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Takashi Murakami: Superflat and super awkward

By Kristie Lu Stout, CNN
January 14, 2013 -- Updated 0120 GMT (0920 HKT)
  • Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami creates erotic, fantasy art with anime influence
  • His "superflat" approach combines high art, anime and flat planes of color
  • He employs his signature psychedelic color palette in figurines and fashion collaboration

Hong Kong (CNN) -- This is not worksafe. It's a hyperlink to Hiropon, the pornographic fiberglass creation of Japanese contemporary artist Takashi Murakami.

To spare you the mouse click, here's the description. Hiropon is an anime-type character with monstrously huge lactating breasts that are spilling out of her bikini. She is both sick and ridiculous, a sculpture that -- I will admit -- makes me wince and laugh at the same time.

This supersized fantasy figurine sold at an auction in 2002 for $427,500 and helped transform Murakami into a globally recognized art-world rock star.

So when I sat down to interview the artist at the Gagosian Gallery in Hong Kong, I had to ask him what the hardcore Hiropon was all about. Was it a work of social satire? Was he criticizing anime culture by exposing its often lustful portrayal of women as objects?

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Not at all, says Murakami. It's just a celebration of his teen years as a self-described otaku.

"I became an otaku when I was in high school and absorbed many different things from anime like its erotic and fantasy elements... that very process resulted in that work," he says, adding that his art is about finding his true self.

Takashi Murakami is one of Asia's hottest contemporary artists and an international art-world phenomenon. He's known for an approach called "superflat" -- a technique that combines high art and anime, while employing flat planes of color.

The superflat movement propelled Murakami to fame in the 1990s and eventually caught the eye of designer Marc Jacobs. In 2002, Jacobs, as creative director of Louis Vuitton, collaborated with Murakami to update the traditional LV logo. The handbag collection became a defining accessory of the decade.

Murakami made his mark in a decade of excess marked by bling, botox and Big Brother. But even in that era of gloss and luxury spin, he used his superflat language to bare his innermost feelings and urges.

There's an honesty to his work, however plastic or shiny they appear. So Hiropon, along with his other otaku fantasies in fiberglass like Miss Ko2, is what it is -- an adolescent wet dream made real.

Even Murakami's dazzling use of color comes from a true awkward moment of his past -- a teenage desire to please the hot girl in class.

"When I was doing painting as a freshman in university, an older female student came and told me that I severely lacked a sense of color," says Murakami. "It just so happened that her boyfriend was known for his outstanding sense of color."

"You can imagine, as I was hoping to make a living as a painter, how upset that comment made me! From that day on, I started studying the fundamentals of color."

A desire to please led to a love of dazzling color and his signature psychedelic color palette. A geeky love of sci-fi led to his universe of superflat creations like Mr. DOB, smiley-faced flowers and colorful mushrooms.

And a willingness to bare his anime-fueled fantasies -- no matter how grotesque -- led to his super-sized figurines.

If you happen to be in Hong Kong, you can get up close and personal with Murakami's work at his latest exhibition, "Flowers & Skulls," at the Gagosian Hong Kong now until February 9.

(Just look out for all the carefully-rendered nose hairs in his superflat self-portraits featured in the video above.)

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