Shinjiro Okamoto


Shinjiro Okamoto (1933 – 2020) is an artist expressly acknowledged in Japan for his post-war art and unabashed observance of pre-war “Japanese-ness,” as well as his subsequent innovations in that country’s vital Pop Art movement. An art director, master printmaker and celebrated artist, Okamoto is regarded manifestly for paving the way for what would become universally recognized as the Superflat and Micropop phenomena made mainstream in the 1990s by artists Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara.


An avid devotee of the aesthetics of the Edo period (1603 – 1868), which protected Japan’s insular culture, Shinjiro Okamoto grew up in working class Tokyo during Showa (1926 – 1981) and as a young teenager experienced the devastating U.S. fire-bombing of his home city in 1945. Largely self-taught, his drawing, painting, design and writing are heavy with nostalgia for the old low lying Tokyo neighborhoods and streets of his youth. Okamoto early on embraced a Nihonga style of working, which developed into a subjective language of simple outlines condensing characters and scenescapes, infused with carefully applied uniform acrylic paint of muted, fluorescent, pastel and high color tones – combinations typical in the history of Japanese packaging and design, and in Nihonga genres, but not yet particularly common in the West, even at the onset of Pop Art in the late 1950s. Prefacing Japan’s perceived godfather of Superflat Sadamasa Motonaga, Okamoto created “shadowy pictures without shadows'' as jocular, immersive surfaces that could elicit a range of cheerfully nihilistic emotions from humor to paranoia, elation to dread.


Shinjiro Okamoto offers a rare example of both pre-war and post-war mass culture sensibility as seen through Japanese eyes.  A short video made by the artist’s grandson, Samuel Lintaro Hopf, in 2015, shows the artist discussing his humble beginnings in Tokyo’s Kanada neighborhood, the impact of the war on his life and iconography, and how living through and witnessing the Tokyo Fire-bombing, New York City events of September 11, and the fallout from Japan’s 2011 earthquake and tsunami, inspired the artist through his eight decades.