Perrotin is pleased to present Invoke It and a Flower Shall Blossom the eighth exhibition of Mr. with the gallery and the fourth in Paris. The show displays a new series of paintings and shaped canvas, two sculptures, and a set of works on paper.

For a French audience, the work of Japanese artist Mr. is strangely familiar, as it draws on imagery that has become almost ubiquitous. Since the 1980s, anime films, video games, and manga have permeated youth culture almost as much as American productions. Their visual influence is reminiscent of the impact of ukiyo-e (“floating world”) in late 19th-century Europe and its decisive role in the advent of Modernism.

Many contemporary Japanese artists combine and fuse these different visual styles, like the Superflat movement of the 1990s. According to Takashi Murakami, its theorist and foremost exponent, Superflat is not simply a Japanese “pop art” inspired by the entertainment industry. It rather affirms the legitimacy of youth culture aesthetics while embracing the legacy of traditional painting and Buddhist iconography, such as two-dimensionality.

Starting as Murakami’s assistant, Mr. has become an ambassador for otaku, a Japanese term for people who are obsessively absorbed in video games and anime, primarily online. Roughly translated as “geek” or “nerd,” it has the same disparaging connotation. Mr. works in a wide range of media, including painting, watercolor, sculpture, installation, film, and photography – all of which reflect his passion for contemporary Japanese popular aesthetics. Most of his works are portraits of teenage girls with the typical features of anime characters large eyes highlighted in pink, slightly upturned noses that gradually disappear, mobile mouths, closed or gaping, and attractive outfits that range from school uniforms to colorful Kawaii fashion.

The girls are often at the center of the works, surrounded by pixelated figures from video games, everyday objects, and Latin and Sino-Japanese typography. Despite their ambiguity – to which we’ll return later – for a European observer, these nymphets are symbols of Japanese soft power. They also evoke the sultry prints of the Edo period known as shunga, even though their eroticism is much more dis- creet, even latent.

Despite championing otaku, Mr. never completely locks himself away. His work is also influenced by Western urban subcultures, particularly graffiti, which shares many key characteristics with otaku. Both are associated with youth culture, “geekiness,” and male marginality and separateness, often facing incomprehension and rejection. Graffiti can also be understood as a form of pop art, as it freely combines North American mass culture, comics and cartoons, record sleeve and comic book typography, science fiction films, and TV series. Lastly, like otaku culture, graffiti has been revitalized by the internet in terms of form and reach.

Although not a frequent practitioner of graffiti, Mr. has adopted its ethical and aesthetic codes. For instance, he uses a quintessentially Anglo-Saxon pseudonym – a nod to Shigeo Nagashima, the famous baseball player nicknamed Mister Giants – showing his desire to transcend Japanese borders and place otaku subculture on a global stage.

The urban universe is another leitmotif of Mr.’s work. In some paintings and installations, his accumulations echo the overabundance of signs and visual stimuli that characterize big cities. In others, Mr. is more directly concerned with the materiality of urban space: on gray, textured backgrounds, on panels and fences, he creates a palimpsest of drawings, signs, numbers, and writing that evoke the interrupted dialogue of the street, between advertising logorrhea and graffiti rejoinders.

Finally, the link between Mr.’s work and urban cultures can be seen in his long-standing interest in waste. Long before the popularity and media explosion of “street art,” art critic Pierre Restany used the term to describe Karel Appel’s collection of street junk. Similarly, some of Mr.’s installations, including the impressive, Give Me Your Wings - Think Different (2012), recreate the chaos of the paintings and photos the artist took of the earthquake and tsunami that led to the 2011 Fukushima disaster. Buildings reduced to rubble reveal the city’s intrinsic instability and precariousness, like a “junk space.”

Mr.’s references to urban culture also shed new light on the melancholic undertones of his work. In line with the Superflat movement, the artist embraces a darker side, reflecting the complexity of the Japanese psyche, haunted by the Second World War and the persistence of the nuclear threat. For him, this fear seems to find expression and relief in the figure of the young girl, which he repeats to the point of obsession.

In his shaped canvases and sculptures, as well as in his paintings, Mr.’s nymphettes appear in a variety of outfits, from the most sober to the most colorful, an apparent reference to cosplay culture. Their gestures and attitudes, especially in the watercolors, recall Lolicon (short for “Lolita complex”), a manga subgenre characterized by the eroticization of young female characters. In Mr.’s case, however, the Lolita figure is largely de-eroticized, instead eliciting moe, i.e., affection, adoration, or protectiveness. Inaccessible and impenetrable, she is more of a reflection of the artist himself than an erotic or romantic pursuit, her innocence warding off all manner of neuroses and demons, both individual and collective.

For a French audience, her systematic inclusion in Mr.’s superabundance of signs and objects is also a disturbing echo of the “Young Girl” as theorized by the Tiqqun collective in 2001. According to them, the “Young- Girl” is not necessarily associated with any specific gender or age. She can represent anyone as she embodies “the figure of the total and sovereign consumer” or “the sovereign subject of her reification.” A desirable and deceptive symbol of a society that has fully internalized market relations, she inevitably breeds frustration and neurosis.

From this angle, Mr.’s obsession with teenage girls might be a trap: although intended as a refuge from neurasthenia and self-hatred, it sustains the reign of consumerist greed and, therefore, frustration – which is, after all, a powerful creative force.

(Text by Stéphanie Lemoine)