Tuesday, 4 December 2012

'Obsessive Art': Yayoi Kusama

by Lottie Kent


(source: luxq.com)
Yayoi Kusama, born March 22nd 1929, is a Japanese avant-garde artist and writer. Her 60-year-long practice has encompassed performance, filmmaking, painting, drawing, sculpture, immersive installation, fashion, poetry, fiction, and public spectacles (or 'happenings.’) She is widely acknowledged as a major influence on several generations of contemporary practitioners (such as Andy Warhol) and one of the most important artists to transpire from the Japanese art scene. Her work is ever-evolving and always fascinating and, as a student of art, she is completely inspiring to me.

Her life began in Matsumoto, Japan, where she started to create art at an early age and went on to study Nihonga (literally ‘Japanese-style painting’) in Kyoto in 1948. Frustrated within the constraints of such a traditional style, she looked elsewhere to the European and American avant-garde and staged several individual exhibitions of her paintings in Matsumoto and Tokyo during the 1950s. She moved to Chicago in 1957, and then to New York in 1958, where she produced a series of paintings influenced by the abstract expressionist movement. Her primary mediums became sculpture and installation, and this switch marked her establishment within the New York avant-garde scene, with her works being exhibited alongside the likes of Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and George Segal during the early 1960s. She traded much on her identity as an ‘outsider’ in many contexts - as a female artist in a male-dominated society, as a Japanese person in the Western art world, and as a victim of her own neurotic and obsessional symptoms, which would often arise from overworking. It was in this period that she became affiliated with the pop art movement. Kusama embraced the rise of hippie counterculture and came to public light after she organised a series of Body Festivals in which naked participants were painted with the brightly colored polka dots that have pervaded much of her work.        
(source: wearehandsome.com)
In 1973, Kusama moved back to her country of birth, Japan, but found the art scene there far more conformist than that of New York. After experiencing psychiatric problems for several years, she voluntarily admitted herself to a mental hospital in 1977, where she has spent the rest of her life and currently resides. From here, she has continued to produce artworks in a variety of mediums, as well as launching a literary career by publishing several novels, a poetry collection and an autobiography. In 2011, she produced the artwork for six limited-edition lip glosses from Lancôme and in that same year worked with Marc Jacobs (who visited her studio in Japan in 2006) on a line of products for the fashion house Louis Vuitton which included leather goods, clothing, accessories, shoes, watches and jewellery.     
                                                                                                                                                   
Yayoi Kusama
(source: whitney.org)
Kusama’s work is often referred to as ‘obsessive art’ and, on an observable level, represents the strange and eccentric nature of her life. However, beneath this bizarre mania for repeating patterns and spots lies inspiration that arose from childhood hallucinations in which polka dots would cover every visible surface. This circular motif, or even the negative space seen when a looped mark is applied to a surface, has been central to Kusama’s work since the late-1950s. Flooding across canvases, sculptures and installations, furniture, walls – even the artist's body and clothing she has designed, these dots and whorls vary in tone and size from bold chromatic contrasts to delicate traceries of white-on-white and even present themselves in the form of light.

Her work is beautiful but overwhelming – the product of a self-described obsession that extends to food and sex, and she has even employed stuffed-fabric phallic forms and pasta in many of her sculptures and installations. Kusama certainly regards her work not just as therapeutic but also as life saving; but it remains, nonetheless, disquieting due to its engulfing, mutating nature. Throughout her career, her work has shown links with movements such as Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop Art, Performance Art, Minimalism and Feminist Art, as well as current trends in installation art. Yet, despite such a multi-faceted catalogue of work, Kusama’s remains an art of absolute singularity. She shows, with scale and fastidiousness, the true power of the individual gesture multiplied and varied and so much so that the viewer has no choice but to relinquish their detachment and immerse themselves in the wildness of her art.

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