The “Hello Kitty” Generation has a global art movement

by Gary John Gresl

The Regional Art Junkie
The Regional Art Junkie

Have you, like I, been wondering for a while about the phenomenon of Japan styled cartoon and anime’ art that has emerged in galleries and publications which pay attention to the “latest” and “What’s hot”?

This type of work has appeared in Milwaukee galleries such as Hotcakes, Lucky Star, and M80. These relatively new galleries have been operated by a younger generation of artists or gallerists who were raised during the 80’s and 90’s when Japanese animation, comics and Science Fiction would have impressed their minds and been lodged in their visual memory. These elements would have fed their psyches during the so called formative years.
Well…apparently this style of art has been given a useful name. Otaku! Here is a short quote from the December issue of “Sculpture” magazine lifted from a brief review of an exhibit at the Modern Museum of Fort Worth.

“… ‘otaku’ (a now globalized phenomenon rooted in science fiction, fantasy, ‘manga’ and ‘anime)…” Manga refers to comic book and newspaper comics. Anime’ refers to Japanese styled animation, much of which has been science fiction or fantasy oriented. The online source, Wikipedia, has a much more detailed explanation of Otaku’s meanings, sources and manifestations. The milieu from which it arises is Japanese popular culture, including varieties of sophistication, cuteness, perversities and fandom.

OTAKU! Love it or ignore it…it has been making its presence known as a currently “hip” expression that has seeped into cultures worldwide thru the spread of Japanese animation, comics, film and the Internet. Milwaukee has seen forms of it emerge in these newer somewhat more experimental galleries, and we can expect some regional museums to get on board with some exhibits during the next several years.

Otaku is, to my mind, a legitimate expression though it might only be based on largely superficial, topical and sometimes merely cute visuals. Perhaps it is just the thing to speak about the superficiality of our popular commercial culture, the marketing and merchandising social forms of Japan and Western societies. Like the products that fill our abundant retail stores, many expected to have brief shelf life and scant usefulness, perhaps Otaku is just the thing to talk about our contemporary age.

If the practitioners of this style get their few moments of fame, and even become ensconced in some annals of art history, it would not be a bad thing. Like other Post Modern shifts of movements and interests, Pop and Op, Neo Expressionism, punk and the art flavor of the day, this genre will entertain and involve artists briefly. It will then morph into another phase or be extinguished, discarded or discredited by even some of its practitioners. Someday, perhaps sooner than later, there will be an Otaku revival, an age of Retro-Otaku, if you will. All is temporary.

Does this style have any particular important meaning to the citizens of Wisconsin, and its artists in particular? Well…sure it does. Any artist, whether young or old, who cares to join in this form of subject and style, might gain insights into his/her own life and psyche, as well as learning about the shallowness that exists on the surface of our culture and in popular group thought. This form of art making deserves to be studied, as does any other art form.
In a final analysis, it is only one small part of our varied culture. Let us also pay attention to artists who are not so easily swayed by outside influences. Study those who have been here a while…not only the Johnny Come Lately artists and styles that play for moments on the world stage. Look at those artists who are moved by Nature and its forms, not only that which is topical and tied to technology and current trends. Some forms endure longer than others.

Art is many faceted…wild; rural and urban. We are many layered.