“Art is the illusion of spontaneity.” —Japanese proverb
Beyond Hokusai’s Wave and Kusama’s dots, the ten most popular Japanese artists on Artsy reflect the country’s rich artistic tradition. Included are several artists who have pioneered a Pop-inflected and quintessentially Japanese aesthetic, as well as black-and-white photographers who capture the grittier, far less polished side of their country.
10. Tatsuo Miyajima operates within specific material parameters: his LED lights come in a limited range of color, and count between numbers 1 and 9 without ever reaching 0. For the artist, the ticking numbers reference Buddhism and themes of inevitability, universality, and mortality.
9. Takuma Nakahira was one of the “Provoke” photographers who revolutionized postwar Japanese photography with their dark, expressionistic photographs that captured the uncertainty, exhilaration, and tumult of life in the decades following World War II.
8.Rinko Kawauchi shoots primarily with a six-by-six format camera, capturing eerily poetic images of natural phenomena—from light hitting the ocean to fire tearing through a forest. “For a photographer, it’s a necessity that you can shoot stuff magically,” she says.
7. Kohei Nawa uses glass beads and prisms to cover found objects—from taxidermied animals to plastic toys—such that their original contours become variously distorted and magnified. Through this process, “the existence of the object itself is replaced by ‘a husk of light’, and the new vision ‘the cell of an image’ is shown,” he describes.
6. Yoshitomo Nara is one of Japan’s best known painters and draughtsmen, capturing in his compositions both the fierce independence and bored innocence of childhood. He draws on far-ranging influences, from Walt Disney to Giotto.
5. Daido Moriyama is another “Provoke” photographer and, by self-proclamation, addicted to cities. He photographs the cultural change and chaotic urban experience particular to Japan, typically in grainy, black-and-white images that he prints himself.
4. Keiichi Tanaami is a central figure in Japanese Pop Art. Drawing profound influence from Andy Warhol, his cartoonish and colorful paintings blend dream figures and references to childhood experiences with pop culture iconography.
3. Hiroshi Sugimoto is a supreme master of the craft of photography, using an old-fashioned large-format camera to produce his tonally rich black-and-white images. The favored subjects of Sugimoto’s highly formal photos include bodies of water, empty theaters, and constructed dioramas and sculptures.
2. Yayoi Kusama’s work appeals to the imagination and the senses, from dizzying walk-in installations and public sculptures to her (in)famous “Dots Obsessions” paintings. A prominent figure in the postwar New York art scene, Kusama has famously proclaimed, “At one time, I was even more famous than Andy Warhol.”
1. Takashi Murakami is undoubtedly Japan’s most successful artist working today. Sometimes called “the Warhol of Japan”, Murakami is world-famous for his Superflat movement, whose cartoon-Pop aesthetic and commercial bent defines his entire oeuvre of paintings and sculptures.