)

Pop art that is superflat but not superficial

His pop art has graced everything from Uniqlo T-shirts to Louis Vuitton bags. Now, Japanese pop artist Takashi Murakami, 52, has plastered his iconic smiling flower motif all over the walls of STPI, the print and paper art centre in Robertson Quay.

The occasion: his first major art exhibition in Southeast Asia, titled, From Superflat to Bubblewrap. The two month-long show, ending in Sept, features a range of works, including prints, paintings, digital moving images and neon signs.

Murakami is well-known for his “Superflat” theory of art and culture. He coined the term in the early 2000s to describe the aesthetic of flattened picture planes, common across different forms of Japanese art such as traditional paintings and manga. The term has also been used as a metaphor for shallow consumerism.

More recently, Murakami has extended his body of work to examine art made during Japan’s economic bubble, when various artistic movements bubbled up one after another. He has termed this occurrence “Bubblewrap”, and this exhibition features new works that centre around the relationship between these creative movements.

While Murakami’s art might be eye-catching, it is hardly superficial. So, here’s the lowdown on his iconic motifs to help you better appreciate the exhibition.

Smiley flowers
The flower motif has roots in Murakami’s artistic journey. He spent years drawing flowers to prepare for his entrance exams to Tokyo University of the Arts, and as an art instructor in his youth, he taught students to draw flowers.

His flowers are coloured differently and this imbues each one with a personality. If you look closely enough, you might find an occasional sad flower in a sea of smiley ones.

Doraemon features significantly in Murakami’s work because he is inspired by the cartoon character’s creator Fujiko F. Fujio. The latter sought to use Doraemon to bring together both children and adults, and spread joy among them. For Murakami, the motif is a reference to the power of manga to heal and bring hope to people in post-war Japan.

Six Hearts Princess
Six Hearts Princess is a TV animation series created and directed by Murakami as an homage to majokko, or magical princesses, an animation genre where schoolgirls transform and gain magical powers when called into action.

The story in Six Hearts Princess centres around the adventures of a junior high schoolgirl, Haruka Hani. She looks up to the Heart Princesses who fight monsters in the town she lives in, and she wishes too that she could someday join their ranks.

This sharp-toothed, playful-looking character is Murakami’s alter-ego. The character’s name is derived from the Japanese slang, “dojobite”, or “why”, and it is spelled out with the character’s face and appendages. The name reflects Murakami’s critical view of the consumerist society, as one that is hollow and devoid of life.

Details on From Superflat to Bubblewrap here.

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