Fashion isn’t art, or so they say, but plenty of designers flit between the two worlds. Tom Ford is an accomplished filmmaker and Helmut Lang famously destroyed his archive and transformed it into sculpture. The latest figure to take up the art-fashion mantle is Jun Takahashi, whose punkish, culture-vampire approach to clothing for his brand Undercover has made him one of Japan’s most important living designers. As it turns out, he’s a rather talented portrait artist, though none but his closest circle had seen the paintings until now.
On view at Gallery Target in Tokyo until September 9, “They See More Than More Than You Can See” is Takahashi’s first-ever oil painting exhibition. It features a series of portraits of famous figures that have inspired him throughout his life, but who have notably had their eyes deleted. You can clearly make out David Bowie on one canvas, but he’s remained tight-lipped on who any of his muses are. How’s that for Takahashi-style mystery?
The opening evening drew some of Japan’s best-known musicians including Utada Hikaru and Yumi Matsutoya—confirmation of Takahashi’s established place in his country’s wider culture. But however many celebrity pals you have, translating success from the runway to the art gallery is a huge task, and Takahashi was understandably apprehensive about putting his paintings out there. “It’s very different compared to fashion,” he told Vogue. “For one thing the prices are totally different, it’s more expensive, so I was very worried about how my work would be perceived in the eyes of people who buy art.” Not that he had anything to worry about: Everything sold out almost immediately. “I think that’s proof that my work is appreciated as art,” he said.
Mostly completing the painting in a small bedroom at home in Tokyo, as well as at his atelier by the sea, Takahashi didn’t have much time for fun in the run up to the exhibit. “On weekdays I would draw for a few hours from the time I got home until I went to bed, and all day on holidays, so I haven’t gone out for drinks for a while!”
In addition to the portraits there are surreal dreamscapes of magical figures and dreamlike collages of the moon, cats, and cartoonish mascots—all motifs that have shown up in his fashion collections. But Takahashi is quick to distance his Undercover work and his art work. “Painting and fashion design are completely different processes and ideas,” he said. “Painting is more personal.”