Mr. - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale Hong Kong Thursday, March 30, 2023 | Phillips

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  • “Everything I create is about my surroundings and the environment around me: from my daily activities, to all the logos and signs in the city, and all sorts of symbols—anything and everything.”
    — Mr.

    Featuring a sprawling cityscape and anime-inspired characters, The Endless Landscape of this Reality is characteristic of Japanese artist Mr.’s iconic oeuvre. Internationally recognised for his vibrant and nostalgic aesthetic, the artist examines otaku subculture– the Japanese fan community for anime, manga, and video games. By incorporating such motifs into his works, Mr. blurs the lines between high and low culture.


    Taking visual cues from the Japanese culture of cuteness, Mr. first gained popularity in the early 2000s for drawing young female characters, who remain synonymous with the artist to this day. These characters are rendered in typical kawaii style– sparkling wide eyes, colourful hair, and round, blush-tinted faces– and are meant to evoke moe, the Japanese pop-culture notion of feeling affection and protectiveness for fictional characters due to their cuteness and innocence.


    As a self-proclaimed otaku, Mr. continuously depicts these kawaii girls as a reflection of his own interests, but self-indulgence and eliciting adoration are not the only intentions behind his works– he hopes to portray these girls as bold, powerful individuals. Regarding the emphasis on young female characters in his oeuvre, he states: ‘I was inspired by the heroic female anime characters, which appeared in the ‘90s. From the 1970s to 1980s, I noticed that there were mainly male heroic characters in anime. However, from the 1990s, Sailor Moon became one of the popular heroine anime characters. And 10 years later, another popular anime series called Pretty Cure dominated the anime industry in Japan. Hence, my artworks only feature female characters because I want to provide them with power in our society.’ i



    Courage and Cuteness

    “I don’t believe in things being only ‘cute’, I feel I always have to represent both the cute and the scary dimensions with my paintings…I want to express roughness, not just cuteness and light-hearted characters.”
    — Mr.


    Installation view of the current lot (centre) at Paris, Perrotin, Mr.: Nobody Dies, 21 October 2008 - 10 January 2009 


    Part of Nobody Dies, Mr.’s 2008 solo show with Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris, the current work exemplifies the artist’s neo-pop aesthetic, combining his otaku fantasies with his desire to present girls as heroic, self-contained figures. Our orange-haired protagonist sits precariously on a narrow windowsill, overlooking a neighbourhood street corner on a clear day. She seems oblivious or indifferent to her perilous position, sending a bright smile our way as her hair blows casually in the breeze. The painting is a perfect balance of cheerfulness and ominousness, a running theme throughout the artist’s repertoire. Beyond the innocent heroine’s exuberance and the comfortable ambience of the urban landscape, undercurrents of isolation and danger pervade the scene. This is a commonality in Mr.’s works, which often juxtapose fun, jovial imagery with subtle themes of emptiness and pain. The artist uses art to withdraw from reality, as well as to self-reflect on solitude, fear, and social anxiety. He explains: ‘I don’t really interact with the brighter side of life. But precisely because of this, imagined scenes of comfort and reassurance evolve inside of me, becoming my artistic vision. There is a darkness that exists. But in order to break out from it, I create these bright, playful works. Perhaps the viewer can find some comfort also, in the awareness of my battle and process.’ii Indeed, the current work embodies the idea of escapism– the subject is quite literally detached from the real world, observing society from an unreachable height.


    Placing the subject towards the right, Mr. draws our attention to the city scenery that takes up most of the canvas. His paintings frequently document urban environments, often based on photographs of Tokyo’s streets that were taken by the artist himself.  In the current work, a peaceful suburban setting dominates the foreground, featuring three-storey homes with sloped roofs and balconies lined with plants. Skyscrapers tower in the near distance, close enough to be visible, yet too far away to disrupt the serene suburban atmosphere. Here, the neighbourhood scene lies on the outskirts of the metropolis, serving as a pocket of peace and quiet amidst the hustle and bustle of cosmopolitan life.


    Despite the foreboding undertones, The Endless Landscape of this Reality still carries an undeniable air of positivity. Coupled with the subject’s sunny disposition, the recklessness of her position is a testament to her fearlessness. Here, the artist succeeds in his intentions to recreate the anime heroine archetype– as in many of his works, the young protagonist, despite her sweet and juvenile appearance, is depicted as a courageous, independent risk-taker.



    Superflat and Kawaii Culture


    A protégé of art world superstar Takashi Murakami, Mr. is often associated with the Superflat movement pioneered by his mentor. ‘Superflat’ is a conflation of high and low culture, usually comprising a flat painting style reminiscent of anime and manga. Alongside a roster of artists such as Yoshitomo Nara and Aya Takano, Mr. has played an important part in the elevation of Japanese pop culture to high art. Though his work is often compared with that of his mentor and his contemporaries, Mr.’s style is unique in its explicit referencing of anime aesthetics. His oeuvre pays homage to both otaku media and Japan’s youth culture, as epitomised by the current work.



    Detail of the present lot 


    The subject dons a blue and white sailor fuku, the traditional military-inspired girls’ uniform that is widely used across Japan and even in other parts of Asia. Notably, it is closely linked to cosplay (a subculture of fans that dress up as fictional characters,) and is a symbol of otaku subculture. Synonymous with cute schoolgirl characters in anime and manga, Mr.’s subjects are often dressed in variations of this classic outfit. Upon closer inspection, the subject’s nails are painted neon pink, and she has accessorised with an array of candy-coloured rings and bracelets. A bundle of small plush toys, seemingly cell phone charms, peek out from her skirt pocket. Her trinkets and jewellery are characteristically kawaii and are a likely tribute to Harajuku fashion– named after a district in Shibuya, Tokyo, it celebrates vibrant, expressive street style and was particularly popular among the Japanese youth in the 2000s. 



    Collector’s Digest

    • Born in 1969, Mr. grew up with anime and Otaku culture at the forefront of his daily experience– the characteristic anime style we recognise today originated in the ‘60s, and the fandom culture that Mr. documents in his works began to enter the mainstream in the ‘80s. He honed his artistic practice at the Sokei Art School in Tokyo, graduating from the Department of Fine Arts in 1996. Just the previous year, he was discovered by Takashi Murakami and has been involved with his mentor’s Kaikai Kiki Gallery ever since.

    • Mr.’s work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at renowned institutions, including Mr.: You Can Hear the Song of This Town, Phoenix Art Museum, Phoenix (2022), Quotidianist, How Art Museum, Shanghai (2021), and CARTE BLANCHE TO MR. AND PHARRELL WILLIAMS: 'A CALL TO ACTION', Musée Guimet, Paris (2019), among many others. Represented by Perrotin, Mr. has worked with the gallery on numerous shows, with the most recent ones including the solo show Mr.’s Melancholy Walk Around the Town, Perrotin Paris (2019), and the group shows Healing, Perrotin Shanghai (2021) and Perrotin Seoul (2020), and Kaleidoscopes: Contemporary Portraiture, Perrotin Hong Kong (2020). A consistent participant in gallery shows, museum exhibits, and art fairs since the launch of his career over two decades ago, Mr. continues to inspire an international audience, and is one of the biggest names in Japanese contemporary art today.



    i Mr., quoted in Suzz, ‘An exclusive interview with MR. The Otaku artist’,  Artitute, 3 September 2019, online

    ii Mr., quoted in Oliver Giles, ‘The Dark Truth Behind Japanese Artist Mr.'s Art Pieces’, Tatler Asia, 13 October 2018, online

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    • Description

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    • Provenance

      Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris
      Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2009

    • Exhibited

      Paris, Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Mr.: Nobody Dies, 21 October 2008 - 10 January 2009
      Seattle Asian Art Museum, Live On: Mr.’s Japanese Neo-Pop, 22 November 2014 – 5 April 2015

    • Literature

      Brian Miller, 'Reverie and Rubble: Poised between shining kitsch and forbidding ruins, meet Mr.', Seattle Weekly, 7-13 January 2015, vol. 40, no. 1, p. 17
      Susan Kunimatsu, 'Fantasy meets tragedy in Mr.’s Japanese Neo-Pop Art', International Examiner, vol. 42, no. 4, 18 February - 3 March 2015, p. 12
      Galerie Perrotin and Kaikai Kiki, Mr., Paris and Tokyo, 2011, pp. 82-83 (illustrated)



The Endless Landscape of this Reality

signed and dated 'Mr. 2008' on the stretcher
acrylic on canvas
170.2 x 238.8 cm. (67 x 94 in.)
Painted in 2008.

Full Cataloguing

HK$1,500,000 - 2,000,000 

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Charlotte Raybaud
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20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

Hong Kong Auction 30 March 2023