Takashi Murakami is my favorite Japanese artist.
Born Feb. 1, 1962 in Tokyo, he graduated from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music with a degree in traditional Japanese painting in 1986, followed by a PhD in 1993, although his work is nothing but traditional. His media include sculpture, painting, installation, digital imaging and performance. I knew him from his prints and didn't even realize all the other stuff that he was doing.
These are multiple versions of Mr. Dob, which is one of Murakami's iconic characters, and the name Dob is actually a reference to the Japanese phrase doboshite-doboshite that translates to "Why? Why?" His work is heavily influenced by anime, which has it's roots in post-war Japan when american comics became available. Note how some version of Mr. Dob look like sonic the hedgehog or mickey mouse. The cutesy look of anime is meant to reflect to child-like of post-war society, and it's not a coincidence that many anime titles have themes of war and ethics. The distortion of Mr. Dob as a meta-character are is interesting as they relate not just to the devastating mutations caused by nuclear radiation from the bombing of Nagasaki and Hiroshima, but I also like it as an irreverant take on form and identity.
Above, we can see the influence of traditional Japanese art. These two works above are Murakami's portraits of Durama, the renowned Zen Buddhist Monk. Daruma was a popular subject in ukiyo-e (japanese woodblock printing). He was known for saying that one should never take life too seriously, thus the humorous crossed eyes.
Murakami is a pioneer of a style called superflat (Supa-furatto), which is an intersection between the worlds of arts and commerce. Above, an ad campaign for Louis Vuitton. Below, the cover art for Kanye West's "Graduation." Similar to how Andy Warhol looked at marketing and consumerism, Murakami too has a pulse on daily life and pop culture. Not many artists are able to integrate the whole spectrum of a culture from past to present as he does. With that being said that, he has a very scathing critique of modern day Japanese society, which he describes as "empty." The flowers in both the opening and closing pictures are meant to show this sense of flatness. Yes it looks nice and all the flowers are happy, but the critique is that they have no meaning and are thus empty. Thus, Super Flat not only explores the idea of flatness in terms of spatial depth within his work, but also the flatness of mainstream japanese society. His progency include names such as Aya Takano and Yoshitomo Nara.
Murakami is also a boss. He runs his own art production company, Kaikai Kiki co. ltd, which operates out of Tokyo and New York. This is definitely not surprising given his exposure to commerce. Below is a self portrait with kaikai and kiki which are two more of Murakami's creations.