MR. Is a J-Pop Art Star at Lehmann Maupin NYC

July 13, 2016  |  Art

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While Takashi Murakami might be the tip of the spear of the nascent Japanese Pop Art movement, his contemporary Mr. (aka: Masakatsu Iwamoto) remains one of the genre’s strongest proponents. For his excellent new show at Lehmann Maupin, NYC,  Sunset in My Heart (which was celebrated at the opening by turning the gallery into a raucous Japanese summer street festival with a musical performance by the artist dressed as a Japanese schoolgirl gone wrong), Mr. has returned to his expressive and experimental roots as a young artist, incorporating abstract elements like graffiti, and using distressed and sullied canvases to accentuate his colorful anime-themed imagery.

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. Mr. uses the distressed surface of the canvas as a base for cartoon renderings inspired by the online milieu of his otaku (2) community, or sourced from the artist’s collection of magazines, posters, and advertising. 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.

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Mr. rocks the house on opening nite

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