Takashi Murakami Talks Art, Beauty, & Cartoons

takashi-postPhotographed by Annie Tomlin.
We all know the tortured-artist archetype: moody, prone to bouts of self-loathing, usually suffering for his art (and making us suffer along with him). Takashi Murakami, on the other hand, delightfully turns that cliché on its head — with both his colorful work and his cheery disposition. Known for his bright Superflat paintings and colorful fashion-world collaborations, the 51-year-old is arguably Japan's most-celebrated contemporary artist. His latest project is the Shu Uemura 6 Heart Princess makeup collection, which draws on Murakami's strong interest in Japanese animation.
For the limited-edition collaboration and the upcoming 2014 animated film of the same name, Murakami was inspired by Japan's otaku culture; the packaging and "story" bring in elements of cosplay and anime, playing with the concepts of magic, duality, and identity. (And, on a less-lofty level, the collection is a whole lot of pretty, too.) Here, R29 talks — with the aid of a translator — with Murakami about his inspiration, his process, and how collaborations have radically changed since the days of those Louis Vuitton bags.
Tell us about the creative process of working with Shu Uemura.
"In the past, when I’d had collaboration projects, it was more like...Takashi Murakami and this particular brand. I wanted to change that methodology — I wanted to create a collaboration between Shu Uemura and the animated girl characters that I have created. It’s a very dark story, but when the Shu team heard about it, they focused. They said that this mix of the dark part and the bright part that all women have… if we were to transform that concept into the product, it could be very interesting. I made a very challenging request with this project, but the Shu Uemura team accepted it. So, first of all, there was the concept. Then came the products. I have not been involved product by product per se, but that’s how I was able to do this project."
Do you think of makeup as another type of art form for women to experiment with?
"Well, initially, I hadn't really thought about it that way. But, if you think about cosplay, the women sometimes become men, and vice versa at times. People who do cosplay try to transform themselves into animation characters, which have unnatural hair, as well as unnatural faces. They utilize makeup to become that character, and through that process, their personality changes as well. But, makeup is something that women do every day — they transform themselves every day. I don’t wear makeup, so I didn’t know that kind of thing was happening. But, when I interacted with cosplayers, [I realized] that through the makeup process, they 'create' themselves and become a totally different person. They're using makeup as a tool to transform themselves."
You've talked about blurring the line between art and commerce. Do you think that there is a line? And, do you think that there’s a difference between so-called 'high art' and 'mass art'?
"When I did the collaboration with Louis Vuitton, that was actually a big theme; however, everyone is doing that kind of collaboration at this moment. No one really cares about that line so much anymore. For the theme of this particular collaboration, I didn’t think much about 'high art' versus 'mass art.' I thought more about how I can go beyond that...to create something that was not so artistic, not something that would be dubbed as 'modern art.' Rather, [I wanted to] create something that was totally in the style of Japanese animation."
For Americans who have an interest in otaku culture, how would you suggest we learn about it and understand it?
"That’s a great question. I think American people learning about otaku culture is like Japanese people trying to learn about modern art. In order to understand that culture, you need to understand history and its events. By doing that, by going through that learning process, you’ll be able to learn about the otaku culture in a very legitimate way. But, I think, as I have said, that’s like Japanese people learning about European art or modern art, so it would be quite difficult.
"Another point I would like to add is that otaku people hate criticism. So, in order to avoid that, they try not to write anything about their otaku culture. Because there are no writings, the hurdle becomes even higher for non-Japanese people to learn about otaku culture. So, that’s why I’m working with Professor Kaichiro Morikawa of Meiji University, who has an experience living abroad. We are trying to share with the world what otaku is."
6 Heart Princess by Takashi Murakami for Shu Uemura, available at Shu Uemura.

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