Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Tale of Two Murakami's

Some time ago I realized that there were two famous Murakami's.  One is an artist doing very modern art and the other is a writer of award winning, surreal fiction.  Both have contributed mightily to Japan's stockpile of coolness overseas and at home.

Murakami Flowers   Flickr / Valeri-DBF

 Takashi Murakami

Takashi Murakami is an internationally famous Japanese artist. He does work in painting, sculpture and other arts in the modern art field in his signature Superflat style.  A good portion of his work is art done for commercial purposes (such as work for Louis Vitton) that blurs the line between high and low art. He coined the term Superflat, which describes both the aesthetic characteristics of Japanese artistic tradition and the nature of post-war Japanese culture and society.

He really is an awesome artist and I pretty much admire all of his work.  I find the colors so vibrant and his sculptures very imaginative.  His work in commercial media is also of very high quality and I'd hit an exhibit of his if I could get to it.

Murakami   Flickr / Ammar Abd Rabbo
The Superflat style emphasizes surface area and use of flat planes of color and argues that this is a trend that started in traditional Japanese art that was carried through into manga and anime.  Murakami also argues that differences in social class and popular taste have ‘flattened,’ producing a culture where the gap between "high" and "low" has vastly shrunk.  With this distinction in mind, Murakami repackages "low" art and presents it in the "high" art market.  His art is usually available as plush toys, display sculptures, t-shirts, personal accessories, and is often priced in a more affordable price range. His art incorporates traditional Japanese themes and many of the themes from anime / manga otaku culture, including the inherent sexual undercurrents.  If you haven't heard of him, after looking at the photos below, you will probably realize you have seen his art or art influenced by his style.
NY / Bosc d'Anjou

Flickr / by Jim Linwood
Flickr / wallyg
Flickr / jpellgen

On 21 June 2011, Google featured a doodle tagged as "First Day of Summer" which was created by Murakami. This was accompanied by a Winter Solstice doodle for the Southern Hemisphere.  Very nice overview.

Haruki Murakami
Haruki Murakami is a Japanese writer who has received critical acclaim and numerous awards, including the Franz Kafka Prize and Jerusalem Prize among others.  I've read only a couple of his books, After Dark and the Wind Up Bird Chronicles and they are usually pretty interesting.  I have to read his current book 1Q84 when I can get to it.

"Murakami's fiction, often criticized by Japan's literary establishment, is humorous and surreal, and at the same time focuses on themes of alienation and loneliness.  He is considered an important figure in postmodern literature. The Guardian praised him as "among the world's greatest living novelists" for his works and achievements.

In 1985, Murakami wrote Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, a dream-like fantasy that takes the magical elements in his work to a new extreme. Murakami achieved a major breakthrough and national recognition in 1987 with the publication of Norwegian Wood, a nostalgic story of loss and sexuality. It sold millions of copies among Japanese youths, making Murakami a literary superstar in his native country. The book was printed in two separate volumes, sold together, so that the number of books sold actually doubled, creating the million-copy bestseller hype. One book had a green cover, the other one red." From Wikipedia

Some key Murakami novel publication dates below.

1987     Norwegian Wood
1995     The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
1999     Sputnik Sweetheart
2002     Kafka on the Shore
2004     After Dark
2009     1Q84

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