Art style

iconic japanese artist Mr. on the bridge between otaku subculture and fine art at lehmann maupin

‘Beyond the aisle, there…’ at Lehmann Maupin

Iconic Japanese artist Mr. is exhibiting a new body of work at Lehmann Maupin’his New York gallery. On view until April 27, 2022, “Beyond the Alley, There…” features large-scale paintings and works on paper that immerse viewers in the artist’s multi-leveled imaginative worlds. Drawing inspiration from otaku, the increasingly popular Japanese subculture that includes manga, anime, and video games, his works bring anime characters to life surrounded by pop culture references such as emojis, fast food logos and slang phrases. One work in the exhibition features a riff on the 7-Eleven logo and a cartoon burger decorating a young girl’s barrettes, while in another a swirl of cartoon icons, social media notifications and innocuous sentences in brightly colored bubble letters are reflected in a child’s big eyes.

Other works reflect the artist’s recently heightened interest in layered surfaces and urban spaces, featuring figures with huge eyes that fit into a visual field saturated with graffitied surfaces and storefronts. “Everything I create is about my environment and the environment around me: from my daily activities, to all the logos and city signs, to all kinds of symbols, anything and everything”, Mr. tells designboom. Despite their imaginary nature, the artist’s fictional worlds are grounded in reality, examining how commercial imagery and desire circulate in global internet culture. In the exclusive video above, M. takes viewers on a tour of ‘Beyond the Alley, There…’ at Lehmann Maupin, while sharing more about his practice and influences in our interview below.

Monsieur at Lehmann Maupin, New York | photo of Daniel Kukla | artwork © M. / Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved | courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and London

INTERVIEW WITH MR.

Born Masakatsu Iwamoto in 1969 in Cupa, Japan, Mr. is particularly known for its associations with Superflat, a contemporary postmodern Japanese movement founded by artist Takashi Murakami. Like his fellow Superflat artists, M. examines and draws inspiration from the otaku subculture, which is marked by an obsession with teenage, manga, anime, and video games. Alongside his interest in otaku, he engaged with the Italian art movement of the 1960s, Arte Povera and its use of unconventional materials and respect for the detritus of everyday life. ‘Beyond the Alley, There…’ marks Mr.’s sixth solo exhibition with Lehmann Maupinand precedes a highly anticipated upcoming solo exhibition at the Phoenix Art Museum, AZ, which opens in November 2022.

designboom (DB): What aspects of your background and upbringing have shaped your creative principles and philosophies?

M.: I live in Japan where I only eat, sleep and drink sake. Everything I create is about my environment and the environment around me: from my daily activities, to all the city logos and signs, to all kinds of symbols – anything and everything.

iconic japanese artist Mr. on the bridge between otaku subculture and fine art at lehmann maupin
Monsieur at Lehmann Maupin, New York | photo of Daniel Kukla | artwork © M. / Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All rights reserved | courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and London

DB: Your works are often multi-layered, with figures, logos, phrases, fragments of urban spaces and more. How do you start working on a new piece? What is the first decision you make?

M.: To start a new job, I use a computer. My work is over 90% complete on screen, before I go into physical production. Being able to create on one computer means that multiple staff members can share the data file and proceed to draw and reproduce the composition exactly based on the data. I also use techniques like screen printing to faithfully reproduce the data, which is quite effective.

iconic japanese artist Mr. on the bridge between otaku subculture and fine art at lehmann maupin
Mr.: ‘Beyond the Alley, There…’ installation view, Lehmann Maupin New York, March 17 – April 23, 2022 | photo of Daniel Kukla | courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong, Seoul and London

DB: You compared yourself to a translator when it comes to otaku culture. What do you think makes this Japanese subculture so attractive to the international art world?

M.: The people who are interested in it now are much younger than me. I’ve heard that people who grew up watching Japanese anime reruns from the 70s to the 90s, like Grendizer and Dragon Ball in Europe and Asia, and Pokemon in the US, are now getting to a point where they feel nostalgic for these works. , so I think they are more and more interested in reconstructing them through visual art.