Hong Kong – When pop art landed in Japan, where the kawaii culture originated as a cult and developed into a mainstream aesthetic, it found itself a cuter identity: one of innocence and fantasy dressed in loveable vibrant pastel colours – the Kawaii Pop. Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami have a firm grip on the kawaii pop crown, and are the pioneers who successfully exported it to the global contemporary art scene. Not only that, they have also inspired a younger generation of Kawaii Pop artists who push new boundaries of this genre. These young artists, such as Ayako Rokkaku, Aya Takano, Hikari Shimoda, and Takeru Amano, are among the names whose works will be showcased at Bonhams Modern and Contemporary Art Sale in Hong Kong on 26 May 2022.

Ayako Rokkaku, excitedly considered as ‘the new Nara’ by many, is an autodidact who only started to paint at the age of 20. Her signature technique involves directly applying brightly-coloured acrylic paint with bare fingers and hands, evoking a sense of dynamic imagination and lack of rules in children’s drawings. Rainbow and a Girl (estimate: HK$1,500,000-2,000,000) is a prime example of this, featuring all of the quintessential elements of Rokkaku: a little girl with candid facial expressions full of character, warm and vividly-coloured backgrounds littered with flowers, butterflies and rainbow-like smears. It is a concoction of joy and dreaminess. In a similar vein is another work by Rokkaku, Wanna Eat It!, which carries an estimate of HK$700,000-1,000,000.

Aya Takano, who belonged to Kaikai Kiki, the artistic production studio created in 2001 by Takashi Murakami, builds a universe of her own. In The Chamber of Ivy Lane Byobu (estimate: HK$900,000-1,200,000), Takano transports her audience to a traditional Japanese room with five wide-eyed standing characters in quirky ritualistic costumes. The redness of their knees, elbows and shoulders, suggests adolescent growth, whereas the Superflat style, popularised by Murakami, tells the influence of Japanese manga and anime.

Hikari Shimoda’s Children Living in Transparent Darkness #3 (estimate: HK$40,000-60,000) demonstrates the opposite side of the Kawaii coin: to embrace cuteness is to refuse to grow up, to rebel against tradition and adulthood. In Shimoda’s dictionary, cuteness and horror coexist. The otherworldly creature staged front and centre is Shimoda’s signature motif. The character’s neon-coloured eyes, which are commonly seen in Japanese contemporary artists, seem to lure the audience into the universe created by the artist.

Other highlights of the sale include:
• Yayoi Kusama, Lights in Montreal. Estimate: HK$800,000-1,200,000.
• Yoshitomo Nara, All the World is Yours. Estimate: HK$250,000-350,000.
• Yoshitomo Nara, Challenge!. Estimate:HK$250,000-400,000.
• Yoshitomo Nara, SOS. Estimate: HK$300,000-500,000.
• Richard Lin, All Grey. Estimate: HK$800,000-1,200,000.
• Katherine Bernhardt, Kate Moss (Roberto Cavalli). Estimate: HK$250,000-350,000.
• Ju Ming, Taichi Series: Single Whip. Estimate: HK$400,000-600,000