If you'd had the chance to venture a visit to Central Embassy recently, surely you've noticed a somewhat crude but undeniably fascinating exhibition on the ground floor by an artist named Madsaki.
Madsaki's works, which could be described as a mixture of "vandalised" fine art classics and profane tributes to his favourite movies and cartoons, may appear to fall under the category of street art but on closer encounter, reveal a technique and an intention similar in spirit to that of the masters he imitates.
Called "Combination Platter", Madsaki's exhibition at the Central Embassy—his largest solo exhibition to date—is a reflection of the artist's mixed sense of identity, being Japanese but having spent most of his youth in melting pot America. In explaining the largest piece in this collection, a 13-metre long mural of various iconic cartoons, from Sesame Street characters to Doraemon and Star Wars, Madsaki says, "I grew up looking at cartoons—Japanese cartoons to American cartoons—and looking at art history, to me it’s the same exact thing. It's just Bugs Bunny or it's Da Vinci. To me, it’s the same thing. I just wanted to mash up all the cartoons I grew up watching. And all the cartoons I selected have a meaning for me."
Big Bird, for instance, is one of the artist's symbol of learning the English language. "I moved to the States when I was six years old. I couldn’t speak any English at that time... I learned English, looking at Sesame Street."
You'll notice, however, that Big Bird in Madsaki's epic lineup of cartoon carries a phrase Big Bird would never say on Sesame Street. Madsaki describes this as a sort of way of giving back to his "teacher" of English. "It's a dedication; it's like a self-portrait in a bizarre."
Besides his mashup of cartoons, Madsaki is widely recognised for works in which a famous scene or painting is remade with a drippy spray-painted smiley face. In fact, you could say that a Madsaki-styled Matisse is where his fame all started…
A quick Google search on Madsaki will bring up the name Takashi Murakami, a living legend in the world of contemporary art. Three years ago, Murakami found Madsaki on Instagram and commented that he wanted to purchase one of the paintings on Madsaki's Instagram. Shortly after, the painting made it to Takashi's private collection show at Yokohama Museum, to which Madsaki attended—uninvited—and revealed to Takashi that it was him, the painter of the "Matisse".
That was the beginning of Madsaki and Murakami's friendship and soon after, they did a show together that saw Madsaki recreating Murakami's signature smiling flowers with the Madsaki drippy smiley face. The collaboration with Murakami and parody of Murakami's work catapulted Madsaki's name in today's maintain art society.
"The thing is I'm 44 years old," said Madsaki when we spoke to him at the launch of his Bangkok exhibition, "and I was painting since Parsons (Madsaki's alma mater). And my life started after I met Murakami, so you can tell how fucking hard that is."
If that isn’t a clear enough picture of the perseverance it takes to be an artist, Madsaki shares that in his first week at Parsons School of Design, his professor told him he wasn’t going to make it and that he should quit right there and then.
“The funny thing is I’m doing what they told me not to do in four years. They said ‘don’t do this, don’t do this, don’t do this,’ but I’m doing exactly what they told me not to do, and I’m here.”
Here he is indeed. Find Madsaki’s assorted styles in “Combination Platter” at the ground floor of Central Embassy from today until June 3. A series of limited edition Madsaki merchandise is also available at Central Embassy’s Siwilai store during the exhibition period or until stocks last. @madsaki @centralembassy
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