Yayoi Kusama – Capturing Infinity

1929-Present

 

“Since my childhood, I have always made works with polka dots. Earth, moon, sun, and human beings all represent dots; a single particle amount billions.”

 

A Japanese contemporary artist who works primarily in sculpture and installation, but is also active in painting, performance, film, fashion, poetry, fiction, and other arts. She has been acknowledged as one of the most important living artists to come out of Japan.

When she was ten years old, she began to experience vivid hallucinations, which she has described as “flashes of light, auras, or dense fields of dots”. These hallucinations also included flowers that spoke to Kusama, and patterns in fabric that she stared at coming to life, multiplying, and engulfing or expunging her, a process which she has carried into her artistic career and which she calls “self-obliteration”. She was reportedly fascinated by the smooth white stones covering the bed of the river near her family home, which she cites as another of the seminal influences behind her lasting fixation on dots.

Her senior year of school, she studied at Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts, where she studied Nihonga painting, a rigorous formal style developed during the Meiji period. She hated the rigidities of the master-disciple system where students were supposed to imbibe tradition through the sensei (teacher).

By 1950, she began covering surfaces (walls, floors, canvases, and later, household objects and people) with the polka dots that would become a trademark of her work. The vast fields of polka dots, or “infinity nets,” as she called them, were taken directly from her hallucinations. The earliest recorded work in which she incorporated these dots was a drawing in 1939 at age 10, in which the image of a Japanese woman in a kimono, presumed to be the artist’s mother, is covered and obliterated by spots. Her first series of large-scale, sometimes more than 30 ft-long canvas paintings, Infinity Nets, were entirely covered in a sequence of nets and dots that alluded to her hallucinatory visions.

She established other habits too, like having herself routinely photographed with new work and regularly appearing in public wearing her signature bobbed wigs and colorful, avant-garde fashions. Since 1963, Kusama has continued her series of Mirror/Infinity rooms. In these complex infinity mirror installations, purpose-built rooms lined with mirrored glass contain scores of neon-colored balls, hanging at various heights above the viewer. Standing inside on a small platform, an observer sees light repeatedly reflected off the mirrored surfaces to create the illusion of a never-ending space. During the following years, Kusama was enormously productive, and by 1966 she was experimenting with room-size, freestanding installations that incorporated mirrors, lights, and piped-in music.

After experiencing psychiatric problems, in 1977 she voluntarily admitted herself to a hospital, where she has spent the rest of her life. From here, she continued to produce artworks in a variety of mediums, as well as launching a literary career by publishing several novels, a poetry collection, and an autobiography.

Classroom Teaching Materials

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