Yayoi Kusama is an innovative and notable visual artist born in 1929, in Matsumoto, Japan, who has left significant traces in the future of contemporary art history. Critics have considered her a forerunner of pop art, along with her contemporaries Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg. Throughout her career, Kusama has expressed herself through various creative media such as painting, drawing, photography, performance, happening, installation, fashion design, video art and literature, in which has represented her inner world of a psychedelic nature.
Her interest in art is evident from childhood, a time when she began to experience a mental illness characterized by hallucinations and suicidal thoughts, a condition that led her to study and dedicate her life to art, a practice that has allowed her to stay active until today, with 93 years old. “My art is an expression of my life, in particular my mental illness.” “I make my works to survive the pain, the death wish,” the artist has stated on occasions.
Her studies began in 1948, at the University of the Arts in the city of Kyoto, where she studied nihonga, a rigorous style of Japanese painting made according to the aesthetic canon of that culture, based on the traditions of more than a thousand years old, but disappointed in that rigid teaching, she directs her interest towards North American and European avant-garde art.
In her early artistic success, which takes place in Japan, between 1950 and 1957, Kusama begins to make works in which she represents her disturbing hallucinations originating in her mind, which still persist. At that time, she begins to develop her visual alphabet on canvas, floor and walls, surfaces on which she prints a visual element that will become the obsessive, recurrent, repetitive and multiplied aesthetic mechanism or personal sign in her visual discourse; we refer to the moles or infinite networks, as she defines them, prefigured in her childhood drawings, which refer to her hallucinations. In relation to this element of visual expression, the artist explains: “Since my childhood I have always made works with polka dots. The earth, the moon, the sun, and human beings represent points; a single particle among billions.” This is how Kusama sums up the poetics or meaning of her moles.
By 1957 Kusama moved to the United States and settled in New York, where, initially, she made a series of paintings under the influence of abstract expressionism. In that city she befriended and worked with the artists Georgia O’Keeffe (whom she knew before traveling to that country), Eva Hesse, Donald Judd, Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and Joseph Cornell, with whom she had an affective relationship. Immersed in the rise of avant-garde art and the countercultural environment that developed in that country during the 1960s, Kusama integrates into her work elements of artistic trends such as conceptual art, minimalism, pop art (with which she contributes in its beginnings), she makes soft sculptures, installations in which she incorporates mirrors, lights and music; performances and happenings in which she intervenes with her moles the bodies of naked people and also carries out acts of protest against the Vietnam War and in favor of sexual liberation, the rights of women and homosexuals, as Kusama assumes a clear position of feminist artist.
In 1977, due to exhaustion due to her excessive artistic activity and her mental health, Kusama decides to return permanently to her native country, where she voluntarily secluded herself in a psychiatric clinic in Tokyo, a place she occupies as a permanent residence to this day, without stop tirelessly producing her work, thanks to which she exists, as she herself says: “If it weren’t for art, I would have taken my own life a long time ago”.
From the moment that Kusama left the United States for Japan, she moved away from the art scene and fell into oblivion for ten years, until, in the late 1980s, both countries began to carry out several retrospectives of the visual production of the artist. By the way, in 2017 the Yayoi Kusama Museum was inaugurated in Tokyo, in homage to her innovative artistic legacy impregnated with color, dots, circles, flowers, microorganisms and her repeated and abundant moles.
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