Don’t adjust your screens or rub your eyes…the dots you are about to experience are art…welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Yayoi Kusama!
Yayoi Kusama is a Japanese artist who is sometimes called ‘the princess of polka dots’. Although she makes lots of different types of art – paintings, sculptures, performances and installations – they have one thing in common…dots!
So what it’s all about? Where do the dots come from and what do they mean?
Yayoi tells the story of how when she was a little girl she had a hallucination that freaked her out. She was in a field of flowers when they all started talking to her! The heads of flowers were like dots that went on as far as she could see, and she felt as if she was disappearing – or as she calls it ‘self-obliterating’ – into this field of endless dots. This weird experience influenced most of her later work.
By adding all-over marks and dots to her paintings, drawings, objects and clothes she feels as if she is making them (and herself) melt into, and become part of, the bigger universe. She said: ‘Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos. Polka dots are a way to infinity. When we obliterate nature and our bodies with polka dots, we become part of the unity of our environment’.
She also creates environments of dots so that we can experience this feeling of self-obliteration too. She calls these rooms her Infinity Rooms, and creates them by installing hundreds of flashing coloured LED lights into mirrored rooms. The pinpricks of light in the dark room reflect endlessly in the mirrors, making you feel like you are in an apparently endless space. The dots surround and engulf you…it’s very hard to tell where you end and where the rest of the room begins!
Yayoi was born in Japan in 1939. She loved drawing and painting and although her parents didn’t want her to be an artist, she was determined. When her mum tore up her drawings, she made more. When she could not afford to buy art materials, she used mud and old sacks to make art. This is a drawing she made when she was 10 of her mum.
Eventually she persuaded her parents to let her go to art school and study painting.
In the late 1950s Yayoi moved to New York as lots of the most exciting art seemed to be happening there. It must have been a bit frightening arriving in such a big city with such a different culture from what she knew. But she was determined to conquer New York. She later wrote about her feisty attitude: ‘I would stand up to them all with a single polka dot’.
And she did! She had the first of many exhibitions there in 1959. She met and inspired important artists including Donald Judd, Andy Warhol and Joseph Cornell, and her art was a part of exciting art developments such as pop art and minimalism. She was also one of the first artists to experiment with performance and action art.
As well as being an art pioneer, Yayoi Kusama put her creativity into other things including music, design, writing and fashion.
After painting dots directly onto people in her performances in the late 1960s, she started to make clothes – setting up her own fashion label in 1969. Her clothes weren’t always practical though. One of her designs was a dress that lots of people could fit into at the same time! Let’s have a guess at what pattern featured most on her clothes…?!!
What do you think of Kusama’s art? What would you, your house or your dog look like covered in dots? Get drawing and painting and show us on My Gallery.