Japanese artist, Yayoi Kusama, was born on March 22, 1929, in Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan(10). According to Yayoi Kusama herself, she started painting at a very young age. She also started to have hallucinations of fields of dots, movement of light, and flowers that could communicate with her(11). This would later carry into her later artworks and distinct style which has self-named, “self-obliteration”(12).
At the age of 19, Kusama went on to pursue a formal art education at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts where she studied Japanese style painting. Kusama was displeased with the education and she later began to gravitate towards more Western avant-garde styles. In her earlier works, Kusama primarily used gouache, watercolor, and oils on paper. But later moved to covering other surfaces such as walls and eventually the human body. After many years of living in Tokyo, Japan, Kusama to move to and live in the United States in her late twenties. She settled in Seattle, Washington.
However, after a year she moved to New York City. In the U.S., Kusama’s work gained high status and became a highly praised artist of the avant-garde world. During the 60’s, Kusama’s life became very interesting.
This was around the time her more well-known mirror rooms started to gain popularity(25). The mirror rooms consisted of room-sized installations which included sound, light, and mirrors that created an illusion of an infinite space. With the nature of the 60’s, the Vietnam War was a hot topic with many protests against it; it was no surprise that Kusama herself did not stand for it. In fact, in one of many of her protest, she wrote a letter to President Nixon insisting that she would have ‘vigorous sex’ with him if he ended the war(16). In the latter of the 60’s, Yayoi Kusama’s work became more performance-based, with her polka dots transferring from the canvas to the skin. Frequently Kusama would fall ill health due to overworking herself.
Finally, in 1973, Kusama returned home to Japan. During this time, she wrote poetry, short stories, and novels. She would later trade and sell art as a full time career (29), but only after a few years business ended after she checked herself into the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill, where she still resides today, on her own terms of course. Although she does permanently reside at the hospital, Kusama still continues to produce art in her studio not far from the hospital (30). Even at the age of 88, Kusama continues to produce works.
Throughout the years, Kusama art forms have included visual arts, performances, fashion, writing, and film. She has acquired various awards including Asahi Prize in 2001, Ango Award in 2014, and the Praemium Imperiale. Kusama was one of the first Japanese women to receive this honor.(65). Kusama’s style can be categorized as Minimalist and Pop Art.
Elements which seem to be consistent throughout many of her pieces are various circle sizes, which she uses instead of value to create depth, two dominant colors, various line weights and shapes in her 2d work, and light in her 3d work and installations. Two of Yayoi Kusama’s well-known works include Pumpkin and Infinity Mirrored Room: The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away. Created in 1994, Pumpkin is an immense outdoor sculpture, currently residing in Japan at the Benesse Art Site. The structure is bright yellow with black polka dots varying in size. Instead of shading to create depth in her pieces, Kusama utilizes the different sizes of the polka dots to create an illusion of depth. This structure can be viewed from all sides. Media used for this piece include acrylic on ceramics.
The artist describes this piece as her alter ego, being that it was a marriage of her two obsessions; polka dots and pumpkins.Another one of Kusama’s popular works is Infinity Mirrored Room: The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away, which is one of the twenty installations of the Infinity Room series. This series of rooms first began in 1963.
They first started out a box big enough for the viewer to stand and later as time went on, developed into full blown room installations. These rooms generally have interactive lights, rooms lined top to bottom with mirrors, and generally are dark. In this room, in particular, there many small lights around the room which reflect off of the mirrors and give an illusion of an endless space and continuous lights.
In these rooms, only one visitor is allowed at a time, providing the individual a peaceful and serene experience.