‘Superflat’ Girls and the Geek Who Loves Them

He goes only by the name Mr., a fitting alias suggesting an anonymous pervy older man. Indeed, Mr. is a Japanese artist whose cartoonish paintings and sculptures in bubblegum colors derive from Japan’s otaku (or “geek”) subculture. As such, he shares the otaku obsession with anime and manga comic books, painting prepubescents lifting their skirts and flashing bits of underwear.

Mr.’s images are compellingly saccharine portraits of innocence taken to unsettling, seductive extremes. Admitting to a Lolita complex — though he says he doesn’t act on it — he indulges in subject matter illuminated by a sheen of cuteness, posing questions about the limits of acceptability and the perversions hidden within all cultures, otaku or otherwise.

While his aesthetic remains committed to the Superflat style for which he is best known, Mr.’s new works in Sunset in My Heart at Lehmann Maupin gallery highlight the influence that the 2011 Tohoku earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster have had on Mr.’s work in the years since. He returned to his expressive and experimental roots, incorporating abstract elements like graffiti and using distressed canvases, which he prepares by burning them, walking over them, and leaving them on his studio floor to collect dirt and debris.

The recent body of work reflects Mr.’s impulse to push the kitschy nature of these imaginary realms into a gritty style in order to explore themes of personal, global, and environmental destruction. While the manga-style characters make a reappearance, their significance has shifted from playing up lolicon — the fetishization of young, fictional female characters — toward a more platonic realm known as moe, or love for an icon that does not carry sexual connotations. Thus, these new characters represent positive beacons of strength that overcome adversity.

Sunset in My Heart, June 23 – August 12, 2016, Lehmann Maupin, 536 W 22nd St, NYC

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