Clad in his is trademark octopus-shaped hat and Technicolor suit, Takashi Murakami brought a splash of vibrancy to the otherwise dreary Vancouver morning. Murakami was in town to give a preview of his upcoming exhibition, “The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg,” at the Vancouver Art Gallery. The exhibition marks the first ever retrospective of his work in Canada.
Murakami is widely known for founding the ‘90s postmodern art movement “Superflat”, which refers to various flattened forms in Japanese graphic art, animation, pop culture and fine arts, as well as commentary on the vapidity of Japanese consumer culture.
Murakami’s career began back in the early ’80s. His rise to prominence, like many artists, was long and at times dark.
“Until 37 years old I had almost no money” he reminisces that it was “super hard just to eat”. Of his early work, he says “Each painting has bad memories”
After almost a decade of establishing himself as a unique player in the contemporary Japanese art scene, he caught the eye of Marc Jacobs, which lead to a life-changing collaboration with Louis Vuitton, a venture that projected his art onto the world stage.
This first collaboration with Louis Vuitton lead to another, and soon his art was in demand by many high-profile brands such as VANS, Shu Uemura, Issey Miyake, Lucien Pellat-Finet, Roppongi Hills, and ComplexCon, as well as musicians such as Kanye West and Pharrell Williams. In 2008, he was selected as one of TIME magazine’s “The 100 Most Influential People.” From 2003, he was included in ArtReview’s Power 100 for ten consecutive years.
However, with all this success Murakami has not lost his humour or his ability to be self-deprecating, which is made clear in the title of the exhibition – “The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg.” In Japanese, this is a proverb meaning to recycle what you have when you are in dire need – you might be diminished and you barely survive, but that is the only means you have left.
Murakami’s translator, Yuko Burtless, explains “It is kind of a self-deprecating reference that he put this title on his show, and also some of his artwork, because he feels that he really doesn’t have the talent to create everything from scratch every time, so he is constantly recycling not only different ideas or historical references, but also a lot of his own motifs and characters from his own paintings. He keeps taking them and morphing them and trying to create something that looks new but he feels that it’s always really just recycling and eating his own body just to survive.”
Recycled or not, his motifs and characters have become intertwined with the fabric of modern art, and his impact has helped shape a movement. Make sure you check out this eclectic and inspired collection while it is here in Vancouver February 3rd – May 6th.