Flames of Infinity
This was my epic, summing up all I was. – Kusama Yayoi1
Infinity-Nets (HOWAZ) (quadriptych) (Lot 1065) is a masterpiece of fiery radiance, stunning complexity and arresting monumental beauty. Exhibiting an overall blazing hue of red, a major color preferred by the artist since 1960, the magnificent four-paneled work features endless repetitions of minute solid red arcs dabbed dexterously over green acrylic—a rare and unusual palette that creates uncanny brilliance and alluring three-dimensionality. The vast mural-sized piece pulsates with its infinite rhythmic ripples and undulations, with the breaks between each canvas constituting sublime breaths of pause that award structure and balance to expansive infinity. Exquisite in detail and captivating in scale, Infinity-Nets (HOWAZ) (quadriptych) is exemplary of Kusama’s earliest and most iconic series that first established her indomitable position in the Western art world.
Kusama exhibited her first Infinity Net paintings in New York in 1959. Using only white paint and employing the minimal repeated gesture of a single touch of the brush, Kusama’s revolutionary paintings responded critically to the emotionally and semiotically charged brushstrokes of Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Albeit a relative novice to oil painting at the time, Kusama was able to at once firmly grasp and radically redefine the medium in bold defiance of gestural abstraction, meting out the ecstatic masculine gesture into dainty increments and forging a sophisticated feminine aesthetics of obsession and repetition. Replacing the expressive gesture with an exhaustive one, Kusama’s meticulous and labor-intensive methods literally pushed painting to its limits. The New York art scene was fascinated, with critics describing her work in oceanic terms: ‘huge’ in scale and composed of ‘innumerable small arcs’, like waves.2
“This was my epic, summing up all I was”, Kusama once remarked. “And the spell of the dots and the mesh enfolded me in a magical curtain of mysterious, invisible power”.3 Diagnosed with an obsessional neurosis, Kusama used her art to ‘self-obliterate’ hallucinatory visions through the process of compulsive reproduction of dots and arcs. Her art was that of epic excess, exuding an infinitely self-perpetuating momentum that engulfs and overwhelms even as it entrances and enthralls. In a conversation with Gordon Brown in 1964 the artist declared: “My nets grew beyond myself and beyond the canvases I was covering with them. They began to cover the walls, the ceiling, and finally the whole universe. I was always standing at the centre of the obsession, over the passionate accretion and repetition inside of me.”4 Compulsively painting, often for days at a time, Kusama’s high-intensity process is integral to the meaning of her celebrated Nets series: each loop and each arc is indexical to her very being.
Executed in 2005, the current lot employs acrylic paint instead of oil—a critical transition that the artist undertook in the 1980s as a homecoming return to water-based medium: the artist began her career with nihonga, traditional Japanese watercolor. The quick drying time of acrylic attests to Kusama’s heightened ambition as well as skill, stamina and endurance after decades of ceaseless painting. With each brushstroke marking a moment of time passing but not past, Kusama’s laborious technique “exiles narrative in preference to the temporality of enactment”, dilating time and space with one focused, efficient and hyperbolic gesture, repeated ad infinitum. A mature and virtuosic reincarnation of Kusama’s original Nets canvases in the late 1950s, the current lot epitomizes the artist’s unique brand of cosmic abstraction and ethereal infiniteness.
1 Kusama Yayoi, Infinity Net, London, 2011, p. 23
2 Mignon Nixon, “Infinity Politics”, in Kusama Yayoi, Tate Publishing, London, 2012, p. 179
3 Refer to 1
4 Kusama Yayoi in conversation with Gordon Brown in 1964 in: Laura Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama, London 2000, p. 103
5 Refer to 2, p. 182