“They See More Than You Can See” marked the first exhibition of the Undercover designer in Tokyo.
If anyone still argues that fashion isn’t art, they probably don’t know that many designers navigate between two worlds: two different forms of expression that run parallel and eventually merge into fashion. Just think of Tom Ford and his talent as a director, Helmut Lang who famously left the world of fashion shows to pursue sculpture, and Jun Takahashi, who experimented with photography years ago. His memorable photography exhibition in Hong Kong in 2009, titled ‘Grace,’ in collaboration with photographer Katsuhide Morimoto, is a testament to this.
The brilliant creator of the eerie and surreal characters that inhabit the Undercover brand‘s universe has devoted himself to portrait painting in recent years. We’ve seen glimpses of this in various pieces from his streetwear collections and on the cover of his 2016 monograph, ‘Undercover.’ However, he had never worked on actual canvases.
At the beginning of September 2023, Takahashi unveiled his first solo exhibition of oil paintings at Tokyo’s Gallery Target. On display were a series of portraits of famous figures who had inspired him throughout his life, but with their eyes intentionally omitted. Among the canvases, you could unmistakably identify David Bowie, Patty Smith, and other unspecified muses.
The opening night featured the participation of some of Japan’s most renowned musicians, including Utada Hikaru and Yumi Matsutoya, reaffirming Jun Takahashi‘s prominent role in his country’s culture. Yet, even with all these famous friends, translating success from the runway to the art gallery is a daunting task, and Takahashi understandably had concerns about displaying his paintings. “It’s very different from fashion,” he stated. “First of all, the prices are significantly higher, so I was quite worried about how my work would be perceived by art buyers.” Not that he had any reason to worry; everything sold out almost immediately. “I think this is proof that my work is appreciated as art,” he commented.
In addition to the portraits, the exhibition also showcased some dreamlike and surreal landscapes populated by magical figures associated with the world of esotericism, such as the moon, cats, and skulls. All of these elements had been incorporated into his fashion collections over the course of his incredible career.
Jun Takahashi’s works are characterized by a surrealistic touch, where you can discern the influence of artists like Rene Magritte or Leonora Carrington, especially in the magical characters. However, Takahashi’s personal style is recognizable due to his ability to “erase” the distinctive features of his subjects and his choice of colors, including creamy tones, gray-blues, and apple reds, which stem from his background in design—a chromatic balance honed through his fashion collections.
The exhibition features around 30 works in total, including bronze sculptures from the “Grace Creatures” fairytale series: otherworldly beings with elongated necks that have sporadically appeared alongside his streetwear creations for Undercover over the past 15 years.
Buoyed by the success of the exhibition, Takahashi intends to create more works in the future. “Even though I’m not yet certain of my technique, I feel that my paintings have allowed people to grasp my worldview and expand their imagination,” he shared.
An exclusive painting was created for the cover of ” It portrays a woman with concealed eyes but well-defined facial features. In an editorial within the issue #32 of the magazine, the artist and designer quietly revealed that he had been refining his artistic skills in the studio over the past ten years and that this was the right time to share his canvases and approach to painting with everyone.
A surprising revelation of his artistic talents that transcend the boundaries of design, music, fashion, photography, and painting.