Behind the Dots: Yayoi Kusama
Japan’s acclaimed artist and writer is one of the world’s top 10 living artists and the highest selling female artist.
Across a wide variety of media, from painting and collage to sculpture, performance art and environmental installations, Yayoi Kusama continues to leave her mark. Her nets and pumpkin motifs, psychedelic colours, repetitions and patterns infused with elements of her Japanese origins have captivated art enthusiasts and collectors from New York to Tokyo, across multiple locations around the globe.
Considered by many as not only avant-garde but an important precursor of pop art, minimalist and feminist art movements, Kusama is still viewed as a major artistic force. Formerly part of the New York art scene, Kusama left the Big Apple for homeland Japan in the early 70s. Everywhere she goes, she is easily spotted by her trademark red wig (sometimes in other shades, too) and dotty, colourful attire.
Her talent is vast and her works of conceptual art comprise even surrealism, Art Brut, pop art and abstract expressionism. She infuses autobiographical, psychological and sexual content into her works and has extended herself in the film and fashion design worlds, as well. She is also a published novelist and poet and has even done stints in newspaper publication.
Kusama has toyed with watercolours, pastels and oils, evolving to large paintings, soft sculptures and environmental sculptures using mirrors and electric lights. Later, she staged many happenings, such as body painting festivals, fashion shows and anti-war demonstrations. More recently, Kusama started creating open-air sculptures. Her influence has been strongly felt by artists such as Warhol. Yet behind her unusual, upbeat, bright artwork a more troubled side lay hidden. From her childhood days, when painting polka dots and nets was her form of rebellion against her parents and her restrictive Japanese environment, to her days as an anti-war activitist in the 60s or even the endless hallucinations from which she claims to have suffered throughout most of her life, Kusama is said to have been troubled. Since 1977, Kusama has resided voluntarily in a psychiatric clinic in Tokyo, travelling to a nearby studio to work. Perhaps her preoccupations or obsessions portrayed through her repetitions and patterns are a way to work through the hallucinations. Some art critics have associated her unusual room installations and elements with the corners of the artist’s mind. And what a mind it is.