Japanese artist Mr. is a neo-Pop protégé of Takashi Murakami. His paintings, sculptures, videos, and installations both examine and draw from the otaku subculture in Japan that obsesses over manga and anime and idolises fictional female characters.Read More
Born in Cupa, Japan, in 1969, Mr. grew up with manga and anime at the forefront of his cultural experience. He studied fine arts at the Sokei Art School in Tokyo, graduating in 1996. The previous year, Takashi Murakami had discovered the young artist. He took Mr. in as a studio assistant, and mentored and supported him through his Kaikai Kiki art studio.
While Murakami pioneered the incorporation of anime culture in fine arts before Mr. arrived, Mr. has also played an important role as part of a whole roster of contemporary artists making paintings and drawings in anime and manga styles, among them artists like Chiho Aoshima, Aya Takano, and Yoshitomo Nara. Mr. is often associated with the Superflat movement—a term coined by Murakami himself to describe artists whose flat anime style reflect the otaku state of mind.
Mr. gained popularity in the early 2000s for his drawings of colourful, wide-eyed, female anime- and manga-inspired characters. These sort of characters, who have remained a constant in Mr.'s work, typify the otaku subculture that began in Japan in the 1970s—a subculture traditionally populated by the young male shut-in comic geek. However, the popularity and demographic of otaku culture has significantly broadened in recent years.
Coming from this background himself, Mr. is both an investigator and self-described practitioner of otaku art. He explores concepts and motifs such as kawaii, which refers to cuteness, and lolicom, which is a derivation of the European Lolita complex and refers to the otaku attraction to prepubescent girls, especially anime and manga characters. Also reflecting the world in which this culture exists, the artist incorporates elements from photos he takes of city streets.
Some of Mr.'s older lolicom-focused works, such as Sassy (2014) and Helloooo There! (2008), confront the viewer with female figures with round faces, big eyes, and colourful hair, and wearing jeans, T-shirts, and mini-skirts. These figures ambiguously drift between innocent and hyper-sexualised; however, they are self-contained and powerful—in some works, he presents these kawaii girls as soldiers or in wheelchairs.
Beyond the innocent, cheerful, grinning faces, there is a wider reflection in Mr.'s work of deeper issues of social anxiety, loneliness, fear, and pain, through which the artist addresses personal trauma. Since the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster—a national tragedy—the artist has allowed more complex negative emotions to visually appear in the expressions of his previously all-smiling characters.
Mr's paintings, however, have always had an underlying sense of emptiness, regression, and withdrawal from reality. The bright, colourful images—like the cultural phenomenon that inspires them—are a form of escape for the artist. As Mr. explained to Tatler Hong Kong, 'I don't really interact with the brighter side of life. But precisely because of this, imagined scenes of comfort and reassurance evolve inside of me, becoming my artistic vision.'
While Mr. predominantly has expressed his vision in paintings and sculptures, his practice has also expanded to the realm of multimedia. In 2008 the artist presented Nobody Dies: a video work and series of photographs that told a story using live actors dressed in Mr.-designed costumes. More recently, the artist shot to mainstream popularity by collaborating with Pharrell Williams to create the animation for the pop star's It Girl music video in 2014.
Mr.'s art continues to attract an international audience, featuring in group and solo exhibitions and various other art events worldwide.
Carte blanche à Mr. et Pharrell Williams; A Call To Action, Musée Guimet, Paris (2019); Tokyo, the City I Know, at Dusk: It's Like a Hollow In My Heart, Galerie Perrotin Seoul (2016); LIVE ON: MR.'S JAPANESE NEO-POP, Asian Art Museum, Seattle (2014); Nobody Dies, Lehmann Maupin New York (2008); Mr., Musée d'art contemporain de Lyon (2006); Venus #2, Vedanta Gallery, Chicago (2000); Mr., Painter of Alps, Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo (1998).
Bishojo: Young Pretty Girls in Art History, Museum of National Taipei University of Education (2019); Bubblewrap, Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto (2018); A Nightmare is a Dream, Kaikai Kiki Gallery, Tokyo (2012); Kyoto-Tokyo: From Samurais to Mangas, Grimaldi Forum, Monaco (2010); KRAZY! The Delirious World of Anime + Comics + Video Games + Art, Vancouver Art Gallery (2008); RED HOT: Contemporary Asian Art Rising, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston (2007).
Michael Irwin | Ocula | 2021
With its cast of big-eyed, childlike "kawaii" characters, Mr.'s art may appear playful and carefree—but there's a darkness that lurks behind the 49-year-old Japanese artist's paintings.