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 Diana Billings Art Blog

Yayoi Kusama

Yayoi Kusama is one of our most interesting modern day woman artist. Known as the “Princess of Polka Dots. Born in Matsumoto, Nagaro, Japan on March 22,1929, at 93 years old she is still an extremely active artist.

When Yayoi was 10 she was drawing motifs with dots and flowers. Though her mother objected to her art and destroyed some, this did not deter Yayoi. Yayoi was not raised in ideal circumstances, her mother could be abusive and her father was a womanizer. Yayoi’s mother would make Yayoi spy on her father when he was with other women. Yayoi was exposed to sexual situations that her father was up to, skewing Yayois’ perceptions of sex at a young age.

When Yayoi was 10 she recalls that she had hallucinations that she calls “flashes of light, auras or a dense field of dots”. Yayoi would have hallucinations that seemed to come alive and engulf her she referred to this as “self-obliteration”, which would be a theme though her life as an artist. She also had images of flowers that spoke to her. A stream near her home as a child had smooth round white stones and these fascinated Yayoi. Art was her escape and solitude from her chaotic life. At 13 Yayoi began to work at a parachute factory during WWII, surviving through the bombings, air raid sirens and B-29 bombers. This must have been terrifying for the young woman. Her life was being strongly influenced by the war. She began to value her freedom personally and creatively.

In 1948 after the war Yayoi Kusama attended Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts. Yayoi

was becoming frustrated with the confines of traditional Japanese art called “Nihonga”. She became interested in the American and European avant-garde art movement. During the 1950’s she was experimenting with watercolour, gouache and oil paints. Yayoi would cover everything in dots-walls, floors, household items and even naked models. Polka dots were becoming her signature trademark. She described her polka dots as “infinity nets”. Her dots, or “infinity nets”, in her art were all a result of her hallucinations. Yayoi paintings would sometimes be as large as 30 feet long. Yayoi was starting to have some success and had her first solo exhibitions in Tokyo and Matsumoto in the 1950’s.

“Obliteration Room” Helsinki 2015

By 27 years old Kusama had lived in Tokyo and France, then she moved to the U.S. During this time she destroyed a lot of her own work. Yayoi first settled in Seattle had some success there with an exhibition during her first year living there. Friend, Georgia O’Keeffe persuaded Yayoi to move to New York city, as there was a more active avant-garde art scene. In 1961 Yayoi shared studio space with follow artists Donald Judd and good friend Eva Hesse. During her time in New York she established herself as a leader in the avant-garde art movement.

She was also very popular in the art scene and was often photographed at events in her brightly coloured bob style wigs and wearing avant-garde fashions.

“Ascension of Polka Dots ” Singapore

Yayoi had developed a productive rhythmic style of making art. In 1966 she began to experiment with room sized installations that incorporated lights, mirrors and music. She was working so hard that she was hospitalized several time due to exhaustion. Her good friend Georgia O’Keeffe convinced a buyer to purchase Yayoi’s work due to the fact that Yayoi was not making any money at this time. Yayoi tried to commit suicide because of the lack of money. During the1960’s Yayoi was an active participant in what were called “happenings”. Happenings were often protests about the Vietnam war and the participants would be nude. Yayois’ family was ashamed of her participation and Yayoi tried to commit suicide a second time. She was into performance art, again involving nudity with bodies painted in polka dots. In 1968 Yayoi had an installation called, “Narcissus Garden” comprised of mirrored spheres in a garden, this exhibit was in Venice and has been replicated in other locations around the world up to 2018. Also in 1968 there was a large happening at Kusama’s studio in Greenwich Village. Yayoi presided over this happening called “The Homosexual Wedding at the Church of Self-Obliteration”. Musical artists like Fleetwood Mac and Country Joe and the Fish were at this happening. This was the first homosexual wedding performed in the U.S. but was not legal.

1973 Yayoi returned to Japan. There she started writing novels that were visceral, disturbing and surreal. She wrote poetry and short stories. In 1977 Yayoi admitted herself to a hospital for mental illness in Japan, and this has remained as her primary residence to this day. Yayoi has said “If not for art, I would have killed myself long ago.”

”Narcissus Garden” Brazil

Over the years Yayoi has continuously produced artwork, having many exhibitions and installations. Retrospectives of her work had brought her international recognition. Some of her installations have been the “Narcissus Gardens” and her “Infinite Nets” full room installations of mirrors and lights. These installations have exhibited all over the world from Japan, the U.S., Canada, Sweden, Israel, Brazil, and many other countries. Yayoi Kusama has become a cultural icon with her signature polka dots, pumpkins and rooms filled with polka dots. Kusama has influenced film, fashion, performance art and writing. And it all started with a hallucination as a child and her thoughts of self-obliteration. Without these, we would not have her contribution to modern art.

Keep well, Diana


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