Loaded with symbolic meaning, kawaii is a pioneering genre in art that is anchored in the nostalgic past with a positive trajectory into the future. From key artists in the movement like Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami, through to the next generation of ultra-contemporary artists such as Edgar Plans, Katherine Bernhardt, Javier Calleja and STIK, kawaii art fuses Japanese and Western popular culture with the signature aesthetic of artists from all over the world.
The playful optimism of these works, accompanied by tones of mischief and mayhem, is both joyful and uplifting – the perfect antidote to these challenging times – and Millennial and Gen X collectors are taking note. They want art that speaks to them and kawaii art does just that, allowing them to connect with their past through the works of artists who have grown up with the same influences, and outlooks, as themselves.
The ArtBasel UBS Report 2022 recently revealed that millennials (52%) and Gen X collectors (35%) are dominating the art market, so the heightened interest in kawaii art makes perfect sense. Buyers have grown from children to adults with disposable income who are looking to recapture a piece of their youth. A new generation of collectors is on the horizon, too, with over a fifth of the global population estimated to transfer over £10 trillion to their heirs between 2020 and 2030. This seismic transition of wealth is reshaping the art ecosystem, with a substantial shift in taste to new works by artists like Javier Calleja and STIK, whose lovable characters have amassed an enormous following and achieved impressive prices at auction.
Playing into the nostalgic Kawaii aesthetic pioneered by Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami, Javier Calleja is one such artist to be courted at auction. Known for his big-eyed characters, which display both innocence and cynicism, in 2021 his total auction turnover amassed over £8.5M - an impressive 82% rise on 2020 – with an incredible line-up of exhibitions in Paris, Los Angeles and Tokyo in 2022 earning the artist even more devoted followers.
An anonymous British graffiti artist renowned for his iconic stick figures, STIK’s large collector base is spread throughout the world. Since first appearing at auction in 2013, the popularity of STIK’s simple yet striking designs, made up of four lines, one circle, one square and two dots, has skyrocketed, crossing the $100,000 threshold in 2018.
Every time an original STIK artwork is consigned directly to auction, a heated bidding commences, with the work selling an average of 78% above its estimate. Testament to the popularity of his endearingly simple characters, on 13 October of this year at Bonham’s London, STIK’s Untitled artwork sold for 154% above its estimate.
Alongside key names like Calleja and STIK, a new wave of artists is putting its own, unique stamp on the cult of kawaii. Between 14 October and 27 November 2022, a new Kawaii exhibition at Maddox Gallery examines kawaii culture through the eyes of the artist, with an opportunity to discover works by both established and emerging artists, including Jo Gyuhun, Javier Gonzalez Burgos and Cheong Yoon.
KAWAII, NOW OPEN AT MADDOX GALLERY MAYFAIR
Kawaii art has grown from a trend to an international phenomenon. Combining cartoonish elements with reflections on global culture and an acute social awareness, it is both a rebellion against the seriousness of adulthood and an escape from the harsh realities of the world. With artists like Javier Calleja and STIK fuelling our appetite for nostalgia, kawaii art might well be the balm the world needs, giving collectors the opportunity to indulge in some much-needed wonderment while investing in the ultra-contemporary art market – the fastest-growing segment of art.