MADSAKI - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Phillips
  • He-Man and the Masters of the Universe have held a special place in my heart for a long time…These characters played a pivotal part in teaching me how to express myself to the world around me.”


    “The Most Powerful Man in the Universe”


    MADSAKI, a Japan-born visual artist known only by a pseudonym, is a fixture in the contemporary art world. Known for his signature use of spray paint and comical characters with hollowed eyes and pasted-on smiles, his works revisit mass culture and art historical tropes – in a bold reexamination of the societal value systems inherent to making art.

    In 1980, MADSAKI and his family relocated from Osaka, Japan, to New Jersey, USA. Six year old and possessing no knowledge of English, the young MADSAKI learned to adapt, and instead of playing after school, he often ended up watching cartoons at home alone. The young boy subsequently became particularly obsessed with He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and it would be these early encounters with American pop culture (cartoons such as Masters of the Universe included) that would hold particular nostalgic fondness for him in his adult years, serving as the basis for his grasp of the English language.



    A cartoon still from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, 1984


    He-Man and the Masters of the Universe is a science fiction and medieval fantasy-themed media franchise created by Mattel, in which the muscular, blonde-hair protagonist He-Man fights to protect his planet from his arch-nemesis Skeletor. The series made its first appearance as a line of action figures in 1982, later spawning its iterations in a wide range of genres, including animated television series, comic books, video games, and later a live-action feature film. Larger-than-life and hyper-masculine, anyone who grew up in 1980s America would have been familiar with He-Man, and by 1984, the apex of the show’s popularity, MADSAKI was fully aware of this ubiquitous comic universe. Perhaps the young artist found solace in the hero’s tagline “I am He-Man, the Most Powerful Man in the Universe”, using it as motivation to empower himself in a foreign land.



    The artist in his studio in front of the present work
    MADSAKI’s Instagram page, 2019


    Say It / Spray It


    A graduate from the prestigious Parsons School of Design, MADSAKI’s trademark technique of utilising spray paint – a medium more commonly associated with street art and graffiti – to create ‘fine art’ is unconventional and deliberately subversive. Using stencil caps attached to the spray can to produce a refined stream of paint, he explained:
    “I prefer dripping or grimy lines to clean lines. I really do not try and paint finely at all. There are way too many people who are good at painting beautifully. I’m happy to leave that up to them. […] I am painting with spray, not with a brush.” 

    Wielding aerosol paint in a rapid and spontaneous manner, the artist encourages viewers to form their own interpretations when interacting with his paintings; for them to personally connect with his art and to discover meaning and subtext within his oeuvre. Technical and humorous, this unconventional method of painting is a reflection of MADSAKI’s own journey as an artist. Fittingly, this work, highly significant and autobiographical, relates to the artist’s own transformation from an immigrant to being assimilated into American culture. Through the saturated vibrant colours and exhilarant energy of Untitled (Masters of the Universe), MADSAKI reimagines one of the cartoon series’ most famous posters and images, and presents the superheroes in a stereotypical display of strength posed against the background of the fictional planet Eternia, all looking out confidently and smiling to the viewer. Through this radical recreation, he ignites an ongoing dialogue concerning the value of art and the role of the artist within mass culture. Like Warhol preceding him, and the more contemporaneous KAWS, MADSAKI is unafraid to experiment with unconventional means, rebelling against tradition and embracing pop culture by using images with wide appeal in society as the core subject matter of his works.



    Andy Warhol, too, reimagined key images from pop culture, as can be seen in the quartet of advertisement posters in the present sale. (Lots 39-42)


    After releasing this work and its sister series, similarly depicting Skeletor and his acolytes, in 2019 at Galerie Perrotin Hong Kong, MADSAKI came back to the theme for an exhibition at Kaikai Kiki, Takashi Murakami’s gallery in Tokyo, in September 2020. The exhibition featured paintings portraying the Masters of the Universe world, as well as sculptures created by enlarging the action figures from the era by roughly fifteen times, and paintings depicting MADSAKI at ten years old.


    In Murakami’s own words when discussing the exhibition, this Masters of the Universe series provides invaluable insight into the artist’s psyche: ‘While MADSAKI’s clumsy yet purposeful use of spray paint to re-create existing images may seem like simple mimicry, and the lines and colours of his crude paintings—by no means skillfully executed—wobble with uncertainty, this is in fact the artist’s prescription for disentangling the loose ends of his utterly unsuccessful efforts at communication, generating a genuine voice that resonates with many.’ i



    Collector’s Digest


    • MADSAKI’s uncompromising approach to art has won him many fans, including fellow Japanese icon Takashi Murakami, who hails the younger artist’s ‘bottomless talent’ and who has bought dozens of pieces for his personal Superflat collection. Today MADSAKI is represented by several prominent international art galleries, including Galerie Perrotin and Kaikai Kiki Gallery in Tokyo.

    • In January 2021, MADSAKI released a collaboration with Mattel Creations and in conjunction with Kaikai Kiki: a He-Man and Battle Cat deluxe art toy set. The set features the hero and his fierce steed in bold neon colors, and both pieces feature Madsaki’s signature spray paint-style black eyes with drip trails. In addition to the toy, the artist launched a clothing capsule collection and released two prints: one featuring the heroes of the show and the other one the villains, underscoring the importance of the cartoon to the artist.


    i Takashi Murakami, quoted in the press release of the MADSAKI exhibition 1984, Kaikai Kiki Gallery, Tokyo, 2020, online

    • Provenance

      Kaikai Kiki Gallery, Japan
      Acquired from the above by the present owner


Untitled (Masters of the Universe)

signed and dated 'madsaki 2019' on the reverse
acrylic paint aerosol on canvas
140.2 x 200 cm. (55 1/4 x 78 3/4 in.)
Executed in 2019.

Full Cataloguing

HK$900,000 - 1,200,000 

Sold for HK$889,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+852 2318 2026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 30 March 2023