I first discovered Yayoi Kusama not that long ago, whilst re-searching my chosen theme of space for my A2 art. I was interested in mirrors and the extended sense of space that they seemed to create. It was here that I first discovered Kusama's incredible mirror installations.
Her increasing obsession with polka dots has inspired the most significant works of this avant-garde artist, producing greatness since the age of 10. Now 83, the Japanese artist has intrigued me into her obsessive interest in polka dots-round dots that are infinite.
This photograph shows a creative work that I made in New York in 1960. I was 31 years old at the time and my inspiration was the inundation and proliferation of polka dots. The work represents the evolution of my original formative process. Of all the pieces I have made, I like this one the best. It was my intention to create an interminable image by using mirrors and multiplying red polka dots.
Yet Kusama does not only create mirror installations, in fact her work goes right back, to the early 90’s, where her work compared to her more current work, is what some would say is more subdued, with her work explored more through paintings; Lingering Dream and Accumulation being two of her earlier works. In 1957 Kusama ventured off to America to make her name in the US, it is here that she created her Infinity Nets. These extraordinary oversized paintings are covered in seemingly endless repeated, scalloped brushstrokes of a single colour on a constraining ground.
By the early 1960’s Kusama began a new body of work, extending her practice into sculpture for the first time, fabricating three-dimensional objects covered with repeated forms. Some of my favourite work of her from this new practice is the Accumulation sculptures, leading Kusama soon to be embedded in the heart of the avant-garde scene in New York, soon being part of an emerging group of young artists including Andy Warhol, Judd, Oldenburg and Robert Morris.
It wasn’t until 1965 that one of her exhibitions included Infinity Mirror Room-Phalli’s Field, a room-sized installation with mirrored walls and ceiling that appeared to reflect endlessly a sea of red on white polka-dotted phallic protrusions covering the floor. The following year Kusama presented Endless Love Show, which consisted of a mirrored hexagonal box into which viewers were invited to look.
1967-73 saw the rise of Happenings. By this time Kusama had achieved a level of critical and popular exposure in the art world, but was still struggeling to make a living from her work. Responding to the socio-political mood of the time, shifting her new-found interest in performance to more popular and inclusive happenings. With Civil rights and Vietnam protest movements changing the political landscape. Kusama based her work on the rise of hippie culture-changing social moves with an increasing open and experimental attitude to sexuality, drug use and mysticism. Self Obliteration: An audio-visual light performance. Kusama painted models in bikini’s with colourful fluorescent paints under black lights. People were enticed by the promise that ‘during the course of the happening kusama will obliterate her environment, live bikini models and herself in a polka-dot dance party’.
Other happenings such as body festivals in Europe, becoming and creating ‘Kusama’s self-obliteration,’ featured with footage by filmmaker Yud Yalkut; an attempt to visualise Kusama’s world.
April 69 Kusama set up her clothing boutique to sell her fashion designs. Typically polka dots, the most daring featuring strategically placed holes revealing breasts, etc.
1973 saw Kusamas return to Japan.
Yet it is her work from the 21st Century that I have enjoyed exploring the most. The lat 90’s and early 2000’s, Kusama returned to making room-sized installations. I’m Here, but Nothing is a darkened domestic interior, featuring simple furniture and accessories of the type one would expect to see in a middle-class home. Yet in the installation, this image of conventional status is turned into something surreal and uncanny. The room along with all its furnishings are covered with fluorescent sticker spots that grow in the dim light. 1996 was the first of a series of balloon installations entitled Dots Obsessions, exploring distortions of scale.