The contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami is one who has established himself over the last half century as a master of tight detail and colourful explosion within his large scale pieces. Having completed upwards of 97 solo shows alone between 1989 and 2018, Murakami found success first in Japan and America, and slowly expanding his audience across the European continent into France and Britain, his work is that which is seemingly relevant only in societies with a huge emphasis on commercialism and the visual language that implies. Undoubtedly, his work references and is respectful towards the masters of before – personally naming Francis Bacon as an artist he personally has always appreciated- his key influence lies in that of anime and manga, an art form created largely en masse and to a certain predictable structure. For this reason, I see his work as a response to the mass produced world we live in – art included – as well as that of an adoration of the strong black line as a tool for creating imagery, and this certainly cones through in his mural-esque artworks.
The subject of Murakami’s work, however, was not what caused him to catch my eye. It was rather the connection I felt between our method of application. In both of our practices, I feel that while there is a definite level of planning that goes into the overall designs and shapes that we shall be engaging with, in the actual physical process of laying down lines we are more influenced by the idea of following our own set of expanding guidelines and rules. This is not to create a rigid piece, but rather to aid us in exploring the space on the page – we don’t draw but rather germinate across the page. By limiting ones scope in terms of what specific shapes and lines they shall attempt to keep in play, one might be able to push those ideas to a far greater extent than they would with a more free mindset whilst maintaining a cohesive overall image. The key element I found in this practice was that of building up from what you have already placed down – a tiny circle placed at the centre of a piece still having echo’s of its form being recreated 15 hours down the line and all the way across the large surface upon which you are working. The idea of this – and, I feel, the final result, is to create a piece that could only ever have been achieved through this organic process, and never envisaged as a whole before the marks had begun to be applied themselves.
Another enjoyable aspect of this organic method of illustration was that one could adapt their surroundings into being an important part of the piece. This was realised in, but not limited to, the use of surface as an active part of the creative process. By this I mean, using the shapes and natural deformities found in the paper or upon the surface one is working upon as inspiration for the lines, shapes, and colours one uses in the actual imagery of the piece. One such early example is my usage of scraps from an earlier and – I consider – failed experiment which were covered in measurements and markings I had used to score and cut the paper into different shapes for the purpose of masking. Many of these pieces had also torn at one time or another or had creased quite severely, resulting in a collage of right angles, parallel lines, organically torn edges, scrawled writings, and even different heights of paper as I had attempted to combine these pieces together in layers upon one another rather than simply side by side. The overall outlining shape that was thus created as a result was also a point of interest as I could then place it in the actual physical environment with a similar philosophy – wrapping the drawings around structural parts of the studio or simply matching lines in the joins between the sloping roof and the wall with the composition of my work.
A key way in which Murakami and I differ is in our usage of colour. I think this is to do with our difference in subject matter, for though we both seem to be interested in the imagination in one way or another, his goal seems to be more the heightening of such themes and mine is rather that of the rationalisation and simplification of the mind. This comes through in his incredible vibrant shapes and colours – heavily using childlike imagery with suitably bright shades of pink, blue, and yellow, etc whilst I try to be more sparing. In essence, my line work is largely based around the idea of trying to visualise a cerebral train of thought itself, and so I want each line to be traceable to some degree or another whilst he tries to visualise the visual imagery of a mind in some for of dream-state. Whats more, I see the mind as being more of a frontier than a playground – a place where one can feel lost, alone, frightened even. In an attempt to portray moments of confusion, this generally more minimalist approach allows denser areas to truly stand out as areas of dense confusion rather than simply more of the same, giving a greater impact upon the viewer. For myself, at least, I find that this is also the most accurate portrayal of a mind in panic as it seems in those moments that one cannot see through a dense fog or bramble of thoughts that they themselves cannot control. It is the mind vs. the mind and neither side is sure who shall win out. To portray this, colour had to be used more carefully, not simply showing layers of thought, but the complexity in each and how they serve to blind us.
When working on these pieces, I have constantly found myself being influenced not only by the space I am in or the surface upon which I am working, but also very heavily by something we often taken for granted today given its near constant presence in our lives. I, like many others, listen to music to help me concentrate as I work – but not simply for the sake of blocking out the outside world. The tones and shapes of the music I listen to has a direct effect in my drawing or painting, echo’s of each note often being found upon the page – a drawn out note from a violin granting a huge sweeping arc, or an intense drum beat leading to more closely knotted and dotted marks on the page. Perhaps this comes from being a musician to some extent myself, but I cannot help but feel the effects of music in my subconsciousness, and that is the place from which my abstract art comes from. To take away the more cerebral elements of drawing and – with a few guidelines and patterns in mind – allow the work to flow without my intellectual interference.
Below is a playlist I have been slowly working on for over a year that I feel is perfect for working long hours on a piece of artwork as it contains a huge number of songs and compositions that have been ordered to flow together effectively without too many breaks in mood, feel free to listen at your leisure.