It is indeed not an exaggeration to say that Yoshitomo Nara is an artist who enjoys rock star status in the world of Contemporary Asian Art. Since his major solo show in 1995, “In the Deepest Puddle”, put on at SCAI the Bathhouse in Tokyo, Nara’s position as a post-war Japanese artist was solidified. The artist’s investigation and re-examination of figurative painting within a contemporary context; his reworking of traditional Japanese forms; his seamless unification of Eastern and Western themes; his tireless experimentation of different media; have not only captured the hearts of devoted fans, but have likewise caught the attention of prominent museums across the globe. Aside from a slew of significant international group shows, Nara’s repertoire of solo exhibitions includes shows at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, the Santa Monica Museum of Art, as well as the Aomori Museum of Art in the artist’s hometown. The Museum of Modern Art was also responsible for buying two major collections of Nara’s works in the early 2000s. In spite of all this however, Yoshitomo Nara’s artwork remains refreshingly accessible, capturing candid moments of childhood and magic.
Dogs from Your Childhood (Lot 1070) is an emblem of the artist’s youth. Frequently commented on during interviews, Nara’s childhood struggles with loneliness and feelings of abandonment are key leitmotifs in the artist’s pieces. When asked about the heavy allusions to dogs in his works, Nara has commented on how they remind him of children, and that the two are “interchangeable representations of loneliness and solitude.”1 Furthermore, dogs are weighty references to the artist’s self-perceived “abandonment” of a stray dog which he failed to adopt as a child. In many ways, then, dogs feature as a symbol for the artist’s own psyche, embodying the artist’s childhood solitude and feelings of guilt.
These two feelings were certainly so overwhelming that they drove Nara to pen and illustrate his first ever children’s book, The Lonesome Puppy in 1999. The book introduces a puppy so big that it is seen by no one, until a little girl befriends him: “The little girl and the big puppy each found a friend. And they were friends forever…No matter how alone you are, there is always someone, somewhere, waiting to meet you.”2 The story is a tale of isolation and sadness, then subsequent acceptance and happiness—sentiments which are no doubt captured in the pair of playing dogs in the present piece.
Dogs from Your Childhood is a visually stunning piece. While the dogs are rendered in seemingly gentle strokes, each heaped onto a smooth surface—fantastically complementing their serene complexions—the exterior of the dog house mimics the texture of bricks. Perhaps this piece acts as a first glimpse of a future collaboration between the artist and the design team graf, who in 2008 would collaborate on a work entitled My Drawing Room, a model house based on a hut the artist remembers from his childhood. The hut houses fragments from the artist’s memories, such as pieces of drawings and various memorabilia. Much in the same way, Dogs from Your Childhood is also a backward glance at Nara’s past: with the elongated body of both the house and the dog conceivably representing the artist’s yearning for a prolonged childhood. The impossibility and absurdity of the sculpture (as understood through the eyes of an adult), is also a deliberate provocation, a challenge to return to a childlike state of imagination and magic. When compared with other well-known, large-scale Pup pieces that have been exhibited, such as the one at Aomori and Phuket, the present piece is attractive due to its compact size, giving the audience a chance to covet such a representative piece from the artist’s oeuvre.
In a poem entitled “Dogs from Your Childhood”, penned by Yoshitomo Nara in 1999, the artist describes a dog that he sees in his mind’s eye, possibly from a time long-passed: “If the gathered past becomes the present, then perhaps the fragment of the imploding now that is the dog, is me, is you, as well.”3 From this we feel the full extent of Nara’s philosophy on childhood: it is an all-encompassing, ever-shifting state, where characters and symbols meld seamlessly into one another to make room for a world of puppies, dolls, cats; where one can at once be a puppy and a child.
1 Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody's Fool by Melissa Chiu and Miwako Tezuka, Asia society Museum, New York, United States, 2010
2 The Lonesome Puppy, Yoshitomo Nara, Chronicle Books LLC., United States, 1999, unpaginated
3 Refer to 1
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