When we read anything about the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami we find out that link between his name and the term Superflat becomes inevitable. But what does Superflat really mean? Without a doubt it is a complex concept and it is hard to understand without knowing about traditional Japanese culture.
By early 90’s and after denying Japanese contemporary art by considering it boring and snob, Murakami gets interested by mass Japanese culture and specially by Otaku subculture. Inside this “underground” culture we find artistic expressions such as manga or anime. If we consider a dialogue between popular culture and the Fine Arts, relationship between Murakami and Andy Warhol is undeniable. This is why in 1992 the arts critic Noi Sawaragi coins the term Japanese Neo Pop.
During this decade, Murakami will explore the contemporary mass culture to establish a contextual reference from which he can conceive his production. This is how Superflat concept is born, through it Murakami finds the way to unify art and traditional Japanese culture with mass culture and solves the identity problem of nowadays contemporary Japan.
Understanding Superflat concept means dealing with a double reflection that Murakami does in an attempt to rescue the basic knowledge of traditional art and culture to redefine them on a contemporary scene. He does it on one side, by defining the aesthetical aspect and on the other side the discursive aspect.
According to Murakami, in an aesthetical level, this concept has always been present throughout Japanese art history. The Japanese art historian Nobuo Tsuji, in his book “The linage of eccentricity” (1970) talks about a number of artists with expressionist trends that belong to the Edo period (1625 – 1868) and about creators of eccentric expressionist images from which Murakami himself recalls an aesthetic inheritance that gives room to contemporary visual expression forms such as manga.
This aesthetical heritage is based on a pictorial composition where bi-dimensionality of elements stands out through the absent of light and shades and the multiple point of view, so that all the elements of the artwork have the same importance. By avoiding a single point of view, the viewer is forced to make zigzag through a horizontal axis and thus Murakami intends the information about his artwork to be received layer by layer, so after a visual tour, all of this layers melt in one single superflat image. This way, Murakami establishes a new trend, formed by cartoonists, designers and artists, with postwar origins and whose ancestors can be found in Edo’s period most eccentric artists.
Even though Superflat concept is enounced on an aesthetical field, it also has a projection on other scenarios such as social, cultural or historical. According to Takashi Murakami we must understand Superflat as a way to define traditional Japanese identity from modernity. It is a term from which we can talk about the past, present and future, linking them to give unity to Japan’s historical account.
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