Food & Culture

Takashi Murakami: how I eat

The Japanese artist on finishing art during a typhoon, working with Marc Jacobs and decorated burgers.

By Lee Tran Lam
What did you enjoy eating when you were growing up in Tokyo?
My mum's curry rice. I had no time to go out to restaurants because our family was really poor.
Two decades ago you had an important dinner with New York gallerist Hudson of Feature Inc. What happened?
When he sold my statue, he invited me to dinner. We went to a small Italian restaurant downtown and I had almost no way to communicate in English. But he said, very kindly, "Thank you, Takashi, we're making money. Until now, I could not invite you to dinner because we had no business. But this time, it means we're making business, which is why I appreciate working with you." And I was super impressed because he was really honest. And this dinner was super small and not glamorous, but very honest and heartwarming. It was just for an hour, but it was a super memorable moment in my life.
The Queensland Art Gallery featured your painting, And then, and then and then and then and then, at the 1996 Asia-Pacific Triennial – the first time your work showed in Australia. What was your response?
My gallerist said, "Takashi, your painting sold." I could not believe it. He said, "An Australian museum bought it." I said, "Why?" He said, "Oh, maybe because it was very cheap."
What was it like being in Australia for the first time?
That triennial was a great experience. Everyone was very kind. At that time, no one knew my name or background; I was almost a kid. There was a koala and crocodile tour – it was a strange tour, but I enjoyed it. Australia gives me a warm feeling.
How did it feel to have the Art Gallery of New South Wales commission a painting of yours (pictured) for its Japan Supernatural exhibition and permanent collection?
It was almost like my Queensland Art Gallery experience: Why?
You were finishing the artwork around the time Typhoon Hagibis hit Japan. Did the typhoon affect your studio in Saitama, near Tokyo?
This was a bad coincidence. In my neighbourhood, the river came up and my studio was partly underwater. My studio people couldn't go back home. I was lucky, because they worked for a long time while waiting for the water to go down. Over 25 people worked on the painting for a long time and that's how I finished it.
So the typhoon helped you to meet your deadline! You documented the painting's development on Instagram. What was it like to show people how the work progressed?
It was for the gallery people, to show that I'm doing it! It was not for the public. This was my honest way to show I was doing the work.

You've teamed up with Drake and Billie Eilish on various projects. What other creative collaborations have you enjoyed doing?
Marc Jacobs was one of my first collaborations with a fashion brand. Not the first time, as my first was with Issey Miyake. The email conversation was very unique. In that moment, I was so nervous. Also, I had no vocabulary for the fashion world so that was interesting.
Your working relationship with Marc Jacobs continued for 13 years, so you must have been happy with how that first collaboration turned out?
Yeah. When I came to the fashion show, I was hugging Marc Jacobs backstage. After a week, so many media caught up and said, "Oh my God, Louis Vuitton did a completely new thing with the multicolour monogram." It had a giant effect. That moment was, "Oh my God, we did it."
In Tokyo, you run a café called Bar Zingaro. Tell us about the menu, which includes burgers printed with your iconic flower character.
When I came to the West, I compared it to how Japanese people eat hamburgers. In Japan, the meat is very small. That's why I asked my team, "Please make the meat patties bigger." But my team didn't understand. I said, "Much bigger, much bigger!" Many foreigners and travellers now enjoy it. And finally, my team understood.
You have quite an interest in food and you've posted lots of dishes, such as heart-shaped pizza, on your Instagram.
Yeah, I used to eat a lot but I'm on a diet. I'm on a break. That's why I have a super strong obsession with visual food.
Is it true that you were inspired to go on a diet after reading about how monks fast?
Yeah. It's super hard [laughs]. For example, I ate on the aeroplane yesterday and I got a big headache. That's why I have to eat less food. But I came to Sydney to go to lunch with the Art Gallery of New South Wales' director Michael Brand. And I have to eat, right? I cannot say I'm fasting. Now my family's here and my favourite restaurant is Din Tai Fung. It's here in the city. So let's go!
Do you prefer to work on a full or empty stomach?
When I'm hungry, my brain is very creative. When I eat everything, I just get sleepy.
Takashi Murakami's artwork appears in Japan Supernatural, which is on at the Art Gallery of New South Wales until 8 March, artgallery.nsw.gov.au
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