The Colorful World of Yayoi Kusama

Read about The Colorful World of Yayoi Kusama by Ana Brdar

Yayoi Kusama is one of the most prolific artists to emerge from Japan in the postwar period. The body of work that she created over the last five decades is extensive and diverse, and it helped establish Kusama as a creative force who has transformed and continues to influence the world of contemporary art, fashion and pop-culture.

Kusama was born in 1929 in the town of Matsumoto, Japan. Life in the Kusama household was fairly turbulent – her father was a womanizer and her mother was physically abusive. At the age of 10, Kusama began experiencing intense hallucinations, which prompted her to start painting as a therapeutic outlet. During World War II, she was sent to work in a Japanese military factory where she spent her days sewing parachutes and listening to nothing but the sounds of sirens and war planes flying overhead. This experience would later be reflected in her works, which carried a distinct anti-war message. Kusama pursued higher education in Kyoto where she exclusively studied Nihongo art, due to Japan’s rejection of Western culture at the time. Despite staging several exhibitions in her home country, Kusama became increasingly frustrated with the close-minded nature of Japanese art scene, and in 1957 she decided to move to the United States. She spent her first year living in Seattle, after which she moved to New York City. Prior to moving, she developed correspondence with Georgia O’Keefe, who helped her with sales and exhibitions once she was in New York. Kusama’s art immediately sparked interest with the local art scene and she quickly connected with her contemporaries, most notably sculptors Donald Judd and Eva Hesse. The fifteen years spent in the US were incredibly fruitful for Kusama; she created pieces through various mediums, including drawing, painting, sculpture and performance art. Even though her works were always deeply personal, the works made during the American period were also marked with strong social themes, much in tune with the free-spirited and politically-charged atmosphere of the late ‘60s. With both physical and mental health in decline, Kusama decided to return to Japan in 1973, where she sought treatment in a psychiatric hospital. Her fame quickly faded and she remained relatively unknown on the international art stage for the two decades that followed. However, this all changed in 1993, when Kusama was invited to represent Japan at the 45th Venice Biennale. This is where she showcased one of her most famous installations – an Infinity Mirror room which contained dotted pumpkins, as well as Kusama herself, dressed in color-coordinated magician’s costume. Kusama’s success at the Japanese Pavilion put her back on the map, and she spent the following years exhibiting vibrant, multi-disciplinary art pieces all over the world. She also began collaborating with luxury brands like Lancôme and Louis Vuitton to create products designed with her signature bold colors and polka dots. Kusama, who is in her ninth decade, is still actively making and showcasing her art.

Yayoi Kusama’s avant-garde works have been inspiration for artists across different movements and generations, from Andy Warhol to Yoko Ono to Damien Hirst. Her impact and legacy on contemporary art could be contributed to her unique, instantly recognizable visuals, but also her ability to remain fiercely independent and true to her creative vision.