Takashi Murakami (born in Tokyo), is a prolific contemporary Japanese artist who works in both fine arts media-such as painting-as well as digital and commercial media. He blurs the boundaries between high and low art. He appropriates popular themes from mass media and pop culture, then turns them into thirty-foot sculptures, "Superflat" paintings, or marketable commercial goods such as figurines or phone caddies.
Takashi Murakami attended the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, initially studying more traditional Japanese art. He pursued a doctorate in Nihonga, a traditional style of Japanese painting. However, due to the popularity of anime and manga, Japanese styles of animation and comic graphic stories, Murakami became disillusioned with Nihonga. He became passionate about otaku culture, which he felt was more representative of modern-day Japanese life.
This resulted in Superflat, the style that Murakami is credited with inventing. It developed from Poku, (Pop + otaku). Murakami has written that he aims to represent Poku culture because he expects that animation and otaku might create a new culture. This new culture is a rejuvenation of the contemporary Japanese art scene. In interviews, Murakami has expressed a frustration with the lack of a reliable and sustainable art market in post-war Japan, and the general view of Japanese art as having a low art status. He is quoted as saying that the market is nothing but "a shallow appropriation of Western trends". His first reaction was to make art in non-fine arts media. Then he decided to focus on the market sustainability of art and promote himself first overseas. This marks the birth of KaiKai Kiki, LLC.
In 2008, Takashi Murakami made Time magazine's "100 Most Influential People" list, the only visual artist included.
Murakami's style, called Superflat, is characterized by flat planes of color and graphic images involving a character style derived from anime and manga. Superflat is an artistic style that comments on otaku lifestyle and subculture, as well as consumerism and sexual fetishism.
Like Andy Warhol, Takashi Murakami takes low culture and repackages it, and sells it to the highest bidder in the "high-art" market. Also like Warhol, Murakami makes his repacked low culture available to all other markets in the form of paintings, sculptures, videos, T-shirts, key chains, mouse pads, plush dolls, cell phone caddies, and $5,000 limited-edition Louis Vuitton handbags. This is comparable to Claes Oldenburg, who sold his own low art, high art pieces in his own store front in the 1960s. What makes Murakami different is his methods of production, and his work is not in one store front but many, ranging from toy stores, candy aisles, comic book stores, and the French design house of Louis Vuitton. Murakami's style is an amalgam of his Western predecessors, Warhol, Oldenberg and Roy Lichtenstein, as well as Japanese predecessors and contemporaries of anime and manga. He has successfully marketed himself to Western culture and to Japan in the form of Kaikai Kiki and GEISAI.
Interviewer Magdalene Perez asked him about straddling the line between art and commercial products, and mixing art with branding and merchandizing. Murakami said,
"I don't think of it as straddling. I think of it as changing the line. What I've been talking about for years is how in Japan, that line 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."
"Smooth Nightmare" is an example of a popular Murakami painting in the Superflat style. It exhibits one of his recurring motifs of the mushroom. The mushroom repetition is a good example of Murakami's work's connection with themes of the underground and alternative cultures.
In November 2003, ArtNews reported Murakami's work as being among the most desired in the world. Chicago collector Stefan Edis reportedly paid a record $567,500 for Murakami's 1996 "Miss ko2", a life-size fiberglass cartoon figure, at Christie's last May. Christie's owner, Francois Pinault, reportedly paid around $1.5 million in June to acquire "Tongari Kun" (2003), a 28-foot-tall (8.5 m) fiberglass sculpture, and four accompanying fiberglass mushroom figures, that were part of an installation at Rockefeller Center. In May 2008, "My Lonesome Cowboy" (1998), a sculpture of a masturbating boy, sold for $15.2 million at a Sotheby's auction.
Murakami is credited in designing the album artwork for rapper Kanye West's album Graduation.
In September 2010 Murakami exhibited some of his works at the Palace of Versailles in France, filling 15 rooms with his sculptures.