Thursday, March 29, 2012

Takashi Murakami: Superflat and Pop Culture

Takashi Murakami infront of his Superflat artwork
Written by Hilary Dufour

When someone says Murakami, a lot of people, fortunately or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, may think of the handbags he designed for famed fashion house Louis Vuitton. It was after all, artist Takashi Murakami’s stint with Louis Vuitton that gained him international popularity and “rockstar status.” From an artistic standpoint however, Murakami was not so pleased. He commented in an interview, “I need to rebuild the wall between commercial art and the fine art I do. I need to focus on the fine-art side of me for a while”. Undoubtedly, Murakami’s influence in the Japanese contemporary art scene runs far deeper than his commercially successful handbags.  

Mass-produced Pop Art

Murakami is often considered to be a pop artist because of his keen interest in popular culture, particularly that of his birth country of Japan.  Pop art’s main goal is to bridge the divide between art and everyday life, bringing everyday life into the art world and vice versa.  Murakami has indeed succeeded in bridging this gap with the production of his countless mass-produced consumer products which include t-shirts and mousepads. The Murakami founded Hiropon factory is essential to the production of these various goods as well as the creation, or more like mass-production of his art.

Murakami and Kaikai Kiki Co.

Murakami’s methods as an artist share many similarities with those of the late pop artist Andy Warhol, whose influence on the art world is immeasurable. He works in a Warholian technique which involves employing many assistants to aid in the making of his certainly not one-of-a-kind artworks. As was emphasized in Andy Warhol’s factory, an original hand-created piece of art was not valuable to the artist. Though Murakami does often supervise his assistants, like Warhol, he rarely does any of the painting himself. Murakami is the founder of Kaikai Kiki Co. which was originally a way to manage his many assistants, however it has evolved to become a collaborative of like-minded artists.

The lack of importance placed on one-of-a-kind artworks within Takashi Murakami’s art practice is significant to his being a pop artist. As aforementioned, pop art was and is inherently interested in bridging the gap between high/fine art and commercial/low culture. If an artwork is replicated, or in this case mass-produced, it loses its value and becomes less expensive, and thus more accessible to the greater public. Another characteristic of Murakami’s art is its plastic-like and flat surface, which has been named “Superflat.” Superflat describes art which is purposefully two-dimensional and lacking depth or perspective.  However, Superflat can also be attributed to this blurring of the boundaries between high and low culture and art.

"Flower Ball" by Takashi Murakami

"My Lonesome Cowboy"

Alternatively, Takashi Murakami’s Japanese contemporary art is certainly not being sold on the cheap. Though less well-known than his happy cartoon-like characters, Murakami’s less popular art is not to be ignored.  His 1988 larger-than-life sculpture "My Lonesome Cowboy," which depicts an aroused male, was sold in 2008 for an astonishing $15.2 million at Sotheby’s in New York.  Though many at the auction were surprised at this sale, Murakami commented to his art dealer “Oh, it’s not surprising.”

Many lowbrow urban artists affiliated with Thumbprint Gallery are largely influenced by  Murakami’s Japanese contemporary art. Elements of his style are witnessed in contemporary urban artworks by EZ Rock and Surge.

Visit Thumbprint Gallery's online store to see works by more urban artists.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Os Gêmeos: Brazilian Graffiti Artists

Written by Lucy Coker

Os Gemeos are notorious for their dreamlike surreal graffiti art that adorns the streets of numerous cities across the world with yellow faced figures. Now the leading artists in the Brazilian street art community, these identical twin brothers have a distinct style that incorporates everything from folklore to the current political struggles of Brazil.

From the Streets of São Paulo

In 1987 the Otavio and Gustavo Pandolfo began painting graffiti and soon became a leading influence in the local street art scene. Starting out as break-dancers and then turning to street art, Os Gêmeos were influenced by a range of areas including hip-hop, the Brazilian graffiti movement pixação and Brazilian culture in general. For Brazilian graffiti artists street art was an escape from the city as well as being a way to express their ideas to the vast population of São Paulo. "We turned to graffiti," says one of the brothers, "to escape the chaos of life in São Paulo. The city is a beast that is growing out of control." With the vast divide between rich and poor, the brother’s art gave a voice to the citizens of São Paulo who had no opportunity to speak for themselves.
Initially, it was difficult for the Brazilian twins get their hands on information about hip-hop and street art culture that was developing outside of Brazil. It wasn’t until in 1994, when they met Barry McGee aka “Twist,” the renowned San Francisco street artist, that they had a further insight into the graffiti elements and styles that were being used in America. Following their first interview with "12oz Prophet Magazine" in 1998, Os Gêmeos began to get recognition outside of South America and quickly became a celebrated duo within the street art world.

Yellow Skinned Creatures

Os Gêmeos are most renowned for their almost alien creatures with yellow skin. According to the brothers, this inclination to a certain color is in connection with a tradition of São Paulo writers who each have their own color identification: “We started that a long, long time ago, its like identification, like some people do black and white, there is the mystical part too, we believe that we born in the “orange time”, 1974.”
The brothers’ distinctive style combines elements of graffiti, including "spray paint and a counterculture aesthetic," with precise attention to detail in each piece. They incorporate images and concepts from Brazilian folklore whilst addressing current political messages to create not only stunning work but graffiti art with meaning. The strange figures and adaptation of folklore result in the creation of surreal images and suggest an influence of magical realism, a prominent aesthetic style in Latin America during the 60s and 70s.

Os Gemeos' yellow figures on a street mural in Brazil
L.A. Exhibition

The Brazilian graffiti artists recently exhibited their work “Miss You” at Prism Gallery in Los Angeles. Their newest gallery work stunned visitors with elongated yellow heads growing from the floor to become lanterns. The gallery floors and walls were painted a vibrant red which created a dream world of Os Gemeos, unleashing new yellow-faced characters up to their old tricks. 

Many artists at Thumbprint Gallery in San Diego share elements of Os Gêmeos’ style. The urban artists affiliated with Thumbprint exhibit unique low brow urban artworks that range from surrealism to stencil art.

You can view and purchase works by Thumbprint Gallery artists at our online store. Check it out here.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Robert Williams: The Father of Pop Surrealism

From young delinquent to father of an entire art movement, Robert Williams has developed one of the most circulated art journals. Williams is one of the original founders of “Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine,” but still considers himself an “outsider” among pop surrealist artists, lowbrow art and the art world in general.

Born in 1943, Albuquerque, New Mexico, Williams moved to Los Angeles in the 60’s after a period of delinquency and gangs. He began to contribute his illustrations and pop surrealist art images to a college newspaper, and that was where his career began. He considers himself an outsider, because, despite the popularity of the magazine he helped to found, his own pop surrealist images might not be as well known as some would think.

Lowbrow Art

It was his 1979 book, “The Lowbrow Art of Robert Williams,” along with the influence of West Coast culture, which brought the term “lowbrow” into the vocabulary of the art world and defied convention. In the 1960’s, he began to work with Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, a custom car painter who inspired Williams to include hot-rod and psychedelic references to his artwork. However, Williams maintains that it was not is intention to use the term “lowbrow” to define an art movement, but that he merely intended for it to be the title of his collection.

“Juxtapoz” and Beyond

In 1994, Robert Williams founded “Juxtapoz Art & Culture Magazine” along with other artists and collectors such as Fausto Vitello and Greg Escalante. With the mission to unite different genres, “Juxtapoz” connected psychedelic, graffiti and street art with more recognized genres like pop, conceptual, and assemblage art. The magazine’s resulting pop surrealist artists, who are often considered to work in lowbrow art, also work in other forms of underground art and its sub-genres. In its initial covers and spreads of pop surrealist art images, artists who later became renowned were featured, such as Mark Ryden, Barry McGee, Tom Sachs, and other pop surrealist artists.

Juxtapoz” is the most circulated art magazine in the United States, offering both printed and online digital subscriptions, which has catered it to a wide range of audiences. Through the magazine, Robert Williams has helped to advocate up and coming artists who might be considered outsiders in the world of fine art. Pop surrealist art images and lowbrow art are often considered synonymous, many pop surrealist artists choose to not embrace any movement, and instead pride themselves in being rebellious and going against convention.

Thumbprint Gallery is known for often featuring urban and street artists who, like many before them, are continually inspired by Williams’ work and “Juxtapoz” magazine. These include Matthew Land, Christopher Konecki, Michael Mahaffey and countless others who work in a wide range of genres, similarly to the way “Juxtapoz” has opened the door to many forms of art.

See more Thumbprint Gallery artists' works available in our online store. Check it out here.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Jean-Michel Basquiat: Graffiti Artist and Poet

Written by Hilary Dufour

Jean-Michel Basquiat’s political-poetical graffiti art sets him apart from the more severe high modernism of his time. The successful Brooklyn-born graffiti artist and poet was the son of a Haitian-American father and a Puerto Rican mother. This unique background separated him from the generally white art world, a fact which he acknowledged and integrated into his unique art. 

1980s Contemporary Art

Basquiat was part of an emerging group of contemporary artists in the 1980s who were fed up with high modernism’s strict and rigid boundaries.  This group of like minded artists wanted to reform the modern art world by creating recognizable images from contemporary life using early modernism’s expressionist style. Basquiat was concerned more with expressing feelings rather than the creation of realistic images and portrayals. This interest in the use of art to express rather than depict is implicit in his drawings from the early 1980s. 
Thumbprint artists are inspired by Basquiat's dynamic work

Hypnotic Words and Tags

Jean-Michel Basquiat enjoyed using his own experiences to address larger societal concerns. One way he addressed these concerns was through the integration of words into his paintings and graffiti art.  Often, the same words were repeated over and over again “achieving an almost hypnotic effect.” Though, he was not the only artist at the time to use words in his paintings, he was one of the most successful in creating a “dynamic whole.”  Before becoming a more established artist, as a teenager he would sign his graffiti art with “SAMO©,” standing for “same old” which supposedly came from a stoned conversation he had with his friend Al Diaz. This short and sardonic phrase appearing on the streets of Manhattan attracted the attention the New York media and helped Basquiat gain popularity.  

An Outsider in the Gallery

His early success as a graffiti artist led him away from doing graffiti on the sides of buildings to selling paintings in Soho galleries. However, he stuck to his street art roots by often choosing to paint on “rough, handmade supports” that echoed his outsider and anti-high art mentality. He supported himself as a professional artist by the young age of 20 and amassed six acclaimed international shows in 1982. His popularity led him to co-create a show in the mid-1980s with the famous pop artist Andy Warhol, who was also an integral part of the revitalization of the New York art world.

Unfortunately, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s career as a groundbreaking contemporary artist was short-lived due to a drug-overdose at the young age of 27. Art critics have appreciated his art for its “emotional depth, unique iconography, and formal strengths in color, composition, and drawing.”

At Thumbprint Gallery you can find many artists who follow elements of Basquiat’s style, such as artist and poet Kenny King whose work has primitive tones mixed with modern expressionism or Mike Maxwell whose recent work incorporated text, a common method in graffiti art.

Visit Thumbprint Gallery's online store to see works by more urban artists.