During Men's Fashion Week in Paris, we caught up with world-renowned Japanese artist Takashi Murakami to discuss the philosophy behind his Vault by Vans collaboration, making surfboards with rice paper, the importance of his dog Pom and more.
Last week we visited Paris, France during Men's Fashion Week to celebrate the launch of the now sold out Vault by Vans x Takashi Murakami collection. Taking place at the Hotel du Grand Veneur, famed art dealer Emmanuel Perrotin curated a space within his own gallery, showcasing new pieces created by Murakami just for the event. The whimsical, lighthearted artwork featured in the Murakami Vans footwear capsule was presented in the space as 30+ unique pieces, with "Vans" and "Murakami" painted in various ways across the smiling flower and skull canvases.
While at the high profile event we had the chance to catch up with Takashi Murakami himself to discuss the monumental project.
The Vans collaboration came about when you expressed your desire to work with Vans in a previous interview. What do you want people to take away from this project? I wear white Vans Slip-Ons everyday and I enjoy it. I enjoy wearing them while walking, and while working. I wanted to design patterns for Vans shoes that would give an added spice or an added value to Vans customers and fans.... I think it would be nice if the shoes could help them to recreate their childhood heart and values, to have that back into their lives.
What would you say was your most memorable moment during the Vans design process? Making a surfboard. This was big, as we had to find how to use rice paper to print out stuff. A year ago, this was difficult to do with the printer, so I had to paint it all myself. Rice paper is very thin and you couldn't produce it in Japan until only recently. About 3 or 4 months ago we found the proper technology. This was a very special moment I would say.
Can you tell us about the philosophy behind the artwork you choose for the Vans project? Well the flower thing I have been using for almost 15 years. Every flower is smiling, but it looks more like the sign for a smile. So my message for the kids is "please find out what is real." If your parents are laughing or not laughing... maybe the heart is sad or something different. When I created this flower design, I wanted to approach the kids, not the serious art fans. When I was making art for my shows, sometimes I was making a "Mr Dog" image and children really loved that. That's why I wanted to create art that was familiar to kids. I realized I could get a great reaction from kids, so that's why I made the flowers.
Then after that, in many interviews they'd ask me "your happy flower design is very happy, but when I interview you, you're a very upset guy, very political and many things are disappointing, so why?" I'd get this question every time. So then I was like "okay, I'll make a skull design, I'm a very upset man." [Laughing] So then I created the skull design. But these two designs are also like black and white, dark and bright. There's good contrast.
Also Vans' image is mostly as a West Coast brand, and the people of Los Angeles love the design of skulls, so thats why I'm making that.
You used a dog character in one of the Vans collaboration graphics, is that your dog? It's my dog Pom. Almost everyday on Instagram, I have an image basically saying: "this is my dog." I had never had feelings for dogs before, but I got her like four years ago in the South Island where it's very quiet, very close to the Okinawa. I wanted to relax and do nothing, so I came to this island and stayed in a very small hotel... and the dog was pregnant. At first it was just us and then there were six dogs! [Laughing] The hotel owner said "Oh my God! This isn't happening, we have to throw you out." But everything worked out ok. I started to grow very close to this dog on the island, maybe a little too much.
I went back to Tokyo with this dog and the hotel owner phoned me and said "I still have a former dog if you want to pass it to your friend." And I found an owner. From this island to Tokyo, I started to change my life by communicating with Pom. She is nice, very cool. The most important thing is that I can be very relaxed with her.
To me, the Vans are like air and water. It's relaxed. When I have a party I have to be wearing serious shoes, black shoes, which is too much. So the Vans collaboration is a sign of being relaxed. That's why I used my dog in the design.
You've had a lot of successful collaborations in pop culture over the last few years. I'm wondering if, in your opinion, an artist has to collaborate in order to stay in the public eye in order for people to continue to be aware of your work?
No, I don't think so. I have two things: the first is that I am very proud that I can make a lot of collaborations, because I'm very open, but the other thing is that I can be quite embarrassing as an artist. When I had my debut in New York I wanted to go into the serious art industry, but my talent is quite childish, with pop images. When I was in university I was making minimal paintings and conceptual things like installations, but I was not being myself.
Who found out that I was good at collaborations with brands? Brands found that out, not me. So that's why I want to say it's not necessary to make a collaboration and it's not necessary that anyone knows about contemporary art stuff. Very secret things are still very important.
I saw a picture of you with the Mona Lisa on Instagram. If you could buy a piece of art which is not for sale, something you keep only for yourself in your home, what would it be? Hmmm. I think something like the Picasso painting where the woman is touching the scale. I'd have it hanging on the wall in front of the toilet so I'm relaxed for a shit or a pee. Pooing behind Picasso is rich, right? So I would keep that. My restroom is nothing by the way!