“By obliterating one’s individual self, one returns to the infinite universe.”
Yesterday I went with my friend Mer to see the Yayoi Kusama exhibition at Wellington’s City Gallery. It was so excellent, & the second show of hers I’ve seen. I adore her, & as I walked around, I realised that I haven’t really written much about her here!
The first time I heard her name was in a song called Hot Topic by Le Tigre, a popular Kathleen Hanna (of Bikini Kill fame) musical project. I didn’t think about her again until I was living in Melbourne, & one of her shows came to town. I walked down to see it & was blown away — the landscape had been transformed by these strange red shapes covered in polka dots. I took photos of myself next to them, & the love affair officially began.
Yayoi Kusama (草間彌生) was born in Japan in March 1929. She suffered extreme physical abuse at the hands of her mother as a child, & began hallucinating at a young age. Polka dots feature heavily in her work, & she says they are taken directly from her visions & hallucinations. She discovered that by drawing or painting what she saw, she was able to maintain some control over her mind. She voluntarily committed herself to an institution in the mid-1970s, & lives there to this day. Her studio isn’t far from the hospital, & she has attributed art with saving her life.
In 2008, one of her pieces was sold for over $5,000,000, the most expensive work ever to be sold by a living female artist.
While some people dismiss her art as “too abstract”, all that Yayoi is trying to communicate is the long process of creation itself, & she is adamant that she makes art only for herself. Her audience appears to be of little or no concern to her.
“I am an obsessional artist. People call me otherwise, but I simply let them do as they please. I consider myself a heretic of the art world. I think only of myself when I make an artwork. Affected by the obsession that has been lodged in my body.”
Her exhibitions are a mixed bag, ranging from illustrations to infinity rooms (mirrored rooms filled with hanging coloured lights or even sewn, polka dot shapes) & large collections of reflective balls. You might walk into a room covered in polka dots with enormous vinyl installations, or into a black-lit living room scene, popping with neon colours. Her art is really incredible, it invites you in while simultaneously confusing you, & encourages you to view things in a different way.
She loves to wear different coloured wigs, oversized polka dot caftans & bright lipstick. She is extremely prolific, & was a direct influence on both Yoko Ono & Andy Warhol.
How to bring a little more 草間彌生 into your life:
Draw polka dots on everything
Use bright colours, shamelessly & with abandon
Don’t be afraid to repeat yourself
Use art as therapy
Watch Yayoi Kusama: I Love Me
Start a collection of wigs
Fill your house with mirrors
Recognise that it doesn’t matter where you came from
Construct a necklace of flowers
Make “LOVE FOREVER” your mantra
Live your art