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The Surreal & Unreal Meet in Mr.'s First Solo Exhibition at Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong


  by Yunyi Lau
Title to be determined (2017) by MR., acrylic on canvas mounted on wood panel, 51.18" x 19.69" x 1.97" / 142.4cm x 120cm x 5cm LM26049 © Mr. / Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved (Image courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong)

Doe-eyed floating heads of adolscent cartoon girls in pastels have become somewhat iconic of Japanese artist Mr.'s own artistic practice, as he develops away from his previously more sexualised works. However, he continues to show traces of his "Superflat" origins; coined by another Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami, the "Superflat" movement refers both to a two-dimensionality in Japanese visual art, but also a connection to the way in which cultural references from the East and West are appropriated seamlessly in Japanese pop culture.

Ahead of his first exhibition at Lehmann Maupin in Hong Kong entitled 'Floating in the Air in the Vicinity of a Convenience Store', we speak to Mr. about how he came up with his exhibition title and what about Japanese Otaku culture that coninues to inspire him.

 

Your latest exhibition is titled ‘Floating in the Air in the Vicinity of a Convenience Store’. How did you come up with this title and what does it mean? What is your inspiration for this show?

Every day, there are certain scenes that I see as well as certain objects that I see within those scenes. Lately, I've come to take interest in how these objects sometimes do not appear in places that they are usually expected to be in, especially instances in which objects are floating in the air, or rather, blown away in mid-air. There are a lot of footages on Facebook and Twitter of unrealistic weather phenomena and accidents that occur in reality. My interests are scattered across these bizarre happenings. There is also a scene from a movie called Shin Godzilla (Godzilla Resurgence) in which a bridge is completely blown away. I was strongly inspired by this scene. It is at once surreal and unreal.
 

A scene from Shin Godzilla (Godzilla Resurgence)
Image courtesy of Robot Viking

 

Could you tell us a bit about your artistic practice and how you prepare for a solo exhibition like this one? When a gallery like Lehmann Maupin approaches you to do a show do you already have an idea of what you want to create for the show?

My artistic practice and creations revolve around personal incidents as well as personal experiences. So when it comes to planning for shows with galleries and museums, what I consider for the specific shows may be the size of the pieces as well as their fit in the overall layout.
 

Title to be determined (2017) by MR., 2017 iron, FRP, urethane paint, acrylic paint, and plywood base with MDF surface finish 51.18" x 19.69" x 17.72" / 130cm x 50cm x 45cm LM26036 © Mr. / Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Image courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong

 

For ‘Floating in the Air in the Vicinity of a Convenience Store’, you will also be including some drawings that have your personal notes and scribbles that are part of your daily practice as an artist. Why is it important for you to show these alongside your works that often look very smooth and ‘flat’?

My very debut piece was a drawing, which is why I think drawing decidedly comes as a natural creative process for me. Perhaps I've become more relaxed lately.
 

To be titled (2017) by MR., 17.72" x 14.88" (unframed) / 45 x 37.8 cm LM26064 © Mr. / Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Image courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong

 

Speaking of materials and mediums, you also often use found objects to create large-scale sculptures or installations, which you paint over at times. How do these objects relate to your work? You also recently collaborated on a project with Gucci. How do you think the art and material objects correlate?

When it comes to creating my works, I think about expressions through painting and through those objects with two different brains. I've always equated the act of painting with the means to save as much money as I can. At the same time, I've been conceiving of painting in tandem with the act of picking up trash. 
 

Title to be determined (2017) by MR., acrylic on canvas mounted on wood panel 55.98" x 47.24" x 1.97" / 142.2cm x 120cm x 5cm LM26046 © Mr. / Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Image courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong

 

Speaking of flat, you are one of Takashi Murakami’s protégés and one of the earliest artists to be represented at Kaikai Kiki Gallery. How did you start working with him? What are some of the things that you learnt from him that continues to influence your practice today?

When I was a student at an art school, Murakami was in the midst of recruiting new assistants. A teacher from school, who was a personal friend of Murakami's, introduced me to him and I began to work at his studio soon thereafter. Today, I work independently in my own atelier.
 

Title to be determined (2017) by MR., acrylic on canvas mounted on wood panel 68.9 x 98.43 x 1.97 inches 175 x 250 x 5 cm LM26044 © Mr. / Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Image courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong

 

Your work continues to draw links to the ‘Superflat’ movement first identified by Murakami, which relates to a two-dimensionality present in Japanese visual art and pop culture. How do you think your practice continues, as well as differs, from this style? In terms of your artistic practice, what are you currently most interested in today?

My artistic expression is based on female physique and sketching of faces. There is also an impulse deep inside me to paint self-portraits of the Japanese since the defeat in the World War II.
 

Title to be determined (2017) by MR., acrylic on canvas mounted on wood panel 63.78" x 51.18" x 1.97" / 162cm x 130cm x 5cm LM26045 © Mr. / Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
Image courtesy of the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong

 

Your works are often associated with Japanese pop culture and ‘Otaku’, which is very much connected to Japanese anime. Are there any particular anime or manga series that have inspired ‘Floating in the Air in the Vicinity of a Convenience Store’?

For this show, I was inspired by a game called CLANNAD by Key (a gaming company) as well as Shin Godzilla (Godzilla Resurgence), a film by Hideaki Anno. 
 

Clannad (クラナド Kuranado) is a Japanese visual novel developed by Key in which players assume the role of Tomoya Okazaki, a high school delinquent who meets many people in his last year at school, including five girls, and helps resolve their individual problems.
Image courtesy of Pintrest

 

I actually saw you at Art Basel in Hong Kong and you were dressed almost like one of the girls you often paint - in a cute sailor outfit. Are your outfits part of a certain performance that you engage in as an artist? Does this relate in any way to your decision as an artist to use a mysterious name like Mr.?

Mr. is a nickname for Shigeo Nagashima, a baseball superstar in postwar Japan. While he was a baseball genius of his time, he was terrible at interviews: he would often reply with complete and utter disregard of the context in which the questions were asked and create confusion on the site. Murakami pointed out this lack of comprehension of context similar to that of Nagashima in me and gave me this nickname.

 

MR. at the HYPEBEAST Art Basel Afterparty in Hong Kong
Image courtesy of HYPEBEAST & Renee Neoh

 

Finally, what are your plans for the rest of the year? You are participating in the Yokohama Triennale, so will you continue to expand on what you have created for the triennale and ‘Floating in the Air in the Vicinity of a Convenience Store’? Or are you interested in something new?

I would like to spend more time on making drafts for manga and anime. 

 

 

'Floating in the Air in the Vicinity of a Convenience Store' by MR. is on show at Lehmann Maupin Hong Kong from 14 September till 21 October 2017. For more information on the exhibition and opening hours, click here.