For the past several months, the center of Kumamoto City has been covered in dots. From Louis Vuitton to the corner bookstore, everyone seems to have become dotty.
It is difficult to understand the reason for this Dots Obsession until you discover the stimulating work of 彌生草間 Yayoi Kusama and her amazing art.
彌生草間 Yayoi Kusama’s Eternity of Eternal Eternity 永遠の永遠の永遠 exhibition has been held in Kumamoto throughout spring this year, since April 5th, and will be touring Japan during 2014 with the next exhibitions scheduled for the cities of Akita and Nagoya.
Today is the last day of the exhibition at the Contemporary Art Museum of Kumamoto (CAMK). Here, the art catalogue and exhibition book has sold out.
Art gallery escalator.
彌生草間 Kusama’s art is captivating. She has been at the forefront of the avant-garde art movement since the fifties and sixties and her work is currently being celebrated and shown around the world.
Art gallery window.
I think the reason why 彌生草間 Yayoi Kusama’s art is so amazing is because when viewing the images she paints, the drawings she captures from her dreams, the textiles she designs and the installations she creates, we become inspired and are challenged to embrace who we truly are so that we may realise our unique potential.
Infinity Mirror Room, CAMK.
When I walked amongst the numerous canvases depicting 彌生草間 Kusama’s inner psyche and experience of herself and her world during the Eternity of Eternal Eternity 永遠の永遠の永遠 exhibition, I was reminded that many things are possible in life.
彌生草間 Kusama’s work showed me that we do not have to be limited by ourselves, our fears, our illnesses, our disadvantages, nor the boundaries imposed upon us.
After seeing 彌生草間 Kusama’s work, I have more hope than what I had held before I entered her art space. I feel my spirit lifted and my imagination provoked.
Maybe a deeper part of myself, beyond logic, is awakened and my senses became more enlivened when exposed to the images that once drifted in Kusama’s subconsciousness and which she had the courage and determination to capture onto canvas and interpret into textiles and other visual forms.
My favourite works as part of this Eternity of Eternal Eternity 永遠の永遠の永遠 exhibition is the set of the three self-portraits 彌生草間 Kusama painted on canvases with silver backgrounds. The piece entitled “神をみつめていたわたし”, “I Was Looking Hard at God” is especially wonderful, I think.
While Kusama’s work is imaginative and impressive, it is in knowing her life story that inspires me.
Yayoi Kusama standing in her school uniform with her family.
Born in Matsumoto, Nagano prefecture, Japan in 1929, Kusama had already begun drawing and identifying herself as an artist by the age of ten. She has suffered severe hallucinations coupled with extreme episodes of depersonalisation since childhood. In these hallucinations, she would see dots saturate her inner mind and inundate her outer world. Such psychotic episodes have pursued Kusama throughout her adult life and have become part of the foundation upon which she has built her creative work and artistic life.
Accumulation of the Corpses (Prisoner Surrounded by the Curtain if Depersonalisation) by Kusama at age 21, 1950.
After a very difficult childhood with parents who were dismissive, violent-tempered and unsupportive towards her artistic aspirations, Kusama travelled to New York to pursue her creative ambitions. Before leaving Japan in her twenties, however, she had already held a solo exhibition of 270 of her paintings in her hometown Matsumoto. By this time, Kusama had been diagnosed for her psychiatric illnesses and was receiving medical attention from psychiatrists.
Self-portrait by Yayoi Kusama, 1972.
In November 1955, prior to leaving for the USA, Kusama wrote a letter to Georgia O’Keeffe (1887-1986), one of the most prominent American painters in modern times, and to her astonishment, received a personal, thoughtful response from O’Keeffe.
Georgia O’Keeffe later visited Kusama in her studio in 1961 in New York and remained a strong supporter of Kusama and her work until she passed on.
Yayoi Kusama in New York, USA, 1961.
Andy Warhol (1928-1987), leader of the Pop Art movement, was a friend to Kusama while Joseph Cornell (1903-1972), the reclusive and noted American artist, became her lover after a period of intense courtship.
A poem that Joseph Cornell wrote, framed and sent to Kusama during their courtship.
Despite numerous difficulties, Kusama became a focal point in the avant-garde movement in New York and well-known for her Infinity Net paintings and concepts.
Yayoi Kusama and her Infinity Net paintings, New York, USA, 1961.
Detail of Infinity Net painting, 1959.
After fifteen years living and working in New York, Kusama returned to Japan, her home country to obtain medical care for her physical and psychiatric illnesses. She has since that time chosen to live in a psychiatric institute while pursuing her art, and it is where she remains today. In doing this, Kusama demonstrates to me the importance of being able to accept ourselves, the challenges we are given and through doing so, we enable our strengths to emerge and our talents to prosper.
Over the following two decades after having returned home, Kusama continued to paint with relative little public attention until in 1989, the Center for International Contemporary Arts (CICA) in the USA held “Yayoi Kusama: Retrospective” and named her “a pioneer in post-war American art”.
Since the turn of the millennium, Kusama’s work has seen a revival and has been celebrated throughout the world. Her art has been exhibited throughout Europe, Asia, North America and South America.
The Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane, Australia, my home base, held an exhibition by Kusama “Look Now See Forever” during November 2011- March 2012.
Six years ago, in 2008, Christie’s New York sold Kusama’s work entitled No. 2 for 5.8 million US dollars.
Despite the material successes, the social recognition, the critical acclaim Yayoi Kusama has received, it is clear that she has struggled in her life.
She has suffered. And yet, it is this suffering, the very demons she has had to wrestle with, the isolation she’s had to confront and the fears she has had to face that also paved the journey for the uniqueness and the audacity of her work.
I think Yayoi Kusama was maybe born an artist. It was certainly the dream she was meant to fulfil when the dream was born. I see this when I witness her art, read her words and view the text others have written about Kusama’s life and the choices she has made with what she was given.
Possibly, this is the main inspiration that I get from Yayoi Kusama and her work, that we are each assigned a task to pursue, a dream to fulfil, a life to live when we are born. We must not squander this assignment. In spite of the difficulties that plague us, the challenges that seem insurmountable, the limitations imposed upon us, we must continue to live with honesty, work with deep integrity to honour the visions we see and in the end, simply do what we must.
Our life has its own purpose and our presence is the dream realised.
Despite life being an obstacle course for many of us, we are enough. We have adequate resources within ourselves to reach our potential. The barriers, including debilitating psychotic hallucinations, can sometimes be the path through which we realise our human greatness.
Perhaps the reason for Yayoi Kusama’s success is that her work moves us personally. Kusama’s art recognises our shared humanity and makes a distinct difference to our understanding of ourselves and connection to our inner and outer worlds.
Currently based in Tokyo, 彌生草間 Yayoi Kusama is eighty-five this year and yet her creative energy seems boundless.
If you have the opportunity to see 彌生草間 Yayoi Kusama’s work up close, do grasp the chance. It is a very different experience to stand in a physical space filled with Kusama’s paintings, sketches, sculptures, and to walk through an enclosure permeated with the dots that she envisions than it is to see her art in a book or on a computer screen like you are doing now.
Kusama’s art will provoke you, whether you develop a liking for her illustrations and installations or not, but you will not remain indifferent to them.
To be tickled, provoked, moved, changed by another human being’s work and artistic creations is a gift to be celebrated and welcomed.
Yayoi Kusama, Eternity of Eternal Eternity 永遠の永遠の永遠 exhibition, Contemporary Art Museum of Kumamoto, Japan. 5th April – 15th June, 2014.
Sayaka Sonoda. 2013. Yayoi Kusama: Locus of the Avant-Garde. 1st edition. Translated by Yumiko Nagata. Nagano: The Shinano Mainichi Shimbun Inc.