Yayoi Kusama: An Unrelenting Pursuit Of Truth And Beauty

Yayoi Kusama

Doyenne of the art world whose career has spanned 6 decades, Yayoi Kusama is now 84 years old, and continues to generate work in superlative fashion. She now presents us with an array of new pieces at Victoria Miro gallery. Because of her tenacity, her unrelenting pursuit of truth and beauty, her cheekiness and boldness, and the dedication of her life to art, it would appear befitting to bow our heads in deference to this remarkable woman and artist.

Central to her work has been the repeated motifs of the polka dot, phallic-like protuberances in her accumulation sculptures, and enveloping mirrored environments, all re-occurring with with obsessive repetition. The basis for this expression was attributed to hallucinations she claims to have experienced owing to an abusive childhood from her mother’s projections of anger onto the young Kusama due her philandering husband’s behavior, therefore prompting Kusama’s need to escape from it.

In contrast to Louise Bourgeois, who exorcised her childhood grief from her father’s infidelity with artwork that was more representational in its form of catharsis, Kusama’s world took on a more spiritual and abstract dimension. The boundaries between herself and the world around her seemed to meld into one. For example, she created environments of polka dots that covered her body and her surroundings making them one and the same in the need to deny herself as a separate and individual entity. Self-obliteration was her objective. Her” infinity net” paintings, to which I have always been partial, were beautiful and overwhelming, employing her signature circular motif that used the variation of tone and weight of line to create delicate filigree-like patterns that captivated our attention, drawing us into this domain with an almost hypnotic-like engagement with them.

Her new pieces reflect some of the works from her previous show at the Tate and now instead of “self-obliteration”, there is an awareness and celebration of “self-assertion”. There seems to me, to be a sense of greater resolution, a comprehension of peace, and by way of the combinations of forms and colours, in my opinion, there is happiness. The stuffed phallic protuberances which previously would cover entire surfaces and rooms obsessively and to levels of near-asphyxiation, are now sculptures that recall forms in nature – one reminds me of a Christmas tree – or eyes that seem to show that looking through them, the perception is one of clarity and harmony. Titles such as: “All about happiness”, I who have arrived in heaven”, “the brilliance of my heart” and “an eye gazing at the universe” testify to this transformation.

The paintings employ a palate replete with joy using colour combinations that pulsate, and the appearance of figurative elements like faces in profile, hearts, eyes and semi-abstract elements that leave the viewer open to interpretation.  These are works that are improvisational and instinctual and a seemingly invented formal logic as if to present a sometimes-disorienting sense but only in that it invites us to look more carefully. After all, self-knowledge can only be achieved through challenge, commitment and the courage to stick with it. I found that these paintings do exactly that. Her signature motifs such as the dot and the phallus take their place on the surface as joyful processionals and in some cases appear to transmute into landscapes.  Some paintings bear jagged borders that enclose the central composition, but seem to be a new use of the phallus motif as a symbol of containment and embrace. Other works reunite the dot and the phallus, further reinforcing the notion of union and resolution after a life of relentless quest.

As has been central to her practice as well as her character, she defies conventions and appears to work more intuitively. Although her work has been linked to elements of surrealism, minimalism, feminism, and other such named movements, she invents her own pictorial language. Kusama stands alone as a frontiers-woman, a pioneer.


Yayoi Kusama: Paintings & Accumulation Sculptures – 14 Apr – 25 May 2013 VICTORIA MIRO