The cycle of paintings on view at Blum & Poe continues Murakami's newest mode of painting, developed for his exhibition Ego, mounted in Doha, Qatar in early 2012. The Arhat paintings conflate historical, contemporary, and futuristic Japanese references with a myriad of styles, methodologies, and forms into single picture planes. The artist's long-standing interest in Japanese nihonga painting and the contemporary practices of manga and animation are highlighted in this important body of work.
Arhat, which derives its name from the ancient language of Sanskrit, translates to "a being who has achieved a state of enlightenment." The largest gallery will contain three imposingly scaled paintings measuring between eighteen and thirty-five feet in length, whose source imagery is drawn from an ancient tale of Buddhist monks confronting decay and death. Demonic monsters and decrepit monks in traditional robes and paraphernalia wander psychedelic landscapes. Standing tall and center amongst these large paintings will be a monumental new sculpture depicting a massive skull enveloped in flames, whose antecedents can be found in Buddhist statuary located in temples throughout Japan.
The gallery's second room will consist of a new suite of six-by-five foot paintings, combining the artist's optimistic and bright, smiling flower faces with his dark and brooding skull imagery. These paintings intermingle the handmade, silkscreened, and gestural techniques that have become a trademark of the artist. This gallery will also feature Murakami's first wall-mounted sculpture, portraying a constellation of cascading skulls overlapping and melding together in a highly crafted manner.
The third gallery will include a series of painted self-portraits featuring Murakami and his beloved dog "Pom." In the center of the gallery will be a third new sculpture made of highly polished stainless steel; a self-portrait of the artist with his dog, sleeping flat on their backs. This body of work furthers Murakami's investigation into his own image, most notably seen in the recent sculptures, Oval Buddha, 2008, several versions of Pom & Me, 2009, and Welcome to Murakami Ego, 2012. Taken as a whole, Arhat articulates more than twenty years of Murakami's mastery of melding form, content, history, and methodology into a succinct body of work. Murakami distills his signature "Superflat" style into a reflection on high, middle, and lowbrow culture.
Takashi Murakami was born in 1962 in Tokyo, and received his BFA, MFA, and PhD from the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. He founded the Hiropon factory in Tokyo in 1996, which later evolved into Kaikai Kiki Co., a large-scale art production and art management corporation. In 2000, he organized a paradigmatic exhibition of Japanese art titled Superflat, which traced the origins of contemporary Japanese visual pop culture to historical Japanese art. His work has been shown extensively in venues around the world, including the Qatar Museum Authority; Palace of Versailles; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Brooklyn Museum; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt; Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao; Fondation Cartier pour l'art Contemporain, Paris; Serpentine Gallery, London; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; and Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.