The induction of manga-style painting into Japan's contemporary art canon over the last 15 years can be put down to the work of not one but two artists. Sure, it was Takashi Murakami who laid the theoretical foundations, spelling out links with classical painting and ukiyo-e prints. But it was another artist who provided the movement with its emotional appeal: Yoshitomo Nara. To Murakami's brains, Nara provided the heart.
And whereas Murakami's continued mining of that same intellectual territory he demarcated with his Superflat theory — cartoon characters, floating atop flat-plane backgrounds — has resulted in repetition, Nara's heart appears to know no bounds. His latest show, "a bit like you and me...," which is at the Yokohama Museum of Art till Sept. 23, is perhaps his best.
But it didn't come easy for the 52-year-old whose casual appearance — jeans, T-shirt and top-heavy Brit-rock bouffant — belies a keen work ethic and a somewhat surprising degree of concern for how his work is viewed. Indeed, it turns out that the new exhibition is the latest of several attempted correctives to the way people perceive his art. Fortunately, each of those correctives has pushed his work in the right direction, and that is to increase — or at least make more prominent — his own emotional investment in his art. The heart that has always been the key to his work has thus continued to grow.