Jackson Pollock has had a tremendous impact on the art world during his tumultuous 44 years of life. The youngest of five, Jackson grew up to be an influential pioneer in the abstract expressionism movement.
Jackson Pollock struggled in his life with addiction, and he had a volatile personality, coupled with a need for reclusion.
He married artist Lee Krasner in 1945, who ultimately became a massive influence on his career and his work.
Pollock died in 1956 at the age of 44 in an alcohol-related car accident. He was honored after his death with a memorial exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City and the Tate in London.
Pollock was well known for his techniques used in his most famous works. Pouring and splashing paint onto a large surface, called action painting and the drip technique, allowed for his work to be viewed from any angle.
He used his whole body to create his work and incorporated a dancing style into his work. His work was met with divided responses from the critics, which was loved by some and hated by others.
One of his paintings, called Number 17A, was sold for $200 million USD in 2016 to a private seller.
“It doesn’t make much difference how the paint is put on as long as something has been said. Technique is just a means of arriving at a statement.” – Jackson Pollock
In 1929, he studied in New York at the Student’s League under Thomas Hart Brenton.
During his time there, he worked with the regionalist and surrealist styles. He was influenced by Mexican muralist work by painters like Digo Rivera. In 1939 during a Picasso exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, it inspired Pollock to change his style.
Jackson Pollock had some notable influences in his work. Joan Miró, Pablo Picasso, and Thomas Hart Benton were among the most significant, but Ukrainian-American artist Janet Sobel was a direct influence on his technique development. He has admitted that her work made an impression on him.
Pollock used sticks, basting syringes, hardened brushes, and other random items as applicators for household paints. He suggested that his use of these paints were a natural part of his growth in a time of need, rather than using typical artist paints.
Jackson Pollock is thought to have coined the action painting style. His style allowed him to create immediate art, without regard for small details or time-consuming techniques. He broke boundaries by applying paint to the canvas from all directions.
Here is some old footage of Pollock doing painting in his “action” style.
“My painting does not come from the easel. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface. On the floor, I am more at ease. I feel nearer, more part of the painting, since this way I can walk around it, work from the four sides and literally be in the painting.
I continue to get further away from the usual painter’s tools such as easel, palette, brushes, etc. I prefer sticks, trowels, knives and dripping fluid paint or a heavy impasto with sand, broken glass or other foreign matter added.
When I am in my painting, I’m not aware of what I’m doing. It is only after a sort of ‘get acquainted’ period that I see what I have been about. I have no fear of making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through. It is only when I lose contact with the painting that the result is a mess. Otherwise, there is pure harmony, an easy give and take, and the painting comes out well.” — Jackson Pollock, My Painting, 1956
The technique he used to create his drip paintings helped steer the direction of American art in a new direction and was one of the most individual styles of the century.
His style was a large piece of the abstract expressionist pie; his creations evoked emotion, demonstrated mood, and expression while giving a sneak peek into the mind of the creator.
Another technique Pollock used was the All-over Method. There is no real emphasis in the piece, and the canvas is covered corner to corner.
When he reached a super-stardom level, he abandoned his signature style, and this era produced paintings darker in nature. They’re referred to as his black pourings, and they were not well received by the masses.
Pollock was giving his work traditional names until eventually, he decided to number them because they were more neutral than conventional titles. He didn’t want to influence his viewer’s opinion of his work in any way.
His work has been both highly criticized and adored by many. Over the years, his paintings have been the subject of various debates trying to deem his paintings as iconic or meaningless.
Jackson Pollock quickly rose to fame, but he continued to question the relevance of his artwork, and the height of his career peaked in the early 1950s.
Jackson Pollock is still known as an innovator in the art community in the abstract expressionism movement. He has inspired countless artists to abandon boundaries and take risks.
Artists like Mark Rothko, Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, and Arshile Gorky, Pollock’s style, and fame helped draw attention to these artists at this time.
He single-handedly changed the trajectory of a whole genre of art during his lifetime, and his premature death cemented his legendary status. His paintings still sell for millions of dollars, and he is still tremendously influential to artists who are still finding their signature style.
The home that Pollock shared with his wife Lee is now a museum. People travel from all over the world to see Pollock’s studio, where the floor still looks like one of his many creations. This is a place that helped bring a new style of art into popularity.
“The strangeness will wear off and I think we will discover the deeper meanings in modern art.” – Jackson Pollock
Pieter Cornelis Mondrian was a Dutch painter, became one of the first well known Abstract art painters and with his unique style influenced many modern art creators.
Piet Mondrian was born on 7th March 1872 in Amersfoort, Netherlands.
He was a second child in a family, which was filled with artists, so art became a part of Piet‘s life naturally at an early age.
His father, together with his uncle, used to paint local landscapes and even was a qualified drawing teacher. According to historians, his uncle was the person who has taught him basics of drawing.
While growing up in the Amersfoort, Mondrian saw how the whole town was changing.
A new shopping street, tramway, and railway – becoming a modern city, Amersfoort showed that the world was changing and becoming a new, industrial place with new shapes and ideas.
According to Inge Vos, who leads a guided tour about Mondrian‘s life, all these changes could have had an impact on Mondrian‘s interest in technology and change that developed his style into minimalistic and abstract.
Practicing to become an artist
In 1892 Mondrian enrolled the Academy of Fine Art in Amsterdam.
At that time, he was working as a drawing teacher, but also was working on his own style by painting traditional Dutch landscapes of fields with windmills and rivers.
He was experimenting with the primary colors by combining Post-impressionism and Fauvism painting styles.
A good example of his work could be “Evening Red Tree”, created between 1908 – 1910.
This painting combines a realistic object, a tree, and an expressive palette of colors, which was inspired by another Dutch painter – Vincent Van Gogh.
After creating this drawing, Mondrian visited an exhibition of cubists’ works in 1911 in Amsterdam.
He was so inspired by what he saw, that shortly after, he decided to move to Paris and get to know more about Cubism and meet a leader of this movement – Pablo Picasso.
In the spring of 1912, Piet painted “The Flowering Apple Tree”, which shows how Mondrian was influenced by Cubism.
This work combines his ideas of traditional painting and strict shapes of Cubism.
Thus began the beginning of his way towards becoming a painter of a totally new area of minimalism and abstract art.
When World War I started in 1914, Mondrian was visiting the Netherlands and he decided to stay till the conflict will end.
At that time he was describing himself as a Cubist, but he was still looking for an inspiration to convey his ideas and improve as an artist.
This is why he joined “De Stijl” (The Style) – a movement of the artists and architects, dedicated to the neoplasticism ideas.
Together with the movement, the other Dutch artist Theo van Doesburg released a magazine with the same name “De Stijl”, which gave a voice to the artists to spread their ideas and theories about the art.
This activity of Mondrian is considered as interesting and unique because most of the artists didn’t write about their ideas, they used to paint as the only form to express it. That said, manifestos were becoming all the rage.
On the other hand, Mondrian was becoming an abstract painter and to avoid wide interpretations of his art, it was better to talk about his ideas to the public.
France: Evolution of an artist
The end of World War I marks Mondrian’s journey to becoming one of the more unique and modern abstract art purveyors of his time.
In 1918, when Piet returned to Paris, he started to create grid-based abstract paintings, which combined clear black lines and vivid primary colors of yellow, blue and red.
Between 1920 and 1921, more and more space in his drawings was changed by involving a white color, leaving bright primary colors just as details in the whole space.
London and New York
Fear of the growing power of Fascism in Europe led Mondrian to run from Paris to London in 1938.
It was mainly because his art didn’t fit in any rules of regime, which was uprising very fast in Europe.
For the safety of expressing his ideas along with he himself, the artist left Europe in 1940, shortly after World War II had started. New York was a breath of fresh air to Mondrian.
A modern city with inspiration at every corner, fulfilled with a new culture and jazz music, which Mondrian enjoyed a lot, and the most important – freedom to create whatever he wanted and dreamed of.
Piet Mondrian was not married, but according to historians, he uses to go out to the jazz concerts a lot, where he could dance and flirt with beautiful women.
Influence of American culture: Broadway Boogie Woogie
In 1943, Piet Mondrian finished his work called “Broadway Boogie Woogie”, which was different from his abstract works.
The style of this painting was similar to previous works: he painted small and larger squares by using primary colors by invading a simple white, but the main difference was, that this works was inspired and even wanted to repeat the things of the real-life such as busy daily life in Manhattan.
Little colored squares symbolize its buildings and the whole microflora of a city.
Next to that, it looks very dynamic too, like a boogie-woogie dance style and what is also interesting, from nowadays perspective it looks like a scene from the 90‘s computer game, which is fascinating.
Piet Mondrian was highly influenced by the American culture, he enjoyed nights out in the jazz clubs, which clearly inspired him to live the life he wanted and to shout to the world about a new modern era.
Vincent van Gogh was a Dutch painter, one of the most important post-impressionists of Western art history.
Vincent was immensely talented, a talent which was always known to his loyal bother Theo. Vincent wrote to Theo at the end of his life when Vincent was institutionalized. Vincent was always down on his luck for his entire life.
Despite his mental health problems, from which he suffered for many years, Van Gogh left many inspiring works, which shaped modern art.
Not merely shaped modern art, but Vincent’s art is actually more synonymous with fine art. His work has been celebrated across the world by those who appreciate his color choices, and his way of capturing the world.
The sad irony is that Vincent, in his own time, was a “nobody”. If only Vincent could have seen into the future.
Vincent is known for cutting his own ear off, and as a poster boy for the tortured artist.
Poster boy couldn’t be more literal in this case. Vincent and his hacked off ear, have appeared now on countless posters. Many of his other posters feature views he painted while his mental state was crumbling. At that time, Vincent was institutionalized at the Saint-Paul Asylum, in St-Remy de Provence, near Arles, in Southern France.
Here’s a video tour…
In fact, part of the journey of this blog article is to trace the interesting path from a mentally unwell person, dying alone in an asylum, to being on posters in peoples’ homes and on sketchbooks around the world.
These days, everyone recognizes his brushstrokes and the way he depicts the light in the sky, pastoral scenes, and faces. It is as distinct to many of us now, just like a signature. The man behind these strokes only became known in this way after his death.
But let’s travel back to his beginning…
Vincent van Gogh was born on 30th March 1853, in Zundert, Netherlands. He grew up in a middle-class family and got interested in painting at an early age at his mother’s suggestion.
When Vincent was growing up, he was a serious and calm person and after he became an adult, he wasn‘t sure which path he should choose.
In 1869 his uncle obtained a job position for him as an art dealer at Goupil & Cie in London, England.
Vincent kept a close relationship with his brother Theo, by frequently writing letters to each other. Theo’s wife, being privy to all the correspondence between the two brothers, described Vincent’s years in London, working as an art dealer, as the best in his life.
He was good at his job and it brought him so much happiness. Unfortunately for Vincent, happiness was a fleeting state of mind as he suffered various mental health issues from an early age which always dragged him down.
Van Gogh‘s father was a minister of a Dutch Reformed Church, so religion had always played a special role in his life. At one point, as a young student, Vincent tried to pass the exam for theological studies at the University of Amsterdam. When he failed to pas the exam, Vincent was determined to seek out his path in life.
Becoming a painter
As he continued on his path of self discovery, never once did he stop sketching and painting those important images that surrounded him….still life and farm life.
While Vincent continually doubted himself as an artist, his brother Theo was the one, who encouraged Vincent to keep painting and become a professional artist.
When he moved from his parents home in Etten to the Hague, his cousin Anton Mauve gave him his first professional drawing lessons in which Van Gogh learned about perspective, and how to apply paint in watercolor and oils.
With his basic knowledge of painting, Vincent came back to his parents’ home in December 1883, where he could practice by painting ‘peasant life’.
One of his known early works is called “Potato Eaters“, which consists of dark colors, and illustrates a typical family of the 19th century, eating dinner.
In Vincent‘s letters to his brother Theo, he explained that the idea of showing peasant‘s hard work by painting their bony hands was more important than drawing everything according to art rules.
This thought of his shows that, Van Gogh from the beginning of his career decided not to be a traditional painter and create only according his own perspective and imagination.
The Path From Unknown to World Famous
Since Vincent‘s brother, Theo was living in Paris at the end of the 19th century, the painter used to spend some time there.
At that time, Paris was an important centre of art for painters in Europe. Surrounded by modernists, Vincent honed his style one step at a time. More color was introduced.
In 1888, Van Gogh moved to the city of Arles, in the south of France, where his style became more and more free and expressive.
He painted local landscapes of yellow fields and beaches, when french painter Paul Gauguin joined him. They started to live and create together.
They painted each other‘s portraits, talked about painting and art very passionately.
From 1888 until Vincent’s death in 1890, he created his best works of art. It also marks an incident, which is well known and inseparable from his personality. During one of the discussions with Gauguin, Vincent injured himself and cut his ear.
After this incident with his brother, Theo knew clearly, that Vincent struggled with mental illness and for some time he needed to break with painting, and pay attention to his health.
His Last Year
Things went downhill quickly. After the ear incident, Vincent was kept at the Psychiatric Hospital in Saint Rémy.
During this time, his brother Theo married Johanna Bonger in Amsterdam, who gave birth to a boy, who was named after his uncle Vincent.
Vincent was happy for his brother and decided to give him a painting as a gift. Unfortunately, he didn‘t know then, that his painting “Almond Blossom” would become one of his most beautiful and well-known works.
It was interesting that Van Gogh was very ill at that time, but the painting was bright and peaceful, which reflects the relationship he had with his brother Theo.
In early 1890, Theo was still working as an art seller in Paris when at the exhibition in Brussels, he brought six of Vincent‘s works, including “The Red Vineyard“, which was sold.
More importantly, that exhibition was official appreciation from people, including Paul Gauguin, who was impressed by Van Gogh‘s skills.
Regardless of this recognition and the public‘s positive reactions to his paintings, Vincent still struggled mentally, and couldn’t find peace within himself.
Vincent van Gogh shot himself on the 27th of July and died from injuries on 29th in 1890.
Morbidly ironic is that even today the gun that he used is famous…
Vincent Van Gogh was looking for his path in life, and faced many challenges. Instead of giving up, he never stopped creating beautiful art. Van Gogh’s style became well known all around the world and brought joy to the art lovers everywhere.
Vincent van Gogh’s tragic life still resonates today with many mentally ill people, regardless of how happy they seem, or how much people try to help them.
Vincent van Gogh was a passionate man and a very talented painter. He was able to capture the world in a unique way, even though his life was tragically ending.
His brother Theo died only 6 months after Vincent from syphilis.
Mark Rothko was an academic. He skipped grades, spoke four languages, and received a scholarship to Yale. He was a self-taught, diligent creator, and his ability to learn drove him to become an artist.
His skills were intrinsic, as he had very little training in the discipline. Once he realized his art could be a tool of religious and emotional expression, he embraced it.
He wanted to bring you to tears. He would even withhold selling you a painting if you didn’t respond in a genuine way, and you were only purchasing from him to be fashionable.
Seeing an art student sketch a model while visiting a friend at the Art Students League of New York was what started it all for Rothko. Something inside him immediately responded and prompted him to find a way to express himself through art.
He created 863 pieces over his career, and some of them reside in New York, Madrid, and Daugavpils.
Tragically, he died by suicide in 1970 at 66 years old.
“I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions—tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on, and the fact that a lot of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures shows that I can communicate those basic human emotions….If you…are moved only by their color relationships, then you miss the point.”
The artists he worked with and looked up to most included Max Weber, Paul Klee, and Georges Rouault.
Much of Rothko’s work came from intellectual influences. His interpretation of the work of Friedrich Nietzsche heavily influenced him.
What was happening in Nazi Germany at the time, and the aftermath took a toll on him as well. He was a dedicated socialist, so many of his works had political themes and social circumstances littered throughout.
He also drew inspiration from mythology, stating the “archaic artist … found it necessary to create a group of intermediaries, monsters, hybrids, gods, and demigods…without monsters and gods, art cannot enact a drama.”
There were three main phases in Rothko’s style of art: Realist work, Abstract Expressionism, and Colour Field.
The Realist style he adapted was early on in his career before he was a full-time artist. Surrealism and artists like Joan Miro primarily influenced him.
The way that surrealism promoted psychologically compelling ideas inspired some of his best work. His style quickly moved in a more abstract direction.
His work was entirely abstract by the 1940s, and he was part of the abstract expressionist movement, along with Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, and Willem de Kooning.
While there weren’t many similarities between these artists, their goals of creating pieces that expressed raw emotion and their free spirits. They preferred to avoid the label “abstract expressionism,” because they wanted their work to speak for itself.
“I do not believe that there was ever a question of being abstract or representational. It is really a matter of ending this silence and solitude, of breathing, and stretching one’s arms again, transcendental experiences became possible.” – Mark Rothko
Ultimately becoming his signature style, his colour field pieces are his most well-known. He didn’t use aggressive techniques to portray his concepts but was more deliberate and contemplative in his application of the colours in his work.
Comprised of large blocks of colour, typically horizontal rectangles, he aimed to display the rawness of human emotion on the canvas.
His peers and friends weren’t sold on the methods of his work, and they expected the general public and critics to reject them, but that couldn’t be further from what really happened.
The underlying concepts were well-received because his techniques were organic, emotional, and luminescent.
His genius punctured the viewer right in their heart, and this would be the medium he would use to create his art until he passed.
“I would like to say to those who think of my pictures as serene, whether in friendship or mere observation, that I have imprisoned the most utter violence in every inch of their surface.” ― Mark Rothko
His most famous works are the Scenes in the Subway series, The Seagram’s Murals, and The Rothko Chapel.
His Influence and Legacy
Rothko’s final wishes were that his work would be left to his foundation. He wanted to have a school created as a place for new artists to learn and be inspired and encouraged.
Unfortunately, there was a lot of drama surrounding the provisions in his will, and greed came into play by his executors. Eventually, the rights were rightfully turned over to his son and daughter.
The impression he left on the world of art is a profound one.
He avidly worked against the “rules” of art and became a visionary. He continues to inspire up-and-coming artists from all over the world, and his impact is still lingering.
He was a risk-taker and was confident in his convictions, becoming a notable inspiration for generations to come. His work is still in museums across the globe today, and he is the face of modern art and walking your own path.
“When I was a younger man, art was a lonely thing. No galleries, no collectors, no critics, no money. Yet, it was a golden age, for we all had nothing to lose and a vision to gain.
He continues, “Today it is not quite the same. It is a time of tons of verbiage, activity, consumption. Which condition is better for the world at large I shall not venture to discuss.
But I do know that many of those who are driven to this life are desperately searching for those pockets of silence where we can root and grow. We must all hope we find them.” ― Mark Rothko
The abstract expressionism art form sprung onto the scene in the 1940s and 1950s by some influential artists. Still, this genre can be traced back to having been popular for over a century.
The art form is denoted by its colourful spontaneity, gestural strokes and marks, and the ability to evoke emotion.
The types of abstract expressionism include action painting and colour field painting.
Spontaneous brush strokes and gestures characterize action painting, and colour field painting is characterized by artists working with a large area of a single colour.
Here are some of the best artists of the abstract expressionism art genre.
Jackson Pollock is the poster child for the Abstract expressionist movement in the 1940s and 1950s. He was well known for his drip paintings, and they were popular because of the unmatched creativity at the time.
His process coined the action painting title, and he achieved a level of fame that was comparable to what Andy Warhol would achieve decades later.
Pollock put his canvas on the floor, pouring paint, impulsively brushing and creating his masterpieces. Pollock was a leader in the genre, and he would go on to influence future artists in their work.
“The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.”
Here is an interesting video documentary on Jackson Pollock.
Joan Mitchell was part of the new wave of abstract expressionists who took the genre and softened it, giving it a lyrical and emotional direction.
Another action painter, she used her gestures to become a massive part of the American movement, even though she mostly worked and lived in France.
She was inspired by Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne. She is one of the genre and eras few female creators, and she received massive critical acclaim and public recognition.
“My paintings are titled after they are finished. I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me – and remembered feelings of them, which, of course, become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would more like to paint what it leaves with me.”
Watch this documentary, “Lady Painter”, about Joan Mitchell.
Clyfford Still was lesser known than his New York School peers, but he was a pioneer in the genre, creating a style of work that had little to no clear concept or subject matter.
He worked in the colour field painting form, and the common theme in his work is the struggle between nature and the human spirit.
He was a bit controversial, being labelled as a complicated character to deal with in the art community, as he turned his back on the New York art scene.
“These are not paintings in the usual sense; they are life and death merging in fearful union. As for me, they kindle a fire; through them, I breathe again, hold a golden cord, find my own revelation.”
Jacques Rosas is a famous artist who works in many different genres, including abstract expressionism, pop art and street art.
He has become popular because of his work being placed in TV shows and films, so it reaches millions of viewers on a weekly basis.
He has been commissioned by many celebrities and continues to be a force in the genre.
Helen Frankenthaler was a leading contributor to postwar American art. Her work has spanned and been exhibited for over six decades, and she continued to grow and adapt to an ever-changing art form.
She worked with the colour fielding technique, and she was inspired by Hans Hofmann, Greenberg, and Jackson Pollock’s work.
Her work has been studied and has been part of many retrospective exhibitions, and it is critically acclaimed and award-winning.
“One really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it. It looks as if it were born in a minute.”
Here is a video documentary featuring Helen Frankenthaler from 1993 that you might like to watch.
Willem de Kooning
One of the most well known and esteemed abstract expressionists, Willem de Kooning adopted the abstract technique while never letting go of the human form in his work.
He admired Rembrandt, Rubens, and Ingres, but was also inspired by Picasso and Matisse.
He embodied the reputation of an alcoholic, troubled painter, which ended up costing him much of his personal life and health.
“Art should not have to be a certain way. It is no use worrying about being related to something it is impossible not to be related to.”
Watch this documentary called “Willem de Kooning: A Way of Living” to find out more about the artist.
Around the early 1910s, Vasily Kandinsky was one of the first abstract expressionists. Truly abstract artwork, he stated, should be “art independent of one’s observations of the external world.”
He believed and taught that colour could be separated from any external references for his artwork purposes.
“Colour is a means of exerting direct influence on the soul.”
Piet Mondrian’s name is closely connected to Modern Art. His geometric squares of bright, primary colours with thick, black borders are famously known and regarded in the community.
He started his art career heavily influenced by Seurat and Van Gogh. Still, he eventually settled into his unique style.
The goal of his work was to attain a spiritual connection with the divine, which forced it to become increasingly abstract.
“Abstract art is not the creation of another reality but the true vision of reality.”
Here is a cool video about Piet Mondrian called “A Life in 10 Snippets”. Worth a watch!
Along with Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko is one of the most famous abstract expressionists.
His style is much different than his peers, as he diffused paint over his canvas, versus the gestural brushstrokes that the genre mainly demonstrated.
His exemplary work consists of large blobs of paint stacked over each other and painted backdrops, with a bright contrast in colour. His goal was to evoke a range of emotions from his admirers.
“It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academic painting. However, there is no such thing as good painting about nothing.”
I recommend this documentary called “The Case For Mark Rothko” to learn more about the artist.
Alexej von Jawlensky is a Russian Expressionist who joined German avant-garde during the early 20th century by mostly creating mesmerizing portraits.
Alexej von Jawlensky was born on 13 March 1864 in Torzhok, Russia. His family moved to Moscow when he was ten years old and after he enlisted in military training, he had visited the Moscow World Exposition and got interested in painting.
That interest quickly began to grow and Alexej started to study painting in St. Petersburg. He had a sociable character, which helped him to get into touch with famous Russian painter Ilja Rapin and later with an older and richer artist Marianne von Werefkin, who made a huge impact in his later life.
Munich – a magnet for artists
Munich was very popular for artists at that time when Alexej moved in in 1896 together with his supporter Marianne von Werefkin, who was his main sponsor to create by providing him financial and emotional support for many years.
He started to study there in the art school by famous Slovene realist painter Anton Ažbe. After much studying, he moved from an academic painter to an innovative colorist.
During his years in Munich, Jawlensky has developed his painting style and created many mesmerizing works. Next to his artistic work, he also participated as a social and active member of the German art community.
Jawlensky together with Wassily Kandinsky and Gabriele Münter created various groups of artists such as the Neue Künstlervereinigung München and the Blaue Reiter who promoted art styles, prevailed in Europe at that time.
Jawlensky‘s private life was complicated (art historians have different opinions about his relationship with Marianne von Werefkin), but in 1922 he married Werefkin‘s maid Helene Nesnakomoff with whom he already had a son Andreas.
While creating his style, Alexej was influenced by Russian religious art especially by Russian icons, which reminded him of his childhood in Russia.
A huge impact for him as an artist had other painters like a Fauve style painters Henri Matisse and Kees van Dongen. Their works gave him an inspiration about expressing emotions by using thick strokes of vivid colors.
Since Jawlensky painted mostly portraits, it was very important for him to analyze and convey his imagination of the human‘s heads shapes and forms.
On one of the most well known Jawlensky‘s works called “Blue cap“, all dominant colors are very vivid: red woman‘s blouse with the yellow dots, unnaturally bright pink skin, green and red background and blue hat – all colors merge altogether which shows a strong mood of the work.
The manner to highlight the edges of the person‘s face and body by using a dark blue or black brush came from another expressionist Kees van Dongen who used it in his works in a more subtle way.
This portrait of a woman was painted around 1912, just before the First World War and was influenced by Fauve art, but also at the same time trying the new style Abstractionism, which started to be more and more popular in Europe.
This portrait by Jawlensky is unique because of its painting style collected and created from all the inspiration he could have got at that time. It was sold for 6 million dollars and now belongs to a private collection.
During his active working years, Alexej was following various art styles, including Cubism.
In his several series of paintings called “Abstract Heads”, which were created between 1918 and 1935, he painted abstract faces that combined horizontal and vertical lines and brightly painted blocks of pigment.
The viewer can see the influence of Cubism in these works. For creating these type of artworks, Jawlensky was highly interested in Indian philosophy, especially Indian yogis, which inspired him to paint by forgetting any kind of individualism and focusing on the basic elements which make these paintings look organic and unique.
Alexej von Jawlensky died in 1941 when he was 77 years old. He is buried in the Russian Orthodox cemetery in Wiesbaden, Germany. Most of his works are kept at the Museum Wiesbaden, others are in other german museums.
In 2019 his works were exhibited in Gemeentemuseum, the Hague in the Netherlands and also the special exhibition, together with works of Marianne von Werefkin, called “Lebensmenschen” was opened on 22nd October 2019 in Lenbachhaus, Munich, Germany where both artists spent years together and will last until 16th of February 2020.
Painting is not for me either decorative amusement, or the plastic invention of felt reality; it must be every time: invention, discovery, revelation. – M. Ernst
Dadaism was a movement of the grotesque, absurdity, and an expression of the modern world meaninglessness. Not only paintings, sculptures, and poems artworks, but the life of artists was an artwork itself.
Max Ernst’s life wasn’t an exception.
Maximilian Maria Ernst was born in 1891 in Bruhl, Germany as the third of nine children in a strict middle-class Catholic family. His parents were devoted Christians who were raising their children to be religious, God-fearing and capable individuals.
His father was an amateur painter and he introduced painting to Max at an early age, which will further determine his life path.
Philosophy, psychology, and psychiatry were areas that first interested him, so he went to study it at the University of Bonn.
He was visiting asylums and got fascinated with the artwork of mentally ill people. But he abandoned this studies because he realized that he had more interests in the arts, claiming that his interests included anything connected to painting.
Love for Painting
His love for painting was the main reason he decided to dedicate his life to it.
In the earliest days of his painting career, he met works of the most famous artists of all time, such as Van Gogh, Gauguin, Monet, Cezzane and Picasso, who influenced Ernst’s further work.
His favorite themes were fantasy and dreams, and he adopted an ironic style that juxtaposed grotesque elements alongside Cubist and Expressionist motifs.
War and Dada
After finishing his studies, Ernst was forced to join the German Army in World War I as a part of the artillery unit, so he was directly exposed to the drama of warfare.
The war was ruinous for this young soldier, but inspiring for him as an artist. He became highly critical of western culture and these charged emotions directly fed into his vision of the world as irrational – an idea that became the basis of his artwork.
Memories of the war and his childhood helped him create absurd, but interesting scenes in his artworks. In 1918, after returning from the war, he took painting seriously.
With Jean Arp, a poet and an artist whom he met before having to go to war, he formed a group of Dada artists in Cologne.
They edited journals and created a scandal by organizing a Dada exhibit in a public restroom. More important are his collages and photomontages he started making in 1919.
His collages represent an important phase of Dadaist art.
He was using different materials in creating collages, such as illustrated catalogs, photographs of various animals, drawings etc, which resulted in creating somewhat futuristic images.
One of these compositions is Here everything is still floating (1920), a startlingly illogical composition made of cutout photographs of insects, fish and anatomical drawings ingeniously arranged to suggest the multiple identities of the things represented.
He approached descriptive expression with his collages. Besides that, a three-dimensional spatial perspective and dreaming illusionism of Giorgio de Chirico heavily influenced his work.
Adjustment to his take on Chirico’s style moved him away from Arp’s plain drawings and provided a transition that later became an illusionist branch of surrealist painting.
Arp’s and Ernst’s attempts to reach “beyond painting” – Arp with his low, painted and machine-cut reliefs, and Ernst with his collages – don’t represent an attempt of anti-art, as much as a response to feeling that the pre-war art was too hermetic and aesthetic.
Their work made a base for painting-poetry that lived through Dadaism and inspired quarter century of Surrealism.
Ernst’s unique masterpieces enabled him to create his own world of dreams and fantasy, which helped him to heal his personal issues and trauma.
In the 1920s, Surrealism occurred.
In 1922, Ernst moved to Paris where he became a founding member of the Surrealists, the group that gathered artists and writers whose work outgrew from the unconscious.
In 1923, Ernst finished his Men Shall Know Nothing of This, known as the first surrealist painting.
He was one of the first artists to apply The Interpretation of Dreams by Freud to investigate his deep psyche to explore the source of his own creativity.
In 1929, he started using techniques of decalcomania – transferring paint from one surface to another by pressing the two surfaces together, and frottage – pencil rubbings of the things such as wood grain, fabric or leaves, to stimulate the flow of imagery from his unconscious mind.
These techniques resulted with the accidental patterns and textures that made the artist contemplating free association to suggest images he subsequently used in a series of drawings (Histoire naturelle, 1926) as well in many paintings such as The Great Forest (1927) and The Temptation of St. Anthony (1945).
Ernst gained quite a reputation despite his strange style.
Also in 1929, he turned to collage again and created The Woman with 100 heads, which represents his first collage novel.
Not long after, he created the collage novels A Little Girl Dreams of Taking the Veil (1930) and A Week of Kindness (1934).
After 1934, his attention was oriented towards sculpture, where he was using improvised techniques just as he did in painting.
For example, Oedipus II (1934) was cast from a stack of precariously balanced wooden pails to form a belligerent-looking phallic image.
Moving to the United States
At the beginning of World War II, Ernst moved to the United States. There he joined his third wife Peggy Guggenheim, who helped him to break through American art scene, and his son, American painter Jimmy Ernst.
While living there, he concentrated on sculptures such as The King Playing with the Queen (1944), which shows the influence that African culture made on him.
He helped to form American art during the middle of the twentieth century, thanks to his ingenious and extraordinary ideas that were different from those of other artists of that time.
Ernst’s obvious denial of conventional styles and imageries in painting was what fascinated American artists.
New and innovative ways of painting interested young American artists, so this unique style of Ernst gained the attention of painters who became familiar with his work.
In his later years, he divorced Guggenheim and married Dorothea Tanning, a surrealist painter who lived in Sedona, Arizona.
They were traveling to various places to learn more about different art techniques. The couple settled in France in 1953. A year after, Ernst received the Grand Prize at the Venice Biennale, a prestigious awards contest.
Max Ernst died in 1976, in Paris, only a day before his 85th birthday. His legacy lived on as he was inspiring artists throughout the world.
It can be seen that embedded in the apparently vivid Superflat works, with their total absence of depth, are a variety of cultural, political, social, and historical contexts concerning the relationships between high art and subculture, between Japan and America, between contemporary art and capitalism. If we place these contexts within brackets and pretend to ignore them, the strength of the high quality, super flat surface is most apparent, but the moment we summon up these contexts, the picture starts to hint at endless meanings. Smoothness and complication, beauty and high-functionality, Murakami imbues his paintings with unparalleled structure, a structure that resembles an incredibly carefully planned, highly-functional cyborg.
Superflat was launched in Tokyo, 2000, through the Superflat exhibition which was designed to travel globally. An elaborate, bilingual catalogue Super Flat was produced to accompany the exhibition which included Murakami’s “A Theory of Super Flat Japanese Art”.
It was the first in a trilogy of exhibitions curated by Murakami. According to the artist, the trilogy of Superflat exhibitions were constructed to provide a cultural and historical context for the new form of Superflat art that he was proposing, and which was specifically exported for Western audiences.
The theory of Super Flat art is a manifesto for Murakami’s concept of a new form of art emerging from the creative expressions produced in Manga (graphic novels), video games, anime (Japanese animation), fashion and graphic design.
In this theory Murakami identifies Superflat as a genealogy of aesthetics tendency in which contemporary Japanese culture has inherited a spirit of artistic innovation and creativity from the Edo period, 1600-1867.
The concept of a Superflat aesthetics lineage draws significantly on Japanese art historian Tsuji Nobuo’s Kisō no Keifu (Lineage of Eccentrics, 1970).
Nobuo identified a common disposition among six Edo artists to ‘the production of eccentric and fantastic images’, and also identified a tendency toward playfulness and eccentricity in contemporary forms of manga and anime.
Murakami extends Nobuo’s argument by presenting Superflat as an aesthetics that reinforces the two-dimensionality on the surface, a featurewhich he also recognizes in the paintings of the Edo Eccentrics (these include Iwasa Matabei, Kanō Sansetsu, Itō Jakuchū, Soga Shohaku, Nagasawa Rosetsu and Utagawa Kuniyoshi) and anime texts such as Galaxy Express 999.
The Superflat planar emphasis is achieved through a composition structure that directs the viewer’s gaze across the surface of the painting, rather than drawing it in through the conventions of Western linear perspective.
In addition, Superflat can also be used to describe the visual style of Murakami’s works.In his own sculptures, paintings and other assorted productions Murakami appropriated the kawaii character icons and two-dimensional aesthetics of manga and anime and combines these with compositions and techniques derived from the traditions of Japanese painting.
Modern Art? No, Modern Edo.
By connecting Edo forms of Japanese painting with the contemporary commercial expressions emerging in manga, anime, fashion, video-games and graphic design, Murakami presents Superflat as a merging of art and popular culture and a questioning of the culturally and sociallyconstructed definition of art, especially in Japan.
In his own work, the artist reinforcesthis merging of art and commercial culture by producing sculptures, paintings, handbags, snack toys, key-chains, t-shirts, buttons, stickers and bandanas which are all based on the same Superflat iconography.
Murakami presents the production of his art as a business strategy and challenges the conventional avenues for the exhibition of art Japan.
Therefore, Superflat theory is also driven by a more politicized commentary on the modern institutions of bijutsu (fine art) in Japan.
Murakami rejects the modern institutions of kindai bijutsu (modern art) which he considers to be an incomplete importation of Western concepts and institutions of art since their adoption in the Meji period (1868-1912) as part of the process of modernization and westernization.
To Murakami, the innovation and originality of contemporary forms of commercial culture represents a continuation of the innovations introduced by the premodern eccentric artists.
Murakami argues that these qualities of creative invention and avant-garde spirit were excluded from the practices and institutions of bijutsu, and that it is the texts and practices of contemporary consumer culture that offer the re-emergence of what he considers to be authentic and original Japanese expression.
The concept of revolutionizing art was drawn from Murakami’s early aim to merge Pop Art with otaku production-consumption practices in order to create a new form of popular art, POKU.
Otaku refers to groups of manga and anime fun communities who are conventionally described as ‘hard-core’ and are prevalent throughout Japan.
While the aim of POKU was to market art in otaku cultural institutions, Murakami declared this project a failure and decided to focus on transforming the consumption of art in Japan and to bring a new form of art in Japan, although one that was still influenced by otaku culture, to Western art world.
Thus POKU was superseded by Superflat’s intention to harness the creative expressions being generated in the production-consumption of commercial culture more generally.
A critical component of this strategy is Murakami’s art studio/factory Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd., formerly known as Hiropon Factory; the studio produces Murakami’s works and associated products which are soldthrough the studio website and stores, but also provides exhibition opportunities for emerging artists.
Western Invasion or Eastern Affirmation?
However, Murakami’s concept of Superflat art, and the artworks that represent it, attracted significant media and gallery attention leading to an important turning point in Murakami’s profile in Western contemporary art worlds.
The subsidiary politic in Superflat is the affirmation of its Japanese identity in an almost recalcitrant swipe at Western art. Murakami presents it as a type of post-Pop, an indigenous expression of Pop Art.
At the same time, Murakami acknowledges the transformations of Superflat expression under the influences of Western culture.
This position is even more complex because Murakami also explicitly emphasizes his strategy to successfully sell work in the United States and European art markets- around 70% of his paintings and sculptures are sold in these markets.
Therefore while a key aspect of his project is to affirm the Japanese identity of Superflat art, it is also self-consciously presented in the codes of Westernart worlds and art markets.
At the same time, Murakami is using Western art markets, and the popular appeal of Japanese consumer culture both in and outside Japan, in order to propose alternatives to the institutions and practices of bijutsu in Japan.
It is this tension and dialogue between the commodification of Superflat and the simultaneous challenge to existing forms of art production-consumption, through the merging of art and commercial culture, which makes the analysis of Superflat complex.
This complexity arises because the meanings of commodity, art and cultural identity are themselves contested concepts in contemporary culture, especially in the context of globalization.
Contemporary culture can be defined by the multidimensional relations that constitute the economic, cultural and political processes of contemporary globalizations.
Art, as a central mode of human ‘expressivity’, defines and shapes culture. As the interaction between social groups has become increasingly globalized, the meaning-making and expressivities associated with art have also become engaged through national and transnational gradients.
Murakami’s work and Superflat theory are significant as they expose the key debates in contemporary culture regarding the relationship between art and commodity which are part of broader debates on the meaning of art in relation to consumer capitalism and the production of art in the processes of contemporary globalization.
The formation of identity and expressive modes within a national genealogy becomes particularly problematic within a globalizing cultural sphere.
The articulation of a particular kind of ‘national identity’ in Murakami’s work problematizes the global-local compound and a cognition which celebrates hybridity and postmodern open identities.
The analysis of the concept and expression of Superflat demonstrates the potential for diverse interpretations which challenge and move away from Murakami’s own presentation and understanding.
Particularly, Murakami’s works and Superflat can be understood as expressions of the complex relations between cultural identity, art and commodity in the contemporary cultural context in which they are produced-consumed.
The Japanese identity of Superflat is pretty complicated. Superflat echoes conventional constructions of a Japan/West binary which obscures the connections and power relation in this structure.
Secondly, while Murakami acknowledges the Western influences on the Superflat aesthetics, his simultaneous transposing of this hybrid identity into a reinforcement of a Japanese identity, characterized by cultural assimilation and hybridization, reinforces a unified national-cultural identity.
This identity is supported by the references between Superflat and already existing discursive constructions of Japanese culture and as flat.
Also, Superflat is part of ongoing trade relations and cross-fertilizations of visual culture forms between Japan and the West since the late nineteenth century.
These complex relationships demonstrate the need to locate Superflat in a global context and to critically interrogate Murakami’s concept and aesthetics.
Murakami’s work and Superflat art can be understood to articulate a postmodern aesthetics and conceptualization of art; the flattening of the distinction between commercial commodities and art and expressing the hybridizing effects of global cultural interactions.
The Superflat is terrain of contestation, making both the absence of hierarchical divisions between art and commercial culture and the presenceof multiple structures demarcating the various social, political, cultural and historical contexts in which Superflat engages as it circulates globally.
This fluidity is often negated by the responses to Murakami’s work illustrated in the introductory quotes, which continue to affirm an art/commodity distinction: Murakami’s work is either defended as an aesthetic critique of the socio-cultural condition of commercial consumption or decried as a celebration of the lack of distinction between commercial production and art.
This simple dualism limits the understanding of Superflat and reveals the persistence, through debates, of the concepts autonomy, authenticity and aesthetic value in relation to definition ofcultural identity and art.
Sava Šumanović’s life was brilliant, joyless, inspiring, sad, noble, tragic – all at once.
This artist was born in 1896 in Vinkovci (then in Austro-Hungary) as an only child in a respectable and wealthy family. When he was four years old, the family moved to Šid, a small town in West Serbia.
Sava’s father wanted for his only son to be a lawyer, but young Sava had different wishes. He had been fascinated by art since his school days. So, he resisted his father’s wish and went to Art Academy in Zagreb, instead of Law School.
He organized his first exhibition in 1918, at the very end of the studies. He earned great reviews and his popularity and influence had been gradually increasing since that moment. Symbolism and secession made a great impact on these paintings.
In 1920, he went to Paris, which is one of the most important points in his career. He spent six months there, painting and studying from French painter and teacher Andre Lhote, a cubist.
Lothe made a great impression on Sava, a young rising painter, who started to express himself through cubism and constructivism, just like his mentor.
Thanks to that, Šumanović became a pioneer of modernism in Serbian, Yugoslav painting. But introducing the Yugoslav audience to modernism wasn’t easy.
Namely, after returning from France, he organized an exhibition in Zagreb, but was deeply disappointed for criticisms being highly negative.
In his opinion, the problem for this outcome was the unadaptable Zagreb audience that wasn’t ready for anything new. He wasn’t an exception. He was rejected because he brought something new.
After coming back to Serbia, he started painting females and landscapes from around Šid. These motifs will dominate his paintings till the very end of his creation.
In 1925, he went to Paris one more time, but this time it wasn’t so bright and satisfying as it was when he first went there. He made some of his most famous paintings then – Drunken boat, inspired by famous Arthur Rimbaud’s poem with the same title, and Breakfast on Grass.
Struggle and Joy
Also, he participated in The Salon d’Automne (1926). Despite all that, he was coming across divided reviews, and those negative ones had a negative influence on his mental health.
His entire life in Paris in 1925 was a fierce struggle in himself, fighting against regret, against sentimentalism. Therefore, he painted pictures in a bright tone with a joyful coloration.
But it didn’t help – the real life was too damned, ugly and sad. Difficult working conditions, unsatisfying criticisms, a humiliating situation with a visa and a series of personal events made him psychically exhausted.
In order to get some rest, the painter returned to his homeland. In September 1928, he organized an exhibition in Belgrade which met excellent reception with the audience.
Later that year he went to Paris, again. It was his last stay in The City of Light. Paintings Red carpet, Lying female act, Luxembourg park in Paris… But his health condition soon got worse, and in 1930 he came back to Belgrade for treatment.
Two years after rest cure he returned to beloved Šid, this time for forever.
Knowledge and Experience
That decade (1932 – 1942 after he came home till his tragic death) was the most active period of his artistic creation. This period is considered the most important phase of his work and is called Šid’s phase.
Sava came back as a mature artist, full of knowledge and experience. He had ideal working conditions there. He was completely dedicated to painting. He had realized that he could fulfill his highest aim, which was to come up with his own style.
He didn’t want to be a Cubist, or Symbolist, or Impressionist, or anything else, but himself. And he succeeded it, he named his style as I can and ken.
This painter spent a lot of time in nature, enjoying Srem landscape and finding inspiration and motifs for his future paintings.
He was always going for a walk at the same time, wearing a white suit and carrying an umbrella. He was carrying his umbrella even in Summer, to protect the white suit from mulberry stains.
During this decade, Šumanović painted over 600 paintings. The most significant are two cycles – Šidijanke (which means women from Šid) and Grape harvesters.
The first cycle was completely presented at the exhibition in Belgrade in 1939. Grape harvesters is considered the beginning of a new cycle that was interrupted by the tragic death of the painter.
He was murdered during World War II. He had just finished Grape harvesters when pro-fascist collaborators came and took him in the dawn, 28 August 1942.
Two days later, 30 August, Sava Šumanović and 120 people from Šid, were unknowingly convicted, tortured and shot and then buried in mass grave in Sremska Mitrovica.
His mother succeeded to save his paintings during the war.
She also succeeded in creating a gallery in one of the family houses and gave the works of her son to Šid town. Gallery Sava Šumanović was founded in 1952 and Savas’s paintings still live there.
Here is a video that talks about Sava Šumanović. Unfortunately, it is not in English.
“In Japan, the line (between high and low) is less defined, both by the culture and by the post-war economic situation. Japanese people accept that art and commerce will be blended; and in fact, they are surprised by the rigid and pretentious Western hierarchy of ‘’high art’’. In the West, it certainly is dangerous to blend the two because people will throw all sorts of stones. But, that’s okay- I’m ready with my hard hat.” – Takashi Murakami
Murakami’s Early Life and Intro to Okatu
Born in Tokyo, Japan, in 1962, Takashi Murakami grew up in a household that placed a high value on art. His mother, who designed textiles and studies needlepoint, had a huge influence on his interest in the visual arts.
Equally, the omnipresence of devastation and the presence of the United States in Japan after the WWII had a tremendous influence on Murakami’s artistic evolution.
During his childhood, Japan created a national identity that revived traditional Japanese culture, and put huge pressure on its workforce to produce in order to compete with the West, both culturally and economically.
The hybrid emphasis on traditional Japanese culture and Western influences was reflected in Murakami’ childhood activities; he developed an early appreciation of both modern European art and traditional Japanese culture.
Murakami engagement with the Japanese subculture of otaku – a large group of fanatical geeks obsessed with the fantasy worlds depicted in manga, comic books, and in anime, animated cartoons, and the concept of kawaii is pretty evident during his formative ages.
As a young artist Murakami immersed himself in this world and began to draw stylistic inspiration from it and presents to viewers from a distanced and cynical stance.
Early 1980’s to 1990’s Work
In the early 1980s, Murakami enrolled in Nihonga, a nineteenth century style of Japanese paintingthat combines Japanese subject matter with European painting technique at Tokyo National University of Fine Art and Music, where he stayed for master’s and doctoral degree (1988,1993).
Murakami’s early works reflect the realities with which he had grown up, exploring the post-war relationship between United States and Japan (Polyrhythm, 1991, Sea Breeze. 1992.)
These works demonstrate his early development of a playful and seemingly light style that refers to a more cynical stance.
In 1994, Takashi Murakami traveled to New York to participate in P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center’s International Studio Program on a fellowship from the ACC (Asian Cultural Council).
In New York, he was surrounded by the pressures of the gallery system and American art market.
In order to succeed in this world, he realized that he had to abandon his overly-intellectual Japanese preoccupations and to present a more simplified brand of himself and his art as typical Japanese. This was a radical breaking point for his career.
In this regard, he decided to re-engage with his Japanese identity and strengthen his work’s engagement with both the pop culture forms of manga and anime and the high art form of nihonga.
The Arrival of Mr. DOB
At that time, Murakami came up with the figure of Mr. DOB, a mouse-like creature with a round head and large, circular ears, based on a cartoon character originally created in Hong Kong.
Mr. DOB would go on to become the artist’s signature character across his diverse array of artistic media.
In the center of the triptych named 727 (1996) is Murakami’s avatar Mr DOB.
The maniacal smile of Mr DOB can be seen as Murakami’s laughing stance towards the art world, but also toward the West.
The title 727 is a reference to the Boeing American airplanes that flew over his childhood home, as a direct reference to the U.S. presence in post-war Japan; Murakami is so keen to both critique and explore in his art.
The stylized wave upon which Mr DOB sits is a reference to the 19th-century Japanese woodblock artist Hokusai, who was influential for future Japanese artists and manga comics alike due to his flattened compositions and bold colors.
The abstract background is reminiscent of a Japanese folding screen done in the nihonga style.
Beginning in the mid-1990s, Murakami’s works were featured in solo exhibit at museums, galleries throughout Japan, United States and Europe.
Art critics were unsure what to make of these unusual creations; they are highly original, beautifully executed, visually appealing- but can they be considered fine art?
Some dismissed Murakami’s work, suggesting that they are lovely, but lack substance, but many others have applaudedMurakami’s adventurous approach, especially his ability to bridge the worlds of high and low art and to create works that appeal to a broader audience than most fine art.
In 1996, in order to produce his otaku– inspired sculpture, Murakami founded the Hiropon Factory, modelled on both Andy Warhol’s Factory, as well as on traditional Japanese art workshops- such as the ones that produced the woodblock prints from the Edo period.
At Hiropon Factory assistants trained in various areas of expertise collaborate under the artist’s supervision for large-scale, mass-market projects. In this period, the artist went on design a series of major sculptures inspired by otaku subculture including Miss ko² (1996-1997), Hiropon (1997), and My Lonesome Cowboy (1998).
Hiropon (1997) is a part of Murakami’s anime-inspired characters, which also include a masturbating sculpture of boy named My Lonesome Cowboy.
The title itself alludes to the darker aspects of Japanese culture- hiropon is Japanese slang for the narcotic-crystal methamphetamine. This literal connection to the drug culture reveals artist’s examination of otaku subculture as an illicit form of entertainment.
This sexualized sculpture, with voluminous pink pig-tails and her tiny waist, has breasts that are so large that they burst out of her bikini top to spray a jet-stream of milk that encircles her figure.
Combining a shocking perversion and feminine cuteness this sculpture reflects Murakami’s deep engagement with otaku subculture and its pornographic underbelly known as ‘loli-com’, Lolita Complex, in which girlhood and innocence are paradoxically prized, as well as fetishized.
Kaikai Kiki Co.
In 2001, the Hiropon Factory evolved into Kaikai Kiki Co., a highly organized corporation settled in Tokyo and New York. Besides marketing and producing Murakami’s work, the corporation promotes new artists, organizes collaborative projects with individuals and companies in music, fashion and entertainment, operates art fairs, and develops animated films and videos.
The company represents a shift in the production of modern artwork where fine art and commerce are integrated, and where the artist’s physical hand in the making of the artwork no longer determines the financial value, but rather the symbolic value is created through the artist’s association with the art-commodities produced in his business-oriented factory.
In 2000, Murakami presented the theory of Superflat. The name refers both to the merging of art and commerce and the flattened compositions that lacked one point perspective of historical Japanese artistic movements, Nihonga, for instance.
In his historic essay ‘A Theory of Super Flat Japanese Art’ he articulates desire to produce a uniquely Japanese art form that is directly related to the shadow cast by Japan’s trauma after the humiliating defeat of WWII.
Murakami explains the concept of superflatness as an original concept of Japanese, which has been completely westernized.
This theory swept across the contemporary art world, becoming a landmark movement in contemporary Japanese art, the latest major style to reach international recognition in the art-world, since the 1950s Japanese Gutai group.
Despite his art-historical and culturally-rich referents in his manifestos, art, essays, people are often immediately drawn to his work for its seeming superficiality and dazzling explosion of colors and characters.
Takashi Murakami’s projects have explored unconventional artistic media including music, fashion, public installations, films, animation. The shift between roles and disciplines reveals his ambition of redefining what a postmodern artist can be.
In the fall of 2003, Murakami installed a public art display called Reversed Double Helix at the Rockefeller Center plaza in Midtown Manhattan.
The display featured two thirty-three-foot balloons, a number of jewel-colored mushroom sculptures that doubled as seats for visitors, and a twenty-three-foot tall sculpture of Murakami’s character Mr Pointy.
Sporting a large round head that comes to a point, multiple arms, and a brightly colored body, Mr. Pointy was described as the whimsical love child of Hello Kitty, a Buddha, and a portabello mushroom.
Two years earlier Murakami had startled and delighted commuters in Vanderbilt Hall, part of New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, with Wink (2001), a display of mushroom sculptures and huge helium-filled balloons hovering thirty feet off the floor- all of which were decorated with brightly colored eyes of all shapes and sizes as well as spirals and other designs.
This installation creates a paradoxical and ironic co-existence of the Japanese Neo-Pop and the formal elegance of the classical Beaux-Arts architecture of Grand Central Terminal.
Roberta Smith, an art critic, argues against this public project, suggesting that it was compromised by its inappropriate setting, a vast former waiting room bereft of its wood benches, which felt all wrong for contemporary art. Anyway, this strange cultural mash-up is exactly what Murakami intends.
Luis Vuitton Collaboration
In 2002, the artist began his long-term collaboration with the Luis Vuitton, the elite fashion brand. This collaboration made Murakami widely known for further blurring commercial boundaries, elevated his status to celebrity and raised economic value of his art to one that is highly prized among Western collectors.
One of Murakami’s design features The LV signature monogram in 97 different colors with his own signature jellyfish eyes repeated on white or black background.
Shortly following the launch of his line at Louis Vuitton, Murakami re-appropriated the same images printed onto bags into paintings meant for prestigious art institutions and collectors, blurringthe distinction between commodity and art (Eye Love Superflat , 2006)
In Blue Flowers & Skulls, 2012, youth and death collide as smiling daisies and large-eyed skulls overwhelm the picture plane and bland together with the aid of the work’s blue color scheme.
The mix of cuteness and death are the artist’s way of engaging with the Japanese obsession with Kawaii, but also his way of critiquing it.
Everything is Transient
According to Murakami, Kawaii culture has become a living entity that pervades everything. With a population heedless of the cost of embracing immaturity, the nation is in the throes of a dilemma: a preoccupation with anti-aging may conquer not only the human heart, but also the body.
In that sense, the artist reveals a darker engagement with these juvenile flowers that takes its aim directly at contemporary society.
Throughout Western art history, the role of the skull has functioned as a memento mori, a reminder of one’s own eventual death; the Japanese Buddhist conception of Shogyo mujo isroughly translated as ‘everything is transient’.
Blue Flowers & Skulls is reflective of many of Murakami’s installations, paintings and sculptures in which smiling daisies and skulls repeat across his large oeuvre; in the obsessive repetition of these motifs his darker and more subversive themes are expanded and re-contextualized over and over to the point of visual exhaustion.
Murakami’s astronomical rise to fame in the contemporary art world has been met with both criticism and celebration.
He brings together Japanese pop culture referents with the Japan’s rich artistic legacy, effectively wiping out any distinction between high art and commodity.
Critics have mocked him as a sell-out and as playing into the art market’s increasing demands for trivial, easily consumable art from Japan.
Post-Nuclear : What Did You Expect Would Happen?
Murakami’s work must be understood as deeply critical to Western intervention.
He grew up in Japan that then faced heavy sanctions and a permanent U.S. military presence, and also was raised by parents who experienced the devastating nuclear bombings.
In his writings (differ wildly from his essays written in English) he reveals a deep cynicism toward the West, considering Japan’s contemporary obsession with youthful innocence, cuteness, violence and fetish are the product of U.S. intervention that began with the bomb.
In that sense, many believe that Murakami considers his thrusting of this art concept onto the U.S. through his elevation of it as high art as a form of some revenge.