I think we can safely say that the start of 2020 has not been a brilliant one, there are terrible fires in Australia, and my heart goes out to every living being there in a hope that recovery comes quickly. In the UK we have the ongoing comedy saga of Brexit and the hash job that is being made of it with BoJo and his band of not so merry men that don’t seem to be able to organise the proverbial brewery visit, let along a decent exit plan.
With all this dower news, I wanted to write about something that was much brighter and more fun.
Yayoi Kusama has carved her name into the art world with her lively and simplistic installations and sculptures as well as her paintings, which carry a continuing theme of dots, nature, pumpkins and light and these motifs have lent themselves to many different formats to enable her name to be stamped on so many genres.
Kusama was born in 1929 and had a traumatic and abusive childhood. At the age of 10 she started to have vivid hallucinations which came as either flashes of lights, auras or dense fields of dots, which would later feed her artistic process, but her mother was very much against her creativity, therefore Kusama would rush to finish work as it would be taken away from her as a deterrent against doing it. The hallucinations could start with things such as patterns in fabric starting to move and then suddenly engulf her, she later named this “self-obliteration” and you can definitely see the influence of her hallucinations in all of her work, from rooms filled with dots to the infinite rooms which have been created with mirrors to engulf the viewer with whatever is inside the room.
In 1948 she attended the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts to study Nihonga, but quickly became frustrated with this distinctly Japanese style, favoring the American and European Avant Garde movements. In 1950 she stages solo exhibits in Tokyo and Matsumoto which included her work “Infinity Nets” which were directly taken from her visions.
In 1957 Kusama moved to Seattle, considering Japan to small and scornful of women for the type of work that she was producing. She stayed in America until 1972 and during this time created the infinity mirror rooms, where lights were hung in mirrored rooms. Her designs were so infectious that they were used in multiple arenas including fashion houses, film background and furniture.
In 1973 she returned to Japan in ill health, and started writing quite shocking novels and poetry. In 1977 she checked herself into a hospital for the mentally ill and has lived there voluntarily since. Her studio in Shinjuku is not far from the hospital and she still produces work. She maintains that if it was not for art that she would have killed herself a long time ago.
This is merely a whistle stop tour of this incredibly interesting and brave artists life, as I would need to write a book on her if we wanted to understand everything, but one of her main motifs is the humble pumpkin. The shape of the pumpkin she uses is not the round orange ones that I think of but more of a butternut squash shape (trust me the shape is important), and these have come up in her work time and again. They have been created by her many times over in large sculptures, paintings and infinity rooms.
There isn’t a specific reason that Kusama uses pumpkins, but she has said in the past that they remind her of people in shape (see, I told you) and humorous form. They excite her sense and she wishes to continue creating artwork based on them, which I for one will always be happy to see, as they make me smile everytime I see them.
The picture I chose is one from her pumpkin infinity room, which not only fills the void in front of the viewer with a field of yellow spotty pumpkins, but also, to me really brings her hallucinations to life as they are all decorated with dots. The room is engulfing and when stood in it, you can see yourself in the mirror surrounded by this, creating what it must be like for Kusama.
Dots are another of her ongoing motifs which she has said for her are like the sun and the moon, because of the shape. The sun being a representation of energy and life and the moon being a calming influence, I do find it hard not to be happy when looking at her work, despite that this has come from a place which is probably quite frightening for the artist.
This room has been made with acrylic pumpkins, LED lights, black glass floor, mirrors, wood and metal to illuminate and bring to life the colours and spots that you can see.
Kusama falls right into the pop art genre where there doesn’t necessarily need to be a meaning behind what she is doing, as it is a direct line in to the way she sees the world simple colours and shapes imprinted on all things natural, and I think it is a thing of beauty.
I have been fascinated with her work for such a long time, and I have recently found out that she illustrated a version of “Alice in Wonderland” which I really would love a copy of (one day I will get it) as the artist and the story seem to go so well hand in hand from hallucinations to falling down a rabbit hole and being in a make believe world.
Have you seen the artwork of Kusama? Why not tell me about it in the comments? Like this post? Why not share it?