Mr. DOB, acknowledged alter-ego and frequent subject for artist Takashi Murakami is represented here as an exquisite example of a multifaceted and versatile persona that has appeared in the artist’s paintings, sculptures, and films throughout his career. Titled And then, and then, and then and then, this large-scale acrylic on canvas work beautifully represents the complex art historical traditions at the core of Murakami’s oeuvre. In this painting, Mr. DOB embodies the "superflat" characteristics Murakami is celebrated for: images with flat, high quality, and glossy surfaces representative of Japanese art of the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries. The painting’s superflat style is then enhanced further through sanding and manipulation of the surface to break through what you see at first glance and show the layers of color, form, and expression in its composition, adding a dimension of craftsmanship that imbues this animation-styled portrait with human elements of texture and physicality.
Murakami is celebrated for his ongoing innovative reimagining of Japanese pictorial traditions merged with Western visual cultural tropes. A strong element in his work is the "Nihonga" style, which refers to methods used in Japanese painting over the last thousand-plus years, and for which he holds a PhD. Typically achieved through the use of natural pigments on paper, the product of the Nihonga style is a flat surface where layers of paint are used to create depth and smoothness, frequently applied on paper. In his career, Murakami has successfully married these traditions with both contemporary Japanese anime imagery and twentieth century Western sources as found in the work of Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein. A deliberate effort on Murakami’s part has been made to blend his own cultural traditions in a way that breaks down the distinction between high and low, and taking it further in his ongoing creative efforts to create marvelously complex works. A comparison to Walt Disney’s Mickey Mouse character is also natural in looking at And then… but what sets Murakami apart from pure conventions of illustration is the way he moves beyond the image as a brand for himself and instead has “created a constantly evolving character that embodies all complexities and nuances of his ever-changing personal and corporate identity” (MOCA catalogue ©MURAKAMI, edited by Paul Schimmel and Lisa Gabrielle Mark, “Making Murakami” by Schimmel, p. 67) Mr. DOB, in this painting, is showing us an eroded and nuanced side to his persona beyond cartoonish colors, bringing to mind questions about the juxtaposition of darkness and lightness in its portrayal and therefore bringing a dynamic energy to its overall effect.
This thought-provoking portrait of a cartoon character with layered features and a clear twinkle in his eye is truly original yet reminiscent of so many ideas prevalent in popular culture: from the afore-mentioned traditions of the popular cultures of Japan and the United States, where Murakami spent some time working on a fellowship in the 1990s before he painted this picture, to the creation of a branded persona in the Mr. DOB character. Like Andy Warhol, who lifted everyday objects and transformed them into high quality artworks, Murakami has elevated themes of animated characters and mass consumption and placed them in the realm of timeless traditions. Another important link to Warhol’s work evident here is the similarity to the elder artist’s oxidation paintings, where we worked with metallic paints and acidic surfaces to create abstract compositions and textured surfaces. In this way, Murakami’s And then… recalls both the pictorial traditions Warhol is best known for in its close-up faces and portraits of figures from popular culture while also referencing some of that artist’s later experimentations.
Ultimately, And then… serves as an exceptional example of the sophisticated ruminations the artist has built his career on, hinting not only at the quality of his work in its own right, but signaling its ability to reference popular visual culture while maintaining an engaging dialogue between Eastern and Western traditions.