The Superflat movement was born in 2001, when Takashi Murakami coined the term in order to inaugurate a new post-modern, yet quintessentially Japanese style of art. This movement fused Pop Art with the Japanese art canon and post-war culture.
Traditionally, Japanese art has rejected 3D imagery, instead embracing ‘flat’ art through bold outlines and placid colours which creates depthless, two-dimensional imagery. Murakami’s Superflat is inspired by these aspects of the Japanese art tradition, however he combines these traditions with modern Japanese art forms such as Manga and Anime, which were popularised post WWII in order to create a new movement: Superflat.
Murakami’s use of the word ‘flat’ is both a literal reference to the flat imagery of Japan’s art tradition and the shallow, superficial nature of consumerism. Indeed, like Pop Art and Neo-Pop Art in the United States, Superflat comments on modern culture: critiquing and celebrating it.
We can see this through one of Murakami’s most iconic works: his flower. Murakami was first inspired to create the flower through ‘setsugetsuka’ or ‘snow, moon, flowers’ which he discovered through his studies of Nihonga, a traditional painting style. His art piece is a bright, colourful smiling flower that Murakami envisioned to convey the emotional confusion many Japanese people felt after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the American occupation. The flower is a dichotomous piece; simultaneously appearing vibrant whilst also representing the Japanese notion of ‘kawaii’: the infantilising sense of powerlessness many Japanese people felt and feel in the aftermath of WWII and reconstruction of the nation’s society.
Superflat also undermines the western limitations of what is and isn’t art, and who can access it. Murakami doesn’t limit his aesthetic to the sculptures and paintings of the ‘fine art’ realm, instead he has expanded the boundaries of what can be considered ‘art’, by creating works through graphic design and film, and combining his digital works with fashion. Murakami’s unique and transformative works democratise the form: creating art that is affordable and accessible to many.
Murakami’s collaborations with fashion houses are the product of this unrestrictive approach, as he straddles both the luxury brands and casual wear. Perhaps this is most evident in his 2002 collaborations with Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton and more recently UNIQLO. Through these partnerships, Murakami’s Superflat movement rejects the high-status and parochial nature of the traditional ‘art world’, tearing apart the rule book on what art is and who can own and appreciate it.
Superflat has grown as a movement, continuing to inspire artists across the world. In 2011, Soflo Superflat, an American offshoot, was formed, which uses the two-dimensional style of Superflat and combines it with cultural references to South Florida, blurring the boundaries between cultural phenomena such as graffiti, illustration and art. Murakami’s use of bold colours and lines continues to be a reference point in these works. More recently, Murakami helped to curate the 2021 Outsider Art Fair in New York, which drew its inspiration from Superflat in an exhibition called ‘Super-Rough’, which combined Superflat with art brut through sculptures. Whilst Super-Rough does not draw inspiration from traditional Japanese art, it celebrates Superflat’s expansion of what is considered to be art, showing self-taught sculptures who use unorthodox techniques, materials and treatments to create their pieces. Super-Rough is an embodiment of the dialogue that Superflat started and continues to engage with within the art world over what constitutes art and an artist, which is why the movement continues to be so influential.
One of TiA’s artists, Léo Yamada, is heavily inspired by Murakami’s ‘SuperFlat’ movement. Yamada is a Paris-based Japanese artist, who, like Murakami, draws on Japan’s contemporary culture as well as traditional Japanese painting techniques to create his aesthetic. Léo Yamada’s work retains a two-dimensional perspective associated with the Nihonga painting technique, however, he propels this into the 21st century through imagery that engages with the ongoing debates surrounding the digital age and its transformative impact on society.
Léo Yamada’s recurring muse, Kasa, is often featured in his paintings, and is the personification of the modern psyche and how it has been shaped by social media. Kasa’s face is covered by a hat, whilst his clothing remains on display. He is often surrounded by pink butterflies with eyes, that represent for the various sources of information coming from Internet.
Like Murakami’s work, Léo Yamada’s paintings have a rich duality: they are colourful and playful, but also partake in a critique of society in the digital age. His works are contemplative and invite the viewer to consider the nature of their relationship with social media.
Inspired by Murakami’s spirit of democratisation, Léo Yamada has collaborated with Lesque skateboards and produced enamel pins, which enables people from all walks of life to engage with his artwork and invest in art.
See more artworks by Léo Yamada here
Solo Show “Kasa” , 10 – 20 December 2021 at Le Pavé d’Orsay, 48 rue de Lille, 75007 Paris
Content contributor : Aisling Lynch-Kelly