Born in 1929 in the Nagano Prefecture of Japan, Yayoi Kusama is known today as the country’s greatest living artist. Since Kusama was around 10-years-old, she was having severe hallucinations and obsessive, suicidal thoughts, and channelling these visions through artwork.
Photo by watz
Her craving to paint saved her from the maddening hallucinations she suffered from, transforming her ominous experiences into powerful compositions.
Originally an art student of the traditional Japanese Nihonga paintings, by the early 1950s, she began exploring the images she’d been fantasising throughout her life, exposing her illness through her paintings.
The now-recurring polka dot pattern emerged and covered everything from ladders to phallic objects and the creation of her now famous and continued Mirror/Infinity rooms, in which a mirror covered room containing neon balls and reflecting light give the illusion of a never ending space, gave her a push on the way toward success.
In 1957, Kusama left Japan for New York city to find herself as an artist. Here she quickly emerged as a thrilling new character of the avant-garde and a predecessor of the Minilimism, Installation and Pop-Art genre, most notably through her ‘Infinity Net’ canvases featuring tiny lace-like loops of paint that open up in waves across massive canvasses and the ‘Accumulation’ sculptures which are made up of hundreds of stuffed phalluses.
In the sixties, Kusama used nudity to address political and social affairs of the time such as the matter of the Vietnam war; declaring that the body was too beautiful to kill she directed a series of naked (albeit polka-dotted) interventions and “orgies” outside museums.
In 1966, she participated in the major contemporary art exhibition, the 33rd Venice Biennale where she exhibited one of her most notorious works; ‘Narcissus Garden’, 1,500 mirrored spheres which she boldly began selling at the event before Biennale organisers put an end to it.
Photo by Nathan deGargoyle
Having suffered from mental illness her whole life and worn-out from the exhilaration that New York had offered her, Kusama returned to Japan in 1973. In 1977, she checked herself into Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill and has been living there ever since. Here she is able to keep control of her mental state while continuing to thrive through her love of art from a nearby studio.
In July this year, her wonderfully intense visual cosmos will expand to the medium of fashion through a collaboration with Marc Jacobs for Louis Vuitton, in the most extensive fashion and accessories line that the fashion house has ever produced.
At 82-years-old, Yayoi Kusama has made it very clear that without the outlet of art she may not have survived for this long.Yayoi Kusama's polka-dot hallucinations by Ramona Naicker