Fans of this rad blog may already be familiar with Japanese artist Mr. from This Exhibit — which was way back in 2012, but seems like it was just yesterday! Mr.’s latest exhibit, up now at Lehmann Maupin Gallery, is called Sunset in My Heart, and it features a new series of vibrant Manga paintings that still embrace the Superflat style, and yet break new aesthetic ground for this enigmatic artist.
For Sunset in My Heart, Mr. has returned to his expressive and experimental roots as a young artist, incorporating abstract elements like graffiti, and using distressed and sullied canvases. Mr. prepares the canvases by burning them, walking over them, and leaving them on his studio floor to collect dirt and debris. This new treatment of the canvas is directly connected to the artist’s early interest in the 1960s Italian art movement Arte Povera that inspired his first manga paintings he produced on store receipts, takeout menus, and other scraps of transactional detritus.
These recent works reflect the artist’s intensely personal reinterpretation of popular visual culture and the increasingly mediated ways we engage with one another. Mr.’s oeuvre has elevated anime and manga subculture by embracing its cultural significance rather than critiquing its frivolity. In addition to painstakingly recreating the tantalizing graphics and slick finish of manga comic book characters, Mr. physically becomes the characters through cosplay performances — dressing up as fictional characters — at his openings and events.
This recent body of work reflects Mr.’s impulse to push the seemingly kitschy nature of these imaginary realms into a gritty and abstract painting style in order to explore personal, global, and environmental themes of destruction. While the manga-style characters continue to appear in Mr.’s work, their significance has shifted from playing up lolicon—the fetishization of young, fictional female characters—toward a more platonic realm, known as moe, or love for an icon that does not carry sexual associations.
These new characters represent positive beacons of strength that overcome all adversity. This reflects the artist’s creative impetus to embrace pleasure and beauty in diverse forms, instead of giving in to the personal and national despair that emerges after catastrophic loss and destruction, as it has in Japan since 2011. The title, Sunset in My Heart, reflects the simultaneous yet conflicting feelings of melancholy and hope, which also encompass the complicated nature of the human condition.
Upon entering the final gallery room, we were surprised and delighted to see, through doors opening onto a rear patio, that there was a party going on!
With colorful paper lanterns, folks dressed in kimonos; balloon animals, Japanese posters and very interesting music, the energetic vibe was certainly comparable to the wild shenanigans we enjoyed at the opening reception for this This Exhibit, which is to say that it was just insane. We learned that this party was designed to recreate a Japanese summer festival! Here are some photos of the festivities!
Posters like these covered the walls and even the ground, so that fans would feel fully transported to another place, far far away.
Here is an inflatable kiddie pool filed with colorful balls. We are not sure if we were supposed to take one of these balls as a souvenir, or if they were just part of the art. Should we have taken one? Probably.
We gently pushed our way to the front of he crowd to see that Mr. was there; dressed as a Japanese school girl, inspired directly by one of his paintings, and performing Japanese Pop Song Karaoke. Here, he takes a dramatic pause mid-song to roll on the ground.
Here, he performs “Hotel California” by The Eagles. There is an MC on his right, who is interpreting the scene. Art!
Suddenly, Mr. decided to cover his face with dark blue paint. Perhaps this was an indication that he was feeling melancholy.
There was also a chef making a variety of delicious dumplings for the hungry crowd. These had shrimp in them. Yummy!
Mr.’s Sunset in My Heart will be on Exhibit Through August 12th, 2016, at Lehmann Maupin, 536 West 22nd Street, in the Chelsea Gallery District.