Lehmann Maupin presents Beyond the Alley, There…, a solo exhibition of new work by artist Mr. (b. 1969, Cupa, lives and works in Saitama, Japan). This exhibition marks the artist’s sixth solo presentation with Lehmann Maupin, and precedes a highly anticipated forthcoming solo exhibition at Phoenix Art Museum, AZ, opening November 2022.
Reflecting his long-standing commitment to critically examining how both images and desire circulate in global internet culture, Beyond the Alley, There… features new, large-scale paintings, shaped head and body paintings, and works on paper. Central to Mr.’s practice is otaku, an increasingly prevalent and popular Japanese subculture of fandom oriented around reclusion and retreat into immersive fantasy worlds, particularly manga and anime. Interested in bridging popular visual and high-art cultures, the artist has compared himself to a translator, positioning anime, manga, and other hallmarks of otaku in the realm of fine art for a global audience. Far from a dispassionate observer, Mr. is himself immersed in otaku culture, and has noted that his works are at times reflections of his personal interests in fantasy and imaginative world-building. As he reinterprets otaku aesthetics for an international art world, Mr. is simultaneously outsider and insider, reporter and diarist.
Mr. is particularly well known for his associations with Superflat, a contemporary postmodern Japanese movement that draws inspiration from the compressed treatment of space and bold planes of color that appear throughout Japanese art and culture—from 19th-century ukiyo-e prints, to pop art, to anime. Mr.’s influences are expansive and eclectic, and the artist also has a particular affinity for the Arte Povera movement for its use of unconventional materials and its reverence for the detritus of everyday life. Across his practice, Mr. has reinterpreted Arte Povera’s central concerns for a contemporary context of environmental catastrophe, and prior work has responded directly to the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami and subsequent Fukushima nuclear disaster in his native Japan.
In Beyond the Alley, There…, Mr. conjures a fantasy world that is paradoxically inundated with the quotidian and the commercial, and emojis, fast-food logos, slang phrases, and other artifacts of the ordinary appear throughout this latest body of work. In Sakura—The End of Summer, Toward Autumn— (2021), a swirl of cartoon icons, social media notifications, and innocuous phrases in brightly colored bubble letters are reflected in the child’s wide eyes. Enormous eyes with reflections painted on their surfaces are at the center of all of these shaped compositions, subtly alluding to the complex inner lives Mr. creates for each of his characters. Other works in the exhibition reflect Mr.’s recently heightened interest in layered surfaces and urban spaces. In these compositions, central figures begin to recede, becoming integrated into a saturated visual field of graffitied surfaces and storefronts. Despite their fictive nature, the artist’s many-layered, imaginative worlds are never disconnected from the real, and at every turn Mr. reveals commercial imagery and the visual culture of the mundane to be saturated with desire and fantasy.