At the meeting point of fine art, commercial art and hype culture lies a multicolor flower with a beaming face. Designed by contemporary art legend Takashi Murakami, this flower has been featured everywhere, from Kanye’s Graduation Album cover, Drake’s OVO Hoodies to sculptures housed at the Palace of Versailles. Murakami’s design has quickly ascended to the point of being a status symbol.
The iconic symbol was conceived by Murakami in 1995. In 2003 he signed a historic collaboration with Louis Vuitton which lasted over 13 years and spread across a collection of different items. Murakami had one of his greatest years in 2018 when his flower met Virgil Abloh’s Off-White vector logo and Drake’s OVO owl for collaborations in the same year.
His extensive usage of flattened forms of characters and motifs is drawn from Japanese anime, Manga and pop culture. He refers to these forms as ‘Superflat’ and Murakami’s influence is such that his usage has influenced a whole postmodern art Superflat movement across Japan and USA’s contemporary artists. Superflat however just doesn’t refer to the 2 dimensionality of his constructs but also the shallowness of modern Japan and its material obsessions. Superflat both criticizes and celebrates this consumer culture.
Murakami’s artwork of the flower uses bright primary colors extensively, the flower always features a wide smile and the other figures in relation to the flower usually seem happy. But even in the flower’s eyes what one can easily miss are hidden tears. The darker motifs of Murakami’s work may be hard to spot but are always present. Murakami was inspired to create the flower from his study of a Japanese art style called Nihonga. In Nihonga, Murakami observed the Setsugetsuka or Snow Moon Flower. The flowers are often accompanied by darker figures of skeletons, mushrooms and monsters which relate to Murakami’s time in New York dealing with loneliness and the collective Japanese trauma of the bombings and Fukushima.
But beyond just the commercial success of his work Murakami is at the end of the day an artist before anything else. In 2010, at the Palace of Versailles Murakami installed a truly gigantic installation completely in contrast to the palace’s historic art. This installation of ‘financial art’ garnered great criticism from traditionalists who felt the palace’s curators were sellouts. But Murakami has always been synonymous with extravagance and he didn’t back down from installing his bold and sometimes extremely graphic art. In 2009, Murakami along with Pharrell and Jacob the Jeweler installed a nearly 2 million $ sculpture set with gold, rubies, diamonds, sapphires and emeralds at the Art Basel Miami.
In his own animated film trilogy, Jellyfish Eyes and Billie Eilish’s music video for ‘You Should see me in a crown’, Murakami also exhibits his directorial talents when dealing with graphics arts and animations. The video for Eilish’s song takes a dark turn rather quickly and we can see Murakami’s iconic flowers being destroyed. The darker themes of Murakami’s artworks are quite bold here.
Murakami’s Flower symbol has also been armed to serve charitable causes. In 2020 we saw Supreme’s Covid Relief Box Logo T-shirt drop with Murakami’s iconic print. Murakami’s print sales have raised more than a million $ for the Black Lives Matter movement and in a collaboration with Pangea, Murakami designed hoodies to raise money for World Bee day.
After Murakami’s first well received collaboration with Kanye on 2007 album Graduation’s artwork and music video he was once again tapped by Kanye and Kid Cudi for their collaborative chart topping album ‘Kids See Ghosts’. The artwork features the Japanese word for Chaos inverted across the backdrop and Mount Fuji in the background. Murakami is also directing and animating the unreleased animated TV show for Kids See Ghosts which will see Kanye and Cudi voice acting Murakami inspired Bear and Fox characters.
In 2019 Murakami dropped his first Crocs collab at ComplexCon Long Beach. The upper features a psychedelic color scheme Murakami is known for and also his iconic bear figure as an addon button in classic crocs style. The limited release Croc is now the most expensive pair for the brand with unused pairs reselling for over 700$.
Written by Aditya Chopra