Thinking Matter (Red)

Thinking Matter (Red)
signed and dated 'TAKASHI 2016' (on the reverse)
acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas laid on panel
diameter: 59 ¼in. (150.5cm.)
Executed in 2016
Galerie Perrotin, Paris.
Private Collection (acquired from the above in 2016).
Anon. sale, Christie's London, 16 October 2021, lot 138.
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner.

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Anna Touzin
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Lot Essay

Exuberant and cheerful, Murakami’s Thinking Matter (Red) teems with a mass of beaming flower heads. Rendered in acrylic and platinum leaf on canvas laid on panel, the painting bursts with vibrant colour and jubilation, and across its shimmering surface, pink and cherry-red petals bunch and blossom. Forming a spectacle of ornate pattern, the circular canvas evokes the composition of a tondo mosaic or a kaleidoscopic lens. Stretching one and a half metres in diameter, the painting immerses the viewer within its fantastical bouquet, offering a vivid sensory experience. Perhaps Murakami’s most iconic and widely-recognised motif, the flower is, according to the artist, ‘at the centre of my creative expression’ (T. Murakami quoted in, C. Pasori, ‘Takashi Murakami’s Iconic Flowers Are Becoming NFTs’, Architectural Digest, 25 March 2022). Offering Murakami the perfect vehicle to synthesise his interests in Japanese visual culture, the flowers denote a plethora of imagery—from 17th and 18th century decorative arts, to kawaii, manga, and anime film.

Known for his distinctly candy-coloured graphic idiom, Murakami pulls from a diverse repertoire of visual references in his practice. His oeuvre is broadly united under the notion of the ‘Superflat’, a term he coined to refer, in part, to the almost depthless surfaces he creates. Identifying a flattening embedded in Japan’s popular culture and history, Murakami’s work speaks to the invasion of Western culture in both its merging of traditional Japanese printing methods with the glossy, commercial language of 20th-century Pop Art—his canvases recall the iconic silkscreens made by Andy Warhol in the 1960s—and, more seriously, in the horrifying topographical flattening witnessed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. Seeking to level high and low arts, fine art and craft, Murakami veils profound histories under his bright and joyful surfaces.

Murakami first began obsessively sketching flowers while preparing for the entrance exams at Tokyo’s National University of Fine Arts. After graduation, he spent almost a decade working at a preparatory school where he taught his students to draw flowers. ‘At the beginning,’ he remembers, ‘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 ... And these days, now that I draw flowers rather frequently, that sensation has come back very vividly. I find them just as pretty, just as disturbing. At the same time there is this strength in them; it is the same image of strength I find when drawing the human face. So I thought that if the opportunity arose, I would pretty much like to make a work in which I would represent them as if in a “crowd scene,” in the manner of these scenes of moving crowds that you see in films’ (T. Murakami, quoted in Takashi Murakami Kaikai Kiki, exh. cat. Fondation Cartier/Serpentine Gallery, Paris and London 2002, p. 84). Undoubtedly his most iconic motif, here, anthropomorphic flowers multiply and propagate across the canvas surface in a mesmeric, undulating display of magenta, scarlet and rose.

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