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  • Introduction 

     

    Spanning across painting, sculpture, installation and video art, Mr.’s signature neo-pop aesthetic portrays the artist’s personal fantasies within the realm of Otaku subculture in Japan. Celebrated for his cartoonlike representations of children and young adolescents, Mr.’s artwork consistently draws from  themes and motifs ranging from manga and anime fandoms, leading many to associate his work with the Superflat movement pioneered by art world superstar, Takashi Murakami. Similar to Murakami’s approach, as showcased in Yume—Breath of the Earth, Mr. depicts his characters in a typical kawaii fashion with large, rounded faces, colourful hair and big, sparkling eyes, elevating popular Japanese subculture into the mainstream realm of fine art - which was not the case within Japanese mass culture when he first set out at the start of his career, indicative of Mr.’s influence that has won admiration around the world.

     

     

     

     Paris, Galerie Perrotin,  Mr's Melancholy Walk Around the Town, 19 January - 9 March 2019

     

     ‘Kawaii’ to ‘Kowai’

     

     “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.

    Reaching beyond the superficial appearance of Kawaii (cute) culture, Mr.’s compositions express a sense of Kowai (scary, dark). Contrasting the bright cheerfulness of Mr.’s characters is an underlying sense of anxiety and loss, specifically as a result of the chaotic environments within which Mr. stages some of his exhibitions, echoing both Japan’s traumatic past during World War II and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster. Since 2011, when the catastrophic earthquake along with tsunami attacked Tohoku, Japan, Mr. became haunted by this fatal disaster and felt vulnerable about life’s unpredictability. He started to broaden the dimension of characters in his otaku world by paring his typical cute, bright and optimistic figures with a more gritty and abstract painting style, exploring themes of loss and destruction.

     

    Just as the artist explains with the title of his 2018 exhibition at Perrotin: ‘People misunderstand me and the contents of my paintings. They just think they are nostalgic, cute, and look like Japanese anime. That may be true, but really, I paint daily in order to escape the devil that haunts my soul. The said devil also resides in my blood, and I cannot escape from it no matter how I wish, so I paint in resignation.’i Mr.’s works thus act as a form of escapism from contemporary society and a reflection of modern social anxiety, fear and solitude. 

     

    This distinctive contrast of the cuteness and idealism in the artist’s work versus the cluttered and chaotic of reality has become Mr.’s emblematic style and aesthetic, encapsulating his internal paradox in the quest of searching for happiness and peace.

     

     

    Installation view of Hong Kong, Lehmann Maupin,  Floating in the Air in the Vicinity of a Convenience Store, 14 September - 21 October 2017

     

     The Bright-eyed Girl

     

     “I think of them as a kind of a mirror reflecting the world… From one point, I started painting girls’ eyes in a way that they seem to have a reflection of something, and since then, I cannot paint eyes without any reflection. There must be something reflecting in the eyes of the girls I paint.” 
    —  Mr.

     

    The ubiquitous motif of a character with over-sized eyes and a large head, whose inspiration is largely drawn from 1980s manga, has since become integral within the oeuvre of many Japanese and international artists alike, such as Yoshitomo Nara, Ayako Rokkaku and Javier Calleja. Compared to his contemporaries, Mr. approaches this motif with a stylised touch that is closer to its anime inspirations with their black outlines. As opposed to Nara’s mischievous protagonists, Calleja’s playfulness or the palpable rhythm of Rokkaku’s dancing girls, Mr.’s compositions stand out with their rich colours and glittering details, adorned with various accessories and hairstyles.

  • Often appearing with a gentle gaze of naivete and a soft smile, Mr.’s adolescent girls are full of cheerful innocence. As a part of the artist’s series of large headshot works, Yume—Breath of the Earth is beautifully emblematic of Mr.’s distinctive style. Wearing a surprised expression highlighted by a rosy blush that tints her rounded cheeks, the current protagonist, Yume, emits an irresistible charm and endearing innocence, capturing the audience’s heart at first glance. Echoing the work’s title, Yume’s hair is painted with graduated blue and green hues. With a neat fringe and two pigtails in bows, her hair is also embellished with stars, hearts, musical notes and ice-cream, along with the onomatopoeic Japanese word ‘Chuu’, as if blowing a kiss.