Indisputably the most famous contemporary Japanese artist in the world, Yayoi Kusama truly is a character in her own right. Known for her unmistakable red bob cut, Kusama immerses us in an ocean of polka dots born from childhood hallucinations. And one thing is sure: she still has many more surprises up her sleeve… We look back at the career of the incredible Yayoi Kusama!

Yayoi Kusama…

… Japan’s celebrated polka-dot artist

Born in 1929, Yayoi Kusama is a multidisciplinary artist. A painter, sculptor, writer, performer and singer, she has continually explored the place of the “self” in the vastness of infinite space. Colorful polka dots have been stamped on her artworks and installations for decades, as in her most famous series Dots Obsession:Infinity Mirrored Room. To understand their origins, we need to go back to Kusuma’s childhood, when she was just ten years old, and the hallucination that inspired her to create art—a room filled with dots of all sizes and colors that were both disturbing and oppressive.

 Yayoi Kusama, Installation: Dots Obsession
Yayoi Kusama, Installation: Dots Obsession / Source: http://www.dailyartmagazine.com

Her first installation was held in New York in 1963. In it, the artist offered visitors a mind-blowing immersive experience! She filled the space with huge mirrors, helium balloons and all sorts of materials such as wood, steel and cement. Kusama explored the fields of infinity, mimicking her imagination. Walls and ceilings were covered in mirrors, and dots appeared to float menacingly over the room. It was a fun and thought-provoking experience in which spectators found themselves lost in the red-colored cocoon.

Portrait of Yayoi Kusama
Portrait of Yayoi Kusama / [CC BY 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0)]

… art inextricably bound to mental illness

Yayoi Kusama’s wild creative energy comes from the mental unrest she has suffered from for almost 40 years. Born in Japan, she went into exile in the United States at the age of 29. She spent several years with Joseph Cornell, sharing her life with him until he ultimately passed away.

When her partner died, she returned to her native land, before being voluntarily hospitalized in Tokyo. She has been living at the hospital for the mentally ill ever since and even has an area there dedicated specially to creating art and freeing herself from her dark anxieties.

… an icon of fashion

Yayoi Kusama’s art pushes boundaries with its precise and definite technique. In addition to her thirst for plastic and pictorial creation, the artist is also very fond of fashion.

George Clooney wearing Giorgio Armani customized by Yayoi Kusama
Left: George Clooney wearing Giorgio Armani customized by Yayoi Kusama for the cover of W Magazine’s December 2013-2014 edition. Right: The Louis Vuitton collaboration with Yayoi Kusama.

In 1960, she created her own brand, the Kusama Fashion Company Ltd. Clothes and suits adorned with her legendary polka dots were now available to buy. Both avant-garde and anti-conformist, the artist has continually evolved, while always maintaining her unique trademarks. Her colorful patterns are now found on the handbags of leading brands, clothing, furniture and even buildings.

She once said,

“When I create my work, I’m not forcing to bring the polka dots into it. Subconsciously, it became polka-dots always by itself.”

Yayoi Kusama

Did you know?

Yayoi Kusama with Narcissus Garden, Venice Biennale
Yayoi Kusama with Narcissus Garden, Venice Biennale, 1966 / Image courtesy of: Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo / © Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama Studio inc.

In 1966, Yayoi Kusama took part in the Venice Biennale for the first time. Although not officially invited, she decided to set up her installation without permission! An adept creator of happenings, she released 1,500 mirrored balls into the canals, in her own very unique way of presenting the work Narcissus Garden. Considered a matriarch of contemporary art, she has always stood out for her boundless creativity. Equally a difficult artist to categorize, she belongs to neither Pop Art nor Outsider Art, and when describing her style, it is easier simply to use her own term, Kusama Art.

Her greatest works of art

 Yayoi Kusama Plastic Pumpkin Sculpture
Yayoi Kusama Plastic Pumpkin Sculpture  / Photo: SH Kim, Pixabay
Yayoi Kusama, Installation at the GoMA
Yayoi Kusama, Installation at the GoMA, 2017 / Photo: interestedbystandr, Attribution 2.0 Générique (CC BY 2.0)
 Yayoi Kusama, Polka dots on trees
Yayoi Kusama, Polka dots on trees at the 2006 Singapore Biennale / Terence Ong [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)]

Similar artists at KAZoART • Azarias

At KAZoART, artist Azarias works with geometric shapes and examines the concept of space through textured pieces.

 Azarias, Quasi-Objet No. 2
Azarias, Quasi-Objet No. 2
 Azarias, Traversée No. 10
Azarias, Traversée No. 10