The Buddhist-Inspired Murakami Sculpture Behind Billie Eilish's GARAGE Cover
Takashi Murakami’s 2012 “Split” is a brilliant anomaly for an artist who otherwise says, “I’m utterly vulgar.”
Takashi Murakami, Reborn, 2012, pigment print, 108.3 × 90.2 cm; Photographer: Hirao Kentaro; Stylist: Yunoki Kazuki; Special Effects Makeup: JIRO Production Coordination: Kaikai Kiki; ©︎2012 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved
Twelve-pedaled flowers, larger-than-life anime characters, candy-colored Louis Vuitton logos, octopus eyes: The visual language of Takashi Murakami is as accessible as it is vividly recognizable. As a man, Murakami makes no pretensions about his tastes and inspirations: “Netflix original movies, Japanese comedy shows on Amazon Prime, and Instagram,” he says. “I’m utterly vulgar.” So to see his 2012 sculpture Split is to see Murakami for the first time again. Or, more anatomically, to see him for the first and second time.
Inspired by a wooden sculpture of the Heian era (794–1185 A.D.) from the Saionji Temple in Kyoto, Split was the first life-like work in Murakami’s oeuvre, making it an anomaly in a practice that is marked by an essential consistency in style. Produced in an edition of two (one is in Europe, the other remains in Japan), the life-sized sculpture is a self-portrait of Murakami posing with the Buddhist hand symbol, or mudra, which signifies teaching. All four of its robotic eyes are programmed to swirl around in their sockets. Its feet are hairy like an ogre’s. It is shocking but also intriguing, and somehow not as ugly as it should be.
So what is Split? Is it a symbol of Murakami’s spiritual rebirth, as the title of the photo of the sculpture seen here—Reborn—would suggest? Is it a statement that Murakami had reached enlightenment, whatever that means to him? Perhaps it’s a reminder that change is never comfortable. (The Heian-period sculpture that inspired Split depicts a monk holding a knife, indicating that his incision is self-administered.) According to Murakami himself, we shouldn’t read too deeply:
“Religion is fundamentally well-crafted fiction. Whether it’s a meditative pose or a devotional exercise, these elements must have reflected the cutting-edge philosophy and technology of the time to make them worthwhile for contemporary peoples to believe in. But over time, the elements became something unrecognizable. I am strongly drawn to this process of transformation; I believe the mistranslations that happen in the process are the origin of creativity.”
And what about the idea of envisioning Billie Eilish in the context of Split?
“Case in point,” Murakami says. “I’m very happy that what I have done is now being further mistranslated here.”