The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg

I don’t know about you, but I love going to art galleries. And I really don’t know about you (it's possible we’ve never met), but for someone who loves going to art galleries, I don’t go to nearly enough.

Whenever I travel to a new city, I always try to visit a local art gallery. But here in my hometown, I always put it off for other things. (Always to my own detriment.) Thankfully, Takashi Murakami’s exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery was a bit of a kick in the behind.

My sister and I were big fans of Takashi Murakami in our childhood. We first saw his work at a gallery in LA, well over ten years ago. I can’t remember the name of the gallery, but I remember Mr. DOB and hundred of colourful, smiling flowers. We loved his vibrant, anime-inspired superflat style. Murakami is, if nothing else, the kind of artist whose work is as accessible to children as much as it is to adults, and I love that about him. And, if I had such fond memories from back then, what's my excuse for not checking out his exhibit now?

So last weekend, Michael and I headed down to the Vancouver Art Gallery to see The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg.

Here’s a bit from the gallery website:

Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg is a major retrospective of Takashi Murakami’s paintings, presenting more than fifty works spanning three decades of the artist’s career. [...] This critical survey reveals the consistent themes and profound engagement with history that have guided Murakami’s practice. The paintings and sculptures in this exhibition highlight a dedication to craftsmanship and a boundless imagination moving freely within an ever-expanding field of aesthetic decisions and cultural inspirations, from Buddhist folk traditions to art history to popular culture.

[...] After locating himself at the centre of luxury and celebrity cultures, Murakami began to depart from the commercial, cartoon-inspired aesthetic that garnered him popular acclaim. Deeply affected by the massive earthquake and tsunami in 2011 that killed more than 15,000 people in Japan, the artist returned to his training in the classics to find an appropriate response. His research into Buddhist iconography lead to his monumental representation of the Arhats (Buddhist monks) who roamed the land in an attempt to console and enlighten others. This fuelled an ongoing body of paintings depicting an eccentric and highly individualized group of Arhats with elements of both historical and contemporary Japanese and Buddhist culture.

Read the full writeup here.


We spent a few hours wandering the halls, taking everything in.

My favourite.

My favourite.

There's something wonderful about wandering art galleries and museums. The wide spaces, the high ceilings. Wandering Murakami's exhibit, it was hard not to get absorbed into the mashups of colour and texture and the stories hiding in each work.

Also, I know what I like. And I like cartoon skulls.


With many of Murkami's works, the more you explore, the more details you find.

And then there are the kinds of paintings that haven already been analyzed a hundred times over.

Michael's favourite.

Michael's favourite.

Seeing Murakami's work on Graduation, across from a wall of his ever-popular smiling flowers, took us back to 2007. Michael, ever the Kanye fan, enjoyed reading about how Murakami's work for Graduation captured Kanye's music at the time, and how this also reflected a period of marked submersion in pop culture for Murakami.

We then wandered into a dark room filled with Murakami's newer works. I loved the dramatic expressions on the grizzled, gnarled monks. And I loved the deeply wrinkled, expressive, towering giant demon statues—definitely the embodiments of "Um" and "A." I loved the work in this room so much that... I forgot to take photos. (All the more reason to see it for yourself, if you can?)

Though still clearly inspired by anime and superflat style, the work in this room was particularly reminiscent of older Japanese artistic traditions, history, and folklore. It made me think of Japanese art I'd seen in museums and in my studies, not work I'd seen in art galleries, and it reminded me of Japanese folk tales, some of which I'd read about in university and some of which I'd come to know by listening to the Myths and Legends Podcast. I'm no expert in Japanese history and folklore, but what little experience I did have definitely made the work more enjoyable.

Afterwards, we continued through the rest of the exhibit and looked at paintings that had a more industrial feel, with the washed out aesthetic of a certain style of Chinese painting, or gilded paintings filled with splashes of colour. It was all curious and engaging.

The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg was a ton of fun. If you’re in the Vancouver area and haven't seen it yet, check out the exhibit as soon as possible! It makes for a fun date, but it closes in a couple of weeks.

What about you, though—how do you feel about visiting art galleries? What kind of art do you like?