Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos. Polka dots are a way to infinity.Yayoi Kusama
Yayoi Kusama, now 90 years old, is quite possibly one of the most famous and talented modern female artists. Since her birth in Nagano, Japan in 1929, she has built an empire of colorful polka dots, timeless exhibitions, hallucinatory sculptures that will long outlive her. Yet, none of this came easy.
Yayoi Kusama: The Beginning
From abusive parents to long-term psychosis, Yayoi Kusama was met with challenges that only mounted as she aged. The psychosis that encompassed most of her childhood caused significant hallucinations, which she began channeling into painting when she was ten. She used pastels, watercolors, and oils to create the first versions of the masterpieces that are world-renowned to this very day. The core focus of her art was repetitive polka dots, loops, and netting, and the eventual integration of pumpkins. She would later become known as the “Priestess of Polka Dots.”
In the late 1950s, Yayoi moved from Kyoto, where she’d been studying traditional Japanese painting, to New York City. It was there that, although initially met with criticism and hostility by some, she became a prominent figure in the booming avant-garde, more specifically pop-art, international art movement.
Although Yayoi Kusama was still struggling with severe mental health issues, she launched herself into large-scale products and even began working as a novelist, film creator, live performer, and sculptor.
The Infinity Rooms
Young people who are not particularly interested in art will recognize her Infinity Room exhibitions, which she first created in 1963.
Kusama firmly believed in the significance of a small dots (both as a piece of something greater and an individual piece itself.) In these Infinity Rooms, she covered every surface with mirrors and then strung brightly-glowing neon lights or even pumpkins from the ceiling, which created a dizzying mirage of an infinite space. Just last month I visited her Infinity Room – The Souls of Millions of Light Years Away.
Yayoi Through The Years
Towards the end of the 1960s, Yayoi became very active in politics and counter-culture. On one hand, she was staging major fashion shows and festivals dedicated entirely to body painting. Yet on the other hand, she was organizing massive anti-war protests and at one point even wrote a letter to the then president Richard Nixon, saying that if he ended the war in Vietnam, she would sleep with him. No matter what she set herself to, Kusama did it bigger and better than anyone.
Kusama returned to Japan in 1973, where she refocused her efforts on a variety of magically surrealist writings, in the form of poetry, novels, and short stories. In 1977, Kusama admitted herself to the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill, where she lives to this day, voluntarily. No matter the success and adoration she received, the darkness that she had carried with her since her childhood never left. At one point she even stated, “If not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago.” She was dealt bad cards, to deal the least, but throughout her entire life, pushed through the adversity and created her legacy.
In the 1993, Yayoi made history as the first woman to represent her home country in the famed Venice Biennel and even though she is no longer active in provacative public installations, she remains prominent. In fact, in 2016, she was included in Time’s inconic 100 Most Influential People list.
Kusama’s Natural Genius
Unlike many artists, Kusama does not start her paintings with an outline, rather she just sits down before a big canvas and begin drawing things that only she can see. Though the concept of her work seems straightforward enough, just one polka dot among thousands in a single painting is a physical representation of infinity. Yayoi Kusama has utilized her imagination in a way that not many others have and has gained cult-status through her following. I’d like to end with a final quote, one of my favorites.
It is my wish to leave a message to the whole world from the universe, a message of love and peace to the people of the world.Yayoi Kusama