In 1959, Yayoi Kusama held her first solo exhibition in New York showcasing a series of white Infinity Nets paintings. Her debut stirred heated discussions among artists in the United States, which was witnessing a widespread prevalence of Abstract Expressionism at the time as well as a new global wave of Minimalism and Pop Art. ‘Going from the East to the West, and back to the East, she [Yayoi Kusama] presents a strong sense of borderless in her art. In addition, the diversity of her art media often defies the popular imagination. In a sense, Kusama can be seen to pioneer the current generation of the global [community].’i Through decades of exploration, Kusama has transcended ethnic and gender barriers. Her use of an avant-garde perspective, decisive in navigating the cultural contexts of both the East and the West, allowed her to become an internationally renowned artist. Her unique creations not only receive universal popularity but also earn high praise from art critics and scholars alike. Kusama is amongst the few artists to have achieved international recognition in both the Eastern and Western art worlds.
Nets and Dots
The present painting, Fruits [ESPOB], follows Kusama’s fundamental concept of “Infinity Nets”, which arose in the 1950s, with the multiplex addition of her iconic dots and organic symbols. Through the use of two core forms – nets and dots – Kusama creates an artistic illusion of infinite repetition and multiplication. As evidenced by her creations in the 1970s, fruit baskets have served as a recurring subject in her art. However, due to the confined space of her studio, Kusama had to limit the size of her paintings in the early stages of her art career. It wasn’t until 2000 that she could finally extend and expand the scope of her works. Drawing on her painting skills accumulated over the years, Kusama displays the essence of her favourite subject in this large-scale creation. The intricate geometric arrangement of the background, fruit basket, and tabletop in this painting showcase her logic behind the spatial relationship. Embodying the best of her prolific art career, this painting attests to her own artistic enhancement, while epitomising her artistic practice since its earliest days.
The hallucinations Kusama has been experiencing since childhood provide tremendous inspirations for her art. Cell-like patterns or images similar to microscopic photos of plant stems can be seen throughout her oeuvre, such as in her early works where her compositions were comprised of the repetition of single entities or units. ‘In earlier days, deep in the mountains of Shinshu, I used my own way to draw paintings. I would draw a group of fine spots with ink on a piece of quarto-size white paper. I would also draw cell-like patterns or microscopic images similar to those of the interior of a plant stem with a fountain pen. I would draw some indiscernible yet indivisible chain combinations.... In that painting, hundreds of millions of small white stones – clearly distinct and midsummer sunshine basked – “exist” in a state of quietness. This is the mysterious root of my paintings.’ ii In Fruits [EPSOB], the turquoise background is covered with an infinite net of black-outlined triangles. The delicate fine lines stretch and connect in a seemingly unconscious manner, leaving viewers in a trance between figurative and abstract representations. The triangular meshes end abruptly at the border of the tabletop. The horizontal division indicates the transition from the wall to the table, with the brick-like checkered pattern suggesting a change in spatial dimensions. The fruits in the basket are clad in grains of sundry colours and shapes. Among them, grapes are depicted using visually directional dots - arranged in a concentric pattern - instead of “lines”.
From large dots to small dots, the circular transformation of layers strengthens the three-dimensional appearance of these grapes. The extensive repetitions of various organic elements underscore Kusama’s focus on the structural relationship between points, lines and planes. Through the orderly arrangement of complex shapes, Kusama demonstrates her further refinement of aesthetic qualities.
‘From 1951 to 1957, Kusama created thousands of paintings and drawings on paper, which unveiled the two significant motifs in her subsequent art career – “dots” and “nets”. The organic shapes in her artworks created during this period are evocative of surrealist works by artists such as Joan Miró and Paul Klee, yet they appear in a more obscure and neurotic form.’ iii Through “nets” and “dots”, Kusama eliminates physical boundaries to construct her well-developed concept of repetition and multiplication. The vivaciously dynamic lines and shapes in Fruits [EPSOB] are not attempts at a planned, conforming art, but rather a symbol of liberation of her innermost self. By obliterating herself and objects, she returns to the natural state of the universe. Through the mysterious and obsessive process of artistic creation, Kusama presents a magnificent visual variation similar to the origin of the universe or life. In Fruits [EPSOB], there is evidence of development from her early abstract expression of “Infinity Nets” – a homogeneous composition that has no beginning, end or centre – to a focus on the figurative arrangement of sophisticated geometric patterns. The evolution from abstract expressions to figurative representations not only tests her ability to vividly depict the image of objects, but also manifests her punctilious deliberation of the structuring of layers in her compositions. In Fruits [EPSOB], the reinterpretation of everyday objects effectively demonstrates Kusama’s philosophies. Moreover, it introduces her distinct logical and aesthetic perspective. Transcending geographical and cultural constraints, Kusama’s art bears an immensely profound significance for both Eastern and Western art worlds, whilst establishing an unparalleled position in the canon of art history.
i Frances Morris, ‘An Interview with Frances Morris’, Yayoi Kusama, Taipei, 2014, p. 14
ii Yayoi Kusama, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, Chung Yanwei trans., London, 2013, p.48
iii You we, ‘Yayoi Kusama-Obsession’, We Love Yayoi Kusama, Taipei, 2012, p. 8.