Mr.’s otaku culture and Neo-Pop on view at New York’s Lehmann Maupin

Japanese Mr.’s happy-go-lucky Neo-Pop aesthetic merges with an intimate reflection on today’s oppressive occurrences.

“Sunset in My Heart”, running until 12 August 2016, is a solo show by the Japanese visual artist at New York’s Lehmann Maupin gallery.

Mr., "As It Was That Day", 2016, acrylic and pencil on canvas, 200.7 x 431.2 x 5.7 cm. © 2015 Mr. /Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Mr., ‘As It Was That Day’, 2016, acrylic and pencil on canvas, 200.7 x 431.2 x 5.7 cm. © 2015 Mr. /Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Think of Japan, think of the Japanese culture, not the country. Extreme, flamboyant and yet minimalistic, imperial and of ancient history and traditions yet afflicted by what Los Angeles-based art critic and journalist Hunter Drohojowska-Philp defined on Artnet as “the shallow emptiness of its consumer culture”A culture that incorporates video games, manga and a distorted idea of the body, particularly the female one, which appears by turns Westernised and “cutesized”. 

Ubiquitous childish heroines wearing revealing sailor uniforms populate the dreams and fantasies of teens and adults to the extent that such fetish has been defined as Lolicon, a portmanteau for the “Lolita Complex”. It tips over into the exploitation of moe (Japanese word for adorable and innocent young girls), schoolgirls in the sex industry as investigated in VICE’s short documentary Schoolgirls for Sale in Japan (2015) denouncing men looking for the big-eyed cutest teenagers to cuddle, chat or hang out with.

Mr., 'Small Fairies have Arrived', 2016, acrylic, pencil, and collaged linen on cotton mounted on wood panel, 146.1 x 146.1 x 5.7 cm. © 2015 Mr. /Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Mr., ‘Small Fairies have Arrived’, 2016, acrylic, pencil, and collaged linen on cotton mounted on wood panel, 146.1 x 146.1 x 5.7 cm. © 2015 Mr. /Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Japanese artist Mr. (b. 1969, Cupa, Japan) produces pop art, representing Japanese mass culture as it is, with no filter, censorship or translation. His fictitious name comes from Japanese baseball player Shigeo Nagashima playing for the Yomiuri Giants and commonly known as “Mr. Giants”.

Mr.’s work visually assaults the viewer, manifesting through a variety of media: video, performance, sculpture and installation. Undeniable is the influence of Takashi Murakami, with whom Mr. worked for a long time, and artist Paul McCarthy as well as Superflat aesthetics.

Mr., "Sunset in My Heart", Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, 536 22nd Street, New York, June 23 - August 12, 2016. Photo: Max Yawney. Image courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Mr., “Sunset in My Heart”, Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, 536 22nd Street, New York, June 23 – August 12, 2016. Photo: Max Yawney. Image courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

In the exhibition, Mr. favours large paintings on which he overlaps manga- and comic book-style drawings, graffiti and Japanese texts. His favourite subjects are teenage, almost androgynous schoolgirls, which appear in works like In Style This Year (2009), I Know Her Secret (2007), 15 minutes from Chiki-Station (2003). His artistic, and even personal, obsession for little girls’ cuteness and purity is explained by Mr. himself in an interview with Kaleidoscope Asia Founder and Editor-in-chief Alessio Ascari published in January 2015:

These things are the self-portrait of Japan in its defeated, puppet state. It’s a special state that perhaps can only be understood by actually living here and directly experiencing the unique and disgustingly muddy waters of self deception and self hatred that seem through our daily life (sic). I’ve encountered my share of unreasonableness and conflict in interactions with my blood relatives. The world of otaku culture was a place where I could soothe these wounds. For me, images of cute young girls carry the same sort of healing beauty and love that many people find in religion.

Mr., "Time Gently Passing", 2016, acrylic, pencil, and collaged linen on cotton mounted on wood panel, 160.3 x 130.2 x 5.7 cm. © 2015 Mr. /Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Mr., ‘Time Gently Passing’, 2016, acrylic, pencil, and collaged linen on cotton mounted on wood panel, 160.3 x 130.2 x 5.7 cm. © 2015 Mr. /Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Mr., "I'm Back! Welcome Home! I'm Back! Welcome Home!...", 2016, inkjet print, acrylic, and pencil on canvas, 198.1 x 468.6 x 5.7 cm. © 2015 Mr. /Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Mr., ‘I’m Back! Welcome Home! I’m Back! Welcome Home!…’, 2016, inkjet print, acrylic, and pencil on canvas, 198.1 x 468.6 x 5.7 cm. © 2015 Mr. /Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

As the title “Sunset in My Heart” delicately suggests, Mr.’s art digs into the exploration of society’s, and his own, pursuit of idealised and innocent beauty, with undertones of sadness. Such works as Time Gently Passing (2016) and I’m Back! Welcome Home! I’m Back! Welcome Home!… (2016) depict feelings rather than situations with a lonely intimacy. In Mr.’s work sadness and joy, reclusion from social life, public personas and unrealistic constructions dramatically coexist. On the one hand, the viewer’s attention is caught by the brightness of the colours and the cuteness of the feminine figures depicted; on the other hand, at a closer look, one can perceive the subject’s psychological conditions, which appear far from being easy and cheerful. In the very tradition of the anime style, vivid colours like pink, yellow, bright green and blu, twinkles, flowers and bubbles emphasise moments of goofiness, astonishment, puzzlement, happiness and depression that one may remember from cartoons like Sailor Moon (Bishōjo Senshi Sērā Mūn) and Orange Road (Kimagure Orenji Rōdo).

Mr., "Sunset in My Heart", Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, 536 22nd Street, New York, June 23 - August 12, 2016. Photo: Max Yawney. Image courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Mr., “Sunset in My Heart”, Installation view, Lehmann Maupin, 536 22nd Street, New York, June 23 – August 12, 2016. Photo: Max Yawney. Image courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Mr., "Pinkish Gold", 2016 acrylic and pencil on canvas mounted on wooden panel, 162.7 x 130.4 x 5.5 cm. © 2015 Mr. /Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.

Mr., ‘Pinkish Gold’, 2016 acrylic and pencil on canvas mounted on wooden panel,
162.7 x 130.4 x 5.5 cm. © 2015 Mr. /Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Image courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

Mr.’s full-coloured, explosive and chaotic illustrations of doe-eyed wide smiling female figures also hint at a frightened society after the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami that originated off the Pacific coast in 2011. The theme of post-disaster fear was approached more directly by the artist in the show “Live On: Mr.’s Japanese Nep-Pop” held at the Seattle’s Asian Art Museum in 2015. On that occasion, besides painting, the artist had constructed a large-scale installation using garbage, found objects and scraps he collected over months. For his New York show, he traces a not dissimilar process with the canvases; as the press release (PDF) describes,

For Sunset in My Heart, Mr. has returned to his expressive and experimental roots as a young artist, incorporating abstract elements like graffiti, and using distressed and sullied canvases. Mr. prepares the canvases by burning them, walking over them, and leaving them on his studio floor to collect dirt and debris. This new treatment of the canvas is directly connected to the artist’s early interest in the 1960s Italian art movement Arte Povera that inspired his first manga paintings he produced on store receipts, takeout menus, and other scraps of transactional detritus.

Despite the devastating and unstable appearance of both the museum’s massive sculpture and the latest paintings on view at Lehmann Maupin, Mr.’s work speaks the language of hope. His manically filled canvases, happy faces and corresponding palette of colours suggest the positive possibilities when we incorporate more fantasy into our daily realities.

Carmen Stolfi

1221

Related topics: Japanese artists, painting, drawing, manga, anime, cartooncomicpop artgallery shows, events in New York

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