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Famous Japanese Artists - 10 Young Contemporary Art Talents

January 23, 2015

Famous Japanese artists under fifty years of age on our list are the best contemporary and urban artists Japan has to offer. Ever since Takashi Murakami paved the way for new generations of young artists with his postmodern Superflat movement, Japanese art has been thriving and today is fast becoming one of the most sought after in the art market, finding strong roots in Western culture. Its edgy character has a unique sensibility to it, varying from daintily intricate and innocent, to the outrageously provocative and highly sexual, borrowing various influences from pop culture, commercialism and eroticism, as well as from Japanese painting, traditional art and its iconography.

Here are the ten famous Japanese artists under 50 you should know.

Editors’ Tip: Warriors of Art: A Guide to Contemporary Japanese Artists

Are you interested in Japanese contemporary art? If you follow contemporary art developments, you certainly noticed the need to understand the unique approach of contemporary Japanese art. If you take a look at 10 young contemporary Japanese art talents, you will notice a small difference from the “Western” approach. The book entitled Warriors of Art: A Guide to Contemporary Japanese Artists provides you with important insights into Japanese contemporary art. Warriors of Art features the work of forty of the latest and most relevant contemporary Japanese artists, from painters and sculptors, to photographers and performance artists, with lavish full-color spreads of their key works. Author Yumi Yamaguchi offers an insightful introduction to the main themes of each artist, and builds up a fascinating portrait of the society that has given birth to them.

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Riusuke Fukahori - Goldfish

Riusuke Fukahori is a rather unique Japanese painter from Aichi, widely famous for his extraordinary three-dimensional paintings of Japanese goldfish, he creates using his own complex technique of pored resin. After completing his design studies at Aichi Art University in 1995, Fukahori has pursued full-time art career with little success and in 2000 it reached a low point, when he suddenly became fascinated by his goldfish which stayed alive even though it was abandoned for years. Ever since this incident Fukahori refers to as Goldfish Salvation, he turned to goldfish as the exclusive subject matter of his works, without restricting himself to one genre. Meticulously painting layer by layer, and alternating between pouring resin into cups and bowls and painting goldfish with acrylic paint, Fukahori’s mesmerizing works are both paintings and sculptures, similar to the products of a 3D printer.

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Usugrow - Black and White Calligraphy

Usugrow is one of the most prominent Japanese urban artists of younger generation who has created a widely famous name for himself with his instantly recognizable black and white artworks. His passionate dedication and meticulous craft was spawned from Usugrow’s early obsession with Japan’s punk and metal scene when he started drawing and creating fliers for bands in 1993. Largely inspired by the infamous Los Angeles Cholo graffiti, Usugrow fused it with the spiritual skills of Asian calligraphy, creating captivating works which feature beautiful portrayals of opposing elements such as skulls and flowers, yin and yang, and black and white. Today Usugrow exhibits his works internationaly and works mainly in illustration, painting and calligraphy, often collaborating with other artists and numerous skateboarding and fashion brands.

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TWOONE - Hybrids

Extremely talented street artist and painter Hiroyasu Tsuri, aka TWOONE, was born in Yokohama in 1985. He developed an interest in drawing and crafting at an early age through skateboard designs and graffiti. In 2004 he moved to Melbourne, Australia where he joined underground street art scene, quickly gaining prominence as one of Australia’s finest street artists. After graduating from Visual Arts New Media at Swinburne University, Melbourne in 2006, TWOONE started exhibiting his paintings in galleries across the world, but mural painting remained a big part of his prolific output, and he continues leaving captivating public artworks in every city he visits. He is widely known for his magnetizing depictions of hybrid, animal headed and human bodied creatures. In 2013 TWOONE left Australia for Europe, and currently resides in Berlin, Germany,

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Haroshi - Recycled Skateboards

Haroshi is an avid skateboarder, self-taught woodworker and sculptor from Tokyo, praised around the world for his striking and stylish sculptures made from used and broken skate decks, trucks and wheels. Working on his extraordinary pieces, Haroshi carefully selects skateboards, glues them together and then carves and polishes them into into various forms such as hearts, skulls, and body parts.. As skateboard decks are made of layers of processed wood, the final sculptures have distinctive striped appearance. Without using any additional paint or pigment, Haroshi allows the bright colors of graphics originally printed on decks to serve as his color palette. Following the practice of Unkei, a 12th-century sculptor who used to place a crystal ball inside his Buddha sculptures, Haroshi puts a broken skateboard piece into the core of his eyecatching works, giving each piece a ‘soul’.

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Hitotzuki - Sun and Moon

Hitotzuki, which translates as ‘sun and moon’, are a Japanese husband-and-wife duo of highly talented mural painters Kimi and Sasu, who are often referred to as the most successful urban artists to emerge from Japan’s graffiti scene. The extraordinary duo of self-taught artists, Hitotzuki have been painting murals for years before they met each other and began working together in 1999. Their large-scale, geometric and brilliantly colored murals represent the fluid interaction between Kami’s dynamically flowing curves, and Sasi’s strong and flamboyant symmetric motifs, fused together with natural and urban elements. Since their participation in the critically acclaimed Barnstormers projects in 2000, Hitotzuki have been gaining huge international attention while trotting the globe with their son and leaving their mesmerizing pieces in the streets of cities worldwide.

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Jun Inoue - Theatrical Performance

Jun Inoue is a key figure on the Tokyo street art scene, widely recognized for his energetic and vivid artworks, a combination of graffiti and shodo, traditional Japanese calligraphy. Jun has been creating art since he was a kid, making cars, trains and trucks from cardboard. As a teenager highly influenced by American youth culture he evolved his work into graffiti, but it was not until he studied art that he began to identify with his roots and incorporate Japanese culture into his art. As he starts working on a new piece, Inoue prepares his body and dances to hip-hop music in front a blank canvas, before he storms the canvas and attacks it with spray paint, brushes and rollers. His extraordinary process is a true theatrical performance and it often takes place before an audience.

Mariko Mori - Eastern Mythology and Western Culture

Former model and fashion designer Mariko Mori is an acclaimed master of contemporary Japanese photography, video and installation of international renown, best known for her works that juxtapose Eastern mythology with Western culture. She broke to international fame in the mid-1990s, with her large-scale self portraits, but had since moved on to adopt multi-media techniques, and today creates installations, video, and performance art that incorporates pop culture, high-fashion, science fiction, traditional Japanese rituals, Shinto spirituality and music. Mori’s rather versatile and eclectic work covers such themes as spirituality, technology, feminism, and sexuality, often with the use of futuristic images and photo editing, while re-contextualizing traditional customs, mannerisms, and trends. Her most recent works fuse collage with computer generated graphics to create otherworldly, mythic spaces, with a capsule, symbol of metamorphosis, as a recurring motif.

MR. - Otaku Subculture

Iwamoto Masakatu, also known as MR. is a multi-faceted contemporary artists from Saitama, whose creative output includes painting, sculpture, performance art and video. During his studies at the Sokei Art School MR. was discovered by Takashi Murakami, and he worked as Murakami’s assistant for eight years, as a member of his Kaikai Kiki studio. MR. is a self-proclaimed passionate follower of otaku subculture which emerged in Japan in the 1970s and consisted mostly of males consumed by manga comics, anime animation, sci-fi literature and video games. Masakatu’s often explicit works, that express his provocative Lolita-esque fantasies, depict young boys and girls painted in an anime and manga style, taking inspiration from the aesthetics and attitudes of otaku subculture, and lolicon themes.

Shohei Otomo - Dramatic and Bold Style

Son of Katsuhiro Otomo, legendary Japanese manga artist and creator of the cult classic animated film Akira, Shohei Otomo  is a widely praised graphic artist, best known for his highly detailed and instantly recognizable works that fuse together Japanese and western cultural iconography, while portraying the realness of the Japanese society. Using an unlikely medium, a ballpoint pen, Otomo creates awesome illustrative artworks which provide an insightful and captivating depictions of Japan, often featuring samurai, geisha, stereotypical punk youths and Japanese delinquents, known as furyo. Initially turning to cost-effective pens, Otomo developed an unique, extremely dramatic and bold style, often illustrating fighting scenes and twisted thematic elements of violence and vulgarity, exposing consumerist culture and underground urbanites, in a highly realistic way.

281_Anti Nuke - Troubling Issues

Kenta Matsuyama, better known as 281_Anti Nuke (or simply 281), is a (in)famous and widely respected Japanese street artist whose engaged and intelligent works focus on troubling issues of politics, law and nuclear weapons and energy, creating awareness through seemingly simple, yet deeply meaningful art. Born and raised near Fukushima, 281_Anti Nuke broke to fame shortly after the nuclear power plant disaster in 2011, when he started posting provocative stickers along Tokyo’s shabby streets. Soon enough these stickers became a cult phenomenon among Tokyo locals and caught the eye of an international street art audience. Thanks to his exhibitions in New York and Los Angeles and a documentary film about his art, directed by British expat photographer and filmmaker Adrian Storey, 281_Anti Nuke’s work is today known all around the world. 281_Anti Nuke lives and works between Tokyo, London and New York City.

All images used for illustrative purposes only.