The origins of Kusama’s idiosyncratic style can be found in the artist’s childhood. Aged ten, she started experiencing hallucinations, which would later develop into an obsessive-compulsive disorder. However, far from setting her back, these hallucinations proved to be an extraordinary source of inspiration, one that she would transcribe into her art in an inimitable way. The artist has recalled how “when I was a child, one day I was walking in the field, then all of a sudden, the sky became bright over the mountains, and I saw clearly the very image I was about to paint appear in the sky. I also saw violets, which I was painting, multiply to cover the doors, windows and even my body…I immediately transferred the idea onto a canvas” (Yayoi Kusama, quoted in ‘Damien Hirst Questions Yayoi Kusama, Across the Water, May, 1998’, in: Exhibition Catalogue, New York, Robert Miller Gallery, Kusama: Now, 1998, p. 15).
The subject of the pumpkin, too, can be traced back to a childhood memory: The artist remembers how she had accompanied her grandfather to visit some grounds in the countryside and, as the young Kusama bent down to pick up one of the pumpkins that grew on the trees she heard it speak to her. The artist later recalled this episode fondly, and it would come to play an important role in her art in years to come. Indeed, during her student years and after much pleading, Kusama convinced her parents to allow her to enrol at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts, where she industriously devoted her time to paint multiple pumpkins in Nihonga style and materials. The artist later explained how “before dawn I would spread a sheet of vellum paper on top of the red carpet, line up my brushes, and then sit in Zen meditation. When the sun came up over Mount Higashiyama, I would confront the spirit of the pumpkin, forgetting everything else and concentrating my mind entirely upon the form before me. Just as Bodhidharma spent ten years facing a stone wall, I spent as much as a month facing a single pumpkin” (Ibid., p. 76).
In Pumpkin AHT Kusama eschews the traditional Japanese painting style and forms she learnt in Kyoto in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Here, the artist displays the full maturity of her technique, and dexterously employs simple forms to render the corrugated surface of the pumpkin. In a two-tone palette, reminiscent of the quasi-exclusively black and white combination she used in her acclaimed Infinity Nets of the late 1950s and 1960s, Kusama powerfully executes her humble subject. Depicted in the artist’s signature style, Pumpkin AHT is also evocative of Pop, a movement she encountered and whose representatives she worked with during her New York years. Indeed, in its apparently simple lines and repetition of Kusama’s instantly recognisable polka dot, Pumpkin AHT can be likened to Warhol’s all-over iterations of the same motif, or Lichtenstein’s iconic enlarged comic strips.
Widely considered as Japan's greatest living artist, Kusama reveals her genius through various forms and media, having explored infinity net patterns and an array of motifs in sculptures, environments, happenings, films and fashion. It is only in her paintings, however, where Kusama disappears entirely into her hallucinatory visions through a "monotonous, solitary act" (Laura Hoptman, Udo Kultermann and Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama, London 2000, p. 19). Pumpkin AHT perfectly embodies Kusama’s unique and unparalleled body of work, one that continues to transform the current artistic landscape every day.
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