I finally understand Superflat.
It's one of his older focuses, and pervades in the work even now. Since three years ago when I first laid my hands on his Superflat book, I had an idea of what he was getting at, but never fully understood it until I saw his work in person. Namely, his "flower" pieces are what made it click.
In his (c) exhibition, Murakami has a room dedicated to his happy, flashy, symbolic beauties. The wall is papered with bright flowers, and on the back wall is "Kawaii! Vacances d'ete" (2002). This six-paneled acrylic took up the entirety of the wall, but three moments caught my eye:
The flowers exist in three positions. Front, 3/4, and side. This is superflat. Even the 3/4 flower that may be assumed is dimensional is necessarily flat. It is as if the flower, drawn from he top view, was distorted on a computer. It is also as if an order and purity of position must be maintained in this world of flowers, as in the society in which he dwells.
Murakami was classically trained in nihonga Painting from Tokyo's National University of Fine Art and Music, and this image paired with that information made it apparent what Superflat meant.
Compare Murakami's flowers to these representation of Umé (Japanese Plum Blossoms) in Japanese Crests:
Here the formula remains the same. Umé are shown from strictly three positions: top, side, and beneath. In classical Japanese painting, this formula is never breached.
Murakami stresses that Superflat is not only a visual quality that pervades Japanese culture, but is also a cultural quality that is uniquely Japanese. He expresses the desire to show the pervasion of Superflat in the past as well as the present. So he represents Superflat in two ways, the representation of flowers in only a few angles, and the distortion of flowers in an illusionistically three-dimensional way. I think that the two are the past and present representations of the same Superflat. Modern and brighter, but the same Superflat.
What exactly does Superflat mean culturally? I'm not Japanese, there's not much I can say to it. It could speak to social and gender roles in Japan and their limited flexibility. To vapid, empty marketing. To a lot of things.
Below is the painting of an Umé branch that I based my Umé animation off of. It maintains the formula visually. But what does it maintain in the history of a national style?
1. "FlowerBall Blood (3-D) V," Takashi Murakami
2. Detail of "Kawaii! Vacances d'ete," Takashi Murakami
3. Book, "Family Crests of Japan." Stone Bridge Press, Berkeley, CA, 2007.
4. Book, "A Grammar of Japanese Ornament and Design," Thomas W. Cutter. Dover Publications, Mineola, NY, 2003.