‘The in-your-face hyperbolical nature of Murakami’s fractally tripped out paintings, psychedelic mushroom installations, hypersexual giant cartoon figures, and kawaii (cute) figurines is at once the bait, the snappy gesture that sets the hook, and the hand that reels us in – all of us, otaku initiates an novices alike’ (D. Hebdige, ‘Flat Boy vs. Skinny: Takashi Murakami and the Battle for “Japan’’’, P. Schimmel (ed.), Murakami, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2008, p. 23)
In And then, and then, and then, and then (Super Blue), 2006, Takashi Murakami whimsically revisits the single most represented and iconic subject in his daring oeuvre, the cartoon character of Mr. DOB. With its dramatic close up on DOB’s head, the present work is directly based on And Then, and Then and Then and Then and Then (Blue), an important early painting from 1996, yet distinguishes itself with its super-slick and glossy Superflat aesthetic – the instantly recognizable contemporary art movement from Japan that gained steam under Murakami in the early 2000s. Demonstrating the characteristic ‘flatness’ and psychedelic, dazzling neon colours of Superflat, this work presents DOB to us as an otherworldly creature, smiling and winking at us with teeth and eyes glistening in the colours of psychedelic day-glo. Combining the visual language of commercial graphic design, as well as traditional Japanese planar art forms, with otherworldly, psychedelic anime or manga characters, Superflat references the language and fetishism of Pop Art, only to invert its meaning with resources from Japanese culture. As such, the present work brilliantly demonstrates Murakami’s unparalleled ability to fuse traditional artistic motifs and values of Japan with its contemporary, post-Disney, commercial existence. Influenced by Andy Warhol and Jeff Koons, Murakami plumbs history, popular culture and commerce to playfully explore with the shallowness of a globalized consumer culture.
DOB is the earliest cartoon avatar in Murakami’s pantheon of recurring motifs, and was borne in 1993 from a late-night word game with friends. As Murakami relays, ‘For one or two hours we said 'dobozite, dobozite' [a phrase from Noboru Kawasaki's 1970 manga Inakappe taisho, in which characters continually mispronounce doshite (why)]. A female friend said 'oshamanbe,' which was a popular gag, maybe a sexual reference. I wanted to create a ‘dobozite, dobozite oshamanbe show’ (T. Murakami, quoted in P. Schimmel, ‘Making Murakami’, in P. Schimmel (ed.), Murakami, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 2008, p. 65). Sidestepping American language art and conceptualism, Murakami visualized this dada-ist phrase in visual form by creating an amorphous, fantastical character that takes as its referent imaginary popular culture icons such the anime and manga figures Doraemon, Sonic the Hedgehog, or Disney’s Mickey Mouse. As he explained, ‘I realized that by lining up totally unrelated words – to be specific, the phrase dobozite, dobozite oshamanbe – you could make a ‘Jenny Holzer-style’ art … I thought, if we are going to be ashamed, it might as well be with the kind of stupid jokes I was making…In the beginning then, Mr. DOB did not arise as a character, but simply as a figure with two ears (the left one showing the letter D, the right one the letter B, and the face forming an O), DOB being the abbreviation of the joke I just mentioned’ (T. Murakami, quoted in ‘Interview with Takashi Murakami by Helen Kelmachter’, Kaikai Ki, exh. cat., Fondation Cartier pour l'art contemporain, Paris, 2002, p. 75). Though coming into existence as a visual pun, DOB has since taken on various multivalent transformations in the form of paintings, inflatables, collectibles and sculptures – at times standing in as an anonymous icon produced as a marketable art brand, a fleeting life-form encapsulating the endless desire for consumption.