Spanning across the 3 spaces in Paris at 76 rue de Turenne & 10 impasse Saint-Claude, more than 40 recent and heretofore never seen artworks have been gathered for this special occasion. Some of the works were displayed until recently at Murakami’s major solo retrospective “The 500 Arhats,” which was on view at Mori Art Museum in Tokyo from 2015 to early 2016.
These include a monumental multi-panel painting entitled “A Picture of Lives Wriggling in the Forest at the Deep End of the Universe” (2015), conceived as an anthology of iconic themes of Murakami’s cosmology, from 727, Gerotan/Mr. Dob, Dragon, and Panda series to mythological animals, lion, elephant, tiger, goat, etc.
A second group of works will focus on the theme of the arhats. Originally explored by Murakami in a 100-meter long painting “The 500 Arhats” produced for his solo retrospective in Qatar in 2012, the arhat paintings represent the 500 wise followers of Buddha who attained enlightenment by overcoming their greed, hatred, and delusions, destroying their karmic residue from previous lives.
The faith in the arhats was conveyed to Japan during the Heian period (8th-12th century) and flourished throughout the country during the Edo period (17th-19th century) in the form of paintings and sculptures.
Kanō Kazunobu’s “Five Hundred Arhats” (housed at Zōjō-ji Temple in Shiba, Tokyo), a 100-scroll series of paintings made directly following the fearful 1855 Edo Ansei earthquake, has greatly inspired Murakami, who in turn painted his “The 500 Arhats” in response to the 2011 East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, an event which profoundly changed the overall direction of his work. The representations of arhats presented in the Paris show are both continuations and excerpts of this masterpiece. In an ironic touch, Murakami has even portrayed himself as a robot sculpture, “Arhat”.
Galerie Perrotin will also feature a selection of paintings from Murakami’s “Ensō” series. The subject of these new paintings is one of the most famous motifs in Japanese Zen painting, the Ensō (literally, ‘circle’) that symbolizes emptiness, unity, and infinity in Zen Buddhism, and is also a form of meditation. Since 2007, Murakami has been painting the great figures of Zen Buddhism: Daruma the Great, the founder of Zen, and the severed hand of the monk Eka (Huike), a sacrifice to his master Daruma (Bodhidharma) whom he later succeeded. The Ensō paintings represent another epiphany for the artist, resulting from quiet and ongoing spiritual practice.
The Ensō is the prerequisite to every act of creation, a moment when the mind is free to let the body create. Traditionally traced with a brush in one fluid and highly mastered stroke, the circle does not allow for a change of heart. Murakami executes the Ensō in his unique style, using spray paint over his signature accumulations of flowers and skulls, on raw canvas or partially painted.
The Ensō is a true homage to Japanese tradition, a return to a more unfettered minimalist practice; the result of a complex artistic and spiritual path.
Amidst all of these works, viewers will notice several of the motifs and characters which have defined Murakami’s art over the past twenty years. One particular focus is the motif of the skull, an image which has always been featured in Murakami’s iconography. In Murakami’s universe, the skull symbolizes the impermanence of our lives, as in Buddhism, or the western tradition of vanitas.
They can be an element of the composition of the paintings (for example a bridge made of skulls on which lions sit, or skull rocks on which different animals stand) or sometimes animate the background of the painting as a whole, for example in the Monochrome or Ensō series. They can even be the central motif to contemplate.
Perrotin Gallery www.perrotin.com