A LIFE WITH DOTS
The artist know as much for her polka dots as her struggles with mental illness. An example of the power of art, how turning a disability into a powerful tool to empower yourself and share your voice. Yayoi Kusama has been living in a hospital in Tokyo, Japan for the past 40 years. She built her studio right next to the hospital so she can walk over everyday and create. This is what brings her peace. She paints her hallucinations and with pure obsessive tendencies creates her masterpieces. With her instillations, paintings and performance art, she has been mesmerizing audiences since the 1950s. Considered a pop artist, maybe solely because of her use of color, Kusama’s work is a deep introspection of her mental illness and the insecurities that come with it. We can’t help but smile when we walk into her installations, from little girls to the elderly are drawn in, but behind the work lies a deep call for understanding and the visual representation of our own survival mechanism.
Yayoi Kusama was born in March 22, 1929 in Matsumoto, Nagano, Japan. She was born into an affluent family and she was interested in art and poetry from a very early age. However, her childhood came with troubles, her mother was physically abusive and her father would often be absent with one of extramarital affairs. At the early age of 10 she began seeing hallucinations, which she’s described as flashes of light, auras and fields of dots. Later she would think that flowers would speak to her. This created a state of constant anxiety, a condition that would be with her for the rest of her life.
"Certainly, I devote my energy to both telling my personal life story and seeking self-obliteration. However, I will not destroy myself through art."
She stared as an abstract painter and had some early success. Her family no longer wanted her to be involved in art and urged her to marry a businessman the family approved of. She choose to follow her dream and moved to New York City at the age of 27. While in New York she quickly established herself as part of the avant-garde movement and opened her own studio, working in the same space as artists like Donald Judd. She was making a name for herself until her anxieties dampened her ability to work. So, in 1973 Kusama returned to Japan to change the scenery and see if she would be in better mental health. A risk for her art career as she would have to start all over in building a reputation in a country that didn’t know much about her work. In 1977 she checked herself at the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill and has been living there ever since.
Kusama’s work gained recognition in Japan, so much so that she was asked to represent Japan at the Venice Biennale in 1993. Her mirrored rooms of infinity dazzled. She is now one of the most highly sought after artists in the world. Museums are lining up around the world to showcase her work. She’s been recognized in Japan with the highest honor an artist could receive the Order of the Rising Sun in 2006. Her work continues to perform extremely well at auction and at the age of 88 she has no plans of slowing down. She creates every single say at times until late at night. One can’t help but think that she feels she has no choice but to paint to survive.
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