Murakami and Malone team up in a ‘flower-butterfly’ collaboration


TOKYO (AP) — Japanese artist Takashi Murakami’s visions have spanned colorful smiling flowers, a bizarre version of Mickey Mouse and huge erotic sculptures of animation-inspired figures that have fetched huge prices at auction.

The latest follows a musical path, in collaboration with American rapper and singer Post Malone.

“To be honest, I really started listening to it after the pandemic hit and we were stuck at home all day. I became a huge fan,” Murakami said, referring to the social restrictions and emotional stress caused by COVID-19.

Murakami created various artworks and merchandise, featured at a pop-up store in Los Angeles, during Malone’s tour for his latest album, “Twelve Carat Toothache.”

The custom-designed t-shirts, hoodies and trucker hats, as well as mugs and other items, will also be available online, starting Monday, on NTWRK, a US shopping streaming service.

Malone’s music makes him hum, like karaoke, filling him with a positive feeling, he said in an online interview with The Associated Press.

“It’s soft, but the sound is complex. It’s up there with hip hop music, but it has a real tune to it. I fell in love with its sound,” said Murakami.

Typical of the spirit of their collaboration is an image that places Murakami’s flower image next to the butterfly, Malone’s symbol, to become two eyes on a curve: a winking smiley face.

“It’s a flower and a butterfly, like a marriage,” Murakami said.

Malone expressed his joy over the collaborative pieces in a video of their meeting earlier this month.

Murakami has collaborated with other musicians, including Pharrell Williams and Drake. Hip hop, dance music, and other contemporary American music are important sources of inspiration for Murakami. He often plays music when he’s drawing so “his brain works,” he said.

But when his business was on the brink of bankruptcy, just after the pandemic started, he listened to Rachmaninoff all the time. As time went by, people became open to investing in and even seeking out art as part of the healing process. Sales soared and his business picked up, Murakami recalled.

Known as the “Andy Warhol of Japan,” Murakami has exhibited at Rockefeller Center in New York and at the Palace of Versailles in France, winning both praise and criticism for his unabashed commercialism.

Murakami has around 200 assistants to help create large-scale works of art, whether it’s smiling flowers, psychedelic skulls or misshapen old men. His signature icon, which some say is a self-portrait but he insists is just a part of himself like all of his artwork, is “Mr. Date of Birth.”

A student of traditional Japanese painting at the prestigious Tokyo University of the Arts, Murakami’s art is rooted in the Japanese legacy of the master woodblock prints of the Edo era.

Murakami coined the term “Superflat” to describe his style, tying it to that history, exemplified by the emphasis on distinct contours, contrasting with the more realistic perspective and form of Western art.

It’s fitting that another dazzling piece of art he’s created recently is a massive curtain at Tokyo’s Kabuki theater, a traditional performance art combining dance, music, and acting, dating back to the 17th century.

Murakami’s depictions of the various roles the featured star actor plays, such as samurai and peddlers, in his manga style, are dotted across a huge cloth that covers the entire stage.

Usually, Kabuki drapes depict flowers and birds, always in a more calm and sparse manner.

Murakami feels that he is not appreciated in his home country. He thinks the Japanese don’t like his work to be assertive and cheeky, not fluffy and cute.

Although he resides in Saitama, north of Tokyo, he has always been more in demand abroad. He will be in Dubai and Indonesia next. He is a superstar in China.

Murakami’s face saddens a bit as he says that he hopes he only has several years left to make his art. Her father fell ill with Alzheimer’s at age 70. Murakami is 60. He believes that destiny is in his genes.

“I have thought a lot about the true purpose of being an artist, and I think it is to leave information for the future about what the artist sees in the real world. My job is to leave, through my own filter, what I see,” she said.

“That’s what I want to keep doing.”

Yuri Kageyama is on Twitter

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