Oct 30 2013

So Sweet! MR. in Hong Kong

by Chloe Mandryk

Japanese artist, MR. creating one of his colorful, large-scale paintings. Copyright Mr./Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong. 

This October, at Galerie Perrotin in Hong Kong, contemporary Japanese artist MR. debuted ten large-scale acrylic works as well as a handful of watercolors created in the last year-and-a-half.  Celebrating the ascension of anime to the ranks of high culture, MR. inundates the picture plane with 7-Eleven products, graffiti text and dancing punctuation, all of which enshrine devotional images of young girls. Much like a sugar-high, the artist highlights the visceral and irrational state caused by excessive consumption.

Working under the umbrella of a number of erotic and aesthetic subcultures, MR. readily identifies as an otaku, someone with obsessive behavior.  In his case, the artist is drawn to the “cute” sexuality of pre-adolescents who star in manga, video games and increasingly in the affect of real life girls. In So Sweet!: Daydreaming (2013), a work a little over two meters long, and the largest work on show, a shy girl holds our gaze from beneath her bangs. Swirling locks of hair are tangled with layers of graffiti and the accompanying caption reads:  “So Sweet!”

MR.’s practice, which dates from the 1990s, has evolved from more straightforward depictions of fetishes to works which, while still retaining his infatuation with the girl-child, have begun to feature signs, shapes and colors. The proliferation of text marks these recent explorations, indicating a desire for the artist—now in his 40s—to extend beyond his otaku circle. In most works you’ll find dripping cursive, bubble forms, pixilated tags (which may refer to one obvious source of inspiration, the Internet), and scribbled notes which look like the permanent marker scrawling you might find on the back of a bus seat. His departure from literal depictions of his fantasy life can be attributed to the artist’s desire to be free of constraints. “If I keep on doing such work I will be locked into a style and won’t create something new,” he says.

MR.High School Story—Satsuki-tan & Miyabi-kyun: Favorite, 2013, acrylic on canvas, 194 × 162 cm. Courtesy Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong.

Before striking out on his own, MR. worked as an assistant to Japanese pop artist, Takashi Murakami. Around this time, he began working in the Superflat style—characteristics of which include block color, little receding space and girls with large, dilated, kaleidoscope eyes. Superflat girls’ coquettish appeal (also known as “moe”) is intentionally designed for the voyeur: to be admired but impossible to touch.

From the foot of a huge canvas, in works like High School Story: Yeah! Yeah! (2013), MR. highlights his contention that women in Japan are actually much more powerful than men. In the 194-centimeter tall canvas, two girls pose in customized uniforms, their skirts hiked, neckties loosened and one sporting pink pigtails. Surrounding them, slapped incongruously like bumper stickers, are graffiti text and images of snacks, mirroring the girls’ yummy or sweet nature.

Though it may not always come across, some of the works touch upon more sensitive issues. In Shakotan Love: Virgin Blue (2013) a Yankee girl—sweatshirt pulled across her large chest, done up with a precarious zipper—appears provocative in her demeanor. Yankee, a sub-culture characterized by punkish gear, bleached hair and motorcycle riding, emerged in Japan in the late 1970s and has been derided for its apparent shirking of tradition. Yet MR. recalls how, where greater society failed to, some Yankees lent a hand following the Tohoku earthquake in 2011. He admires these youth for their free spirit and hopes that the work in this exhibition will serve to elevate the subculture. “Yankees are not really approved by the general public,” he says, further elaborating, “the process of creation was turning something most people see as bad to an ideal.”

Likening his practice to a kind of Zen philosophy, MR. cherishes and acts upon the “here and now.” So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is a sense of iconoclasm in this show—signs, branding and even heads of young girls are taken totally out of context and re-worked into frenzied compositions that force one to reflect on how images in pop culture are received.  

Sweeet! is on view at Galerie Perrotin, Hong Kong through November 9, 2013.