Yayoi Kusama

Arts  /  by Scarlet Au '19  /  November 11, 2017

Bright red, polka-dot banners—prints that are unmistakably Yayoi Kusama’s— caught my eye as I walked through the doors of the National Gallery Singapore with my family this summer. Kusama, a world-renowned artist, is known for her distinctive, avant-garde art style, which incorporates a few signature elements: dots, nets, and mirrors.

The Japanese native was born in 1929. Raised in Matsumoto, Japan, she discovered her interest in art at an early age. Although her parents never supported her dream to become an artist, Kusama persisted and studied traditional Japanese art early in her career, an art form that would later shape her unique style.

Kusama’s upbringing had an astounding impact on her career and life. She attributes her inspiration to the “nervous disorders and hallucinations” she had as a child, according to an interview with TimeOut magazine. Unfortunately, Kusama’s childhood also marked the beginning of her mental health issues. She has been hospitalized on a number of occasions and has been living in a Tokyo psychiatric hospital for 38 years.

Kusama moved to the United States in the 1950s after being encouraged by Georgia O’Keefe, who spotted her artistic talent. Her first exhibitions in the United States were a great success and helped launch her into the international spotlight.

Kusama is famous for her series of Pumpkin paintings. Known for her excellent use of color and pattern, she uses dots of different sizes and lines to represent the texture and the grooves on the pumpkins two-dimensionally. Paintings in this series are defined by their “black and yellow color theme,” as described by the National Gallery Singapore. Kusama’s fascination with pumpkins since the 1980s can be explained by how she viewed them as a symbol of “comfort and security.”

In her Infinity Mirror installments, Kusama constructs optical illusions with rooms that are filled with mirrors. Colorful lights are hung from the ceiling and viewers are invited to walk through the room. The experience can be quite disorienting, as viewers are fooled into thinking that these rooms stretch well beyond their actual size. These installments show how Kusama works with unconventional forms of media and distinguishes herself among other modern art artists.

Kusama’s works have been exhibited in various locations around the world, including the Tate Modern Museum in London and the Guggenheim Museum in New York. Her artwork is now on display at the Festival Life exhibition in the David Zwiner Gallery in New York City.