Pharrell Williams Discovers His Inner Child in a Gun-Filled Manga World | Modern Society of USA

Pharrell Williams Discovers His Inner Child in a Gun-Filled Manga World

Pharrell Williams Discovers His Inner Child in a Gun-Filled Manga World

PARIS — Pharrell Williams has found a happy place for his inner child, and it’s a manga-style fantasy in which children have taken up arms. That’s the gist of “A Call To Action,” a new exhibition the American singer, producer and entrepreneur has curated for the Guimet Museum, a collection of Asian art here.

The show was created at Mr. Williams’s invitation by Mr., a 49-year-old Japanese visual artist known for his colorful work inspired by the manga and anime traditions.

The single-room exhibition is bright and deliberately chaotic: Visitors step onto plastic sheets splashed with paint, with blocks of concrete and drawings scattered around the floor. Large-scale paintings and figurines are dwarfed by even larger graffiti and neon signs. The main figures in this post-apocalyptic scene are young boys and girls, and most of them are carrying multicolored guns.

Mr. Williams is a collector of Mr.’s work, which “just seems like it’s from the point of view of a perpetual teenager,” the singer said in an interview in the exhibition space last week. “His imagination has no boundaries, no ceiling or floor,” he added.

“If a person is disconnected from their inner child, they will see this work and wake up,” Mr. Williams said.

Speaking through a translator next to Mr. Williams, Mr. said the exhibition imagines an international revolt led by the young generation. “Children have been driven out of their homes, they have lost their parents and they must survive. They do everything they can not to be killed,” Mr. explained. A quote from William Golding’s novel “Lord of the Flies” greets visitors at the entrance: “We did everything adults would do. What went wrong?”

Mr. produced the work over five years in response to a pitch from Mr. Williams, who described his vision in loose terms in Paris. “What is the future and how do we get there? If we didn’t get there, what would prevent us?” The answer to the last question was “the bad decisions of grown-ups,” on a range of issues including climate change and the lack of gun regulation in the United States, he said.

The role of art curator is still a relatively new one for Mr. Williams. In 2014, he curated his first group exhibition, “G I R L,” which was presented at the Galerie Perrotin in Paris and featured Mr. among peers including the French conceptualist Sophie Calle and the street artist JR.

As often with celebrity crossover collaborations, however, Mr. Williams’s role was somewhat vaguely defined in “A Call To Action.” While the mission of a curator varies across the contemporary art world, it usually involves at least selecting the work and arranging it for display. In Paris, Mr. suggested that he had handled these aspects of the creative process. “Pharrell provided me with the theme,” he said. “From that point on, I had no precise instructions about the details, the way to proceed.”

“All of this work is by his hand,” Mr. Williams said. “I think we just agreed on a destination, but it was ultimately his paint brushes, his hands, his choices of color.” Somewhat cryptically, he added: “It’s a gift to be able to go on this visual exploration by rocket ship with his creativity.”

“A Call To Action” is not the first collaboration between Mr. Williams and Mr., who were introduced by the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami: Mr. Murakami is Mr.’s longtime mentor and a friend of Mr. Williams. In 2014, Mr. co-directed the manga-style music video for Mr. Williams’s song “It Girl.” Mr. also produced a series of figurines modeled on the singer, complete with hat, and in 2015 put them up for sale at the Art Basel Hong Kong art fair.

Mr. rose to prominence in the early 2000s as part of Kaikai Kiki, an art collective founded by Mr. Murakami. He was featured in Mr. Murakami’s landmark “Superflat” exhibition, which toured the United States in 2001 and inspired an artistic movement of the same name.

Superflat’s vivid two-dimensional manga-inspired images have been likened to Pop Art, but Melissa Chiu, the director of the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, said by phone that its frame of reference was different: “Superflat was a postmodern movement, fundamentally of a different time and place.” Superflat artworks are rooted in Japan’s “otaku” culture, she said.

In Japanese, Ms. Chiu explained, “otaku” refers to fans with obsessive interests, or “young people who are somewhat entranced with computers and popular culture.”

Mr. has long identified as an “otaku,” but explained in Paris that he felt “profoundly ashamed” to say so. While many foreign fans of manga and anime are proud to call themselves “otaku,” the word carries a social stigma in Japan.

Mr. has translated his interest in this nerdy subculture into increasingly personal art over the years. Screens dotted around the exhibition in Paris show footage of everyday activities shot by Mr. on his smartphone — a way, he explained, of juxtaposing reality with the defiant childlike figures he created.

Mr. Williams said he was putting his faith in the young generation that “A Call To Action” is dedicated to. “I think our generation continues to fail, but I really do believe the millennials and Gen-Zers will make better decisions,” Mr. Williams said.

When the interview was over and it was time to go, he leaned forward and nodded toward Mr. “I hope my answers were as colorful as all of the incredible work that he’s done,” he said.

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