by Antoinette du Plessis 3 March 2008

Stereotypical action, repetition, hallucination, accumulation, obsession, the curtain of depersonalisation, emptiness, infinity, psychosomatic art, proliferation, ‘vacuum’, cell, segmentation, eternity, driving image. These are some of the themes I have used for my artworks: paintings, sculptures as well as films. 

Yayoi Kusama describing the ‘obsessional’ nature of her art in Art Review 15:79, Oct07
Japan’s greatest living artist, a proto-feminist icon, compulsive-obsessive, reclusive, instantly recognizable: Yayoi Kusama has been called many contradictory things. Most of these monikers, and many others, accurately describe different facets of this remarkable artist whose long career has spanned most of the 20th century and continues to flourish in the 21st.

She was born in Matsumoto, a city in Japan, in 1929. Hallucinations experienced from an early age triggered her neurotic covering of all possible surfaces with dots in various sizes. She turned to art as a way of dealing with obsessive thoughts of suicide, and these dots, compulsively repeated in colourful patterns, have become her artistic signature. She speaks of her dotted environments as ‘infinity nets’, obliterating the world, creating a new world. 

She left Japan in the 1950s for New York, where she enthusiastically joined the art scene, causing a furore with her nude public performances. She befriended many American artworld luminaries, including Georgia O’Keefe with whom she corresponded for years, Donald Judd and Joseph Cornell. She exhibited with Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg, quite comfortably fitting into a pop mould.

Kusama abruptly returned to Japan in the 1970s and since then has chosen to live in a Tokyo psychiatric hospital not far from her studio. For a period it seemed that the art establishment had forgotten her, but she has returned to the limelight in full splendour, creating flowers, dots, pumpkins, more flowers, more dots, more pumpkins of infinite beauty and luminosity. Asked what she hoped her art conveyed to others, she replied: ‘ I am I. Others are others. We are different in many ways. Behind art are, however, aspirations common to all humankind. It gives me a great joy when I find them’.

Indeed, her work is entirely idiosyncratic, and she admits to no outside influences. She insists that only her own world – her thoughts, aspirations and visions – matter to her; she herself is her only inspiration. 

34LONG brings the work of Kusama to South Africa for the first time. Flower A, Flower B and Flower C, serigraph prints embossed with gold lame on woven paper from a 2005 edition of 50, are emblematic of her mature style. 

This site provides biographical detail, and much more.
This site contains images of Kusama’s work in New York during the 1960s.

Art Review 15: 74 – 79, Oct 2007

Art Asia Pacific 2: 78 – 79 (Almanac 2007)

Flower A 2005
Silkscreen with gold lame on woven paper
Edition of 50
50.8 x 61 cm

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