Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Creating in a Polka Dot World

Those of you who know me well are aware that I like polka dots. It has not become an obsession, but after looking at works by this amazing 83 year old Japanese artist, I may begin allowing some dots to dance across my art soon. Please stop me if I start painting dots on my pets!

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Japanese avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama inspired, obsessed and passionate about polka dots

In this 1967 photo released by Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc., Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama poses with a horse in a happening titled "Horse Play" in Woodstock, New York. Kusama's signature splash of dots has now arrived in the realm of fashion in a new collection from French luxury brand Louis Vuitton - bags, sunglasses, shoes and coats. The latest Kusama collection is showcased at its boutiques around the world, including New York, Paris, Tokyo and Singapore, sometimes with replica dolls of Kusama. AP Photo/Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc.

By: Yuri Kageyama, AP Business Writer
TOKYO (AP).- Polka dots are Japanese avant-garde artist Yayoi Kusama's
lifelong inspiration, obsession and passion.

And so they're everywhere — not only on canvases but on installations shaped
 like gnarled tentacles  and over sized yellow pumpkins. As part of her retro-
spective on exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York,
 they also sparkle as "firefly" light bulbs reflected on water and mirrors.

Kusama's signature splash of dots has now arrived in the realm of fashion
 in a new collection from French luxury brand Louis Vuitton — bags,
sunglasses, shoes and coats.

"Polka dots are fabulous," Kusama said in a recent interview with The
Associated Press, looking much  younger than her 83 years in a bright red wig,
 a polka dot dress she designed herself and one of the  new Louis Vuitton
polka dot scarves.

Dots aside, Kusama cuts an odd figure for the fashion world. She has lived
 in a psychiatric institution for decades, battling demons that feed her art.

Still, in her Tokyo studio, filled with wall-sized paintings throbbing with her
 repetitive dots, Kusama said the collaboration was a natural, developed from
 her friendship with Louis Vuitton  creative director Marc Jacobs.

Louis Vuitton had already scored success 10 years ago by collaborating
on a bag line with another  Japanese artist, Takashi Murakami. The latest
Kusama collection is showcased at its boutiques around  the world,
including New York, Paris, Tokyo and Singapore, sometimes with replica
 dolls of Kusama.

"The polka dots cover the products infinitely," said Louis Vuitton, which
racks up 24 billion euros  ($29 billion) in annual revenue, a significant portion
in Japan. "No middle, no beginning and no end."

Dots started popping up in Kusama's work more than 50 years ago, from her
 early days as a pioneer Japanese woman venturing abroad.

Like most middle-class families in Japan those days, her parents, who ran
a flower nursery, were  eager to simply get her married. They wanted to
buy her kimonos, not paints and brushes. She  knew she had to get away.
And she chose America.

Dots may be fashionable today. But when Kusama arrived in New York in
1958, the fad was "action painting," characterized by dribbles, swooshes
and smears, not dots. She suffered years of poverty and obscurity. But
she kept painting the dots.

She put circles of paper on people's bodies, and once a horse, in "happenings"
and in anti-war performances  in the late 1960s, (see b/w photo
above)  which got some people arrested for obscenity but
 helped get media attention for  her art. While in New York, she befriended
 artists like Andy Warhol, Georgia O'Keefe and Joseph Cornell, who praised
 her innovative style.

In 2008, Christie's auctioned her work for $5.8 million. Her retrospective
at the Whitney Museum was previously at the Centre Pompidou in Paris
and Tate Modern in London. Earlier this month, a  major exhibition
 "Eternity of Eternal Eternity" opened in her home town of Matsumoto,
Nagano  prefecture, complete with polka-dot shuttle buses.

"I've always been amazed at Kusama's ability to pick up on and meld
current trends in thoroughly original ways," said Lynn Zelevansky,
Carnegie Museum of Art director. 

Dots had a rather sad beginning for Kusama. Since her childhood, she
had recurring hallucinations. A portrait of her mother that she drew when
 she was 10 years old shows a forlorn face covered with  spots. Immersing
herself in art was a way of overcoming her fears and hallucinations.

Since her return to Japan nearly 40 years ago, Kusama has lived in a
psychiatric hospital and remains  on medication to prevent depression
 and suicidal drives. But she commutes daily to her studio and
works viciously on her paintings.

Kusama, who has also made films and published several novels,
acknowledged she doesn't know  where she gets her ideas. She just picks
 up her brush and starts drawing.

The works are triumphant, humorous celebrations of potential, vulnerability
 and defiance — like Kusama herself, who at one moment, declares herself
 "an artistic revolutionary," and then, the next, mumbles: "I am so afraid,
all the time, of everything."

Her latest project is an ambitious series of paintings with whimsical motifs
such as triangles and swirls, along with her trademark dots, in vibrant,
almost fluorescent colors.

As Kusama worked on No. 196 in the series, the look of concentration
was childlike yet fierce  as she painted red dots inside white dots, one by one.

Kusama's sculpture, "Pumpkin" pictured below
shows its scale and the artist in costume seated
to the right of her creation. (I plan to decorate a
 pumpkin  this year with polka dots, just not this

"I want to create a thousand paintings, maybe two thousand paintings,
as many as I can draw," she said. "I will keep painting until I die."

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press.

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