Bursting with electric psychedelic vibrancy, Yayoi Kusama’s The Canal in Glow is a visually arresting painting, created in a pivotal moment in the career of an artist who has redefined the parameters of contemporary art. Throughout the past six decades, Kusama has been a seismograph of the zeitgeist, a critic of power structures in the development of society, and an innovative thinker about our ways of seeing the world.
Emerging in the early 1960s alongside Andy Warhol and Donald Judd, Kusama has not affiliated herself to any art movement. Born in 1929, she was, and still remains, a resilient nonconformist, one who refused to be labelled and confined to any established movement or ideology, and who ultimately forged a career of truly universal, cosmic proportions. Although her phenomenal oeuvre transgresses paradigms in all fields and media, the repetitive patterns visible in The Canal in Glow are a central representative element of the artist’s visual lexicon, evident in all of the artist’s most important works. By Kusama’s own admission, the patterns and the exploration of the concept of the infinite have been with her since she experienced a series of hallucinations as a child. When diagnosed with an obsessional neurosis, the artist started using her art to obliterate the hallucinatory visions through the process of compulsive reproduction of dots, nets, cells and arcs. The intensive artistic practice became her most effective form of self-therapy, a way of escaping her own mind by transcribing and enacting the infinite repetition which haunts her. Kusama explains, “Artists do not usually express their own psychological complexes directly, but I use my complexes and fears as subjects... I make them and make them and then keep on making them, until I bury myself in the process. I call this ‘obliteration’” (Yayoi Kusama cited in: Frances Morris, Yayoi Kusama, London 2012, n.p.).
Executed in 1990, The Canal in Glow radiates vibrating energy and the recurring pattern of interlocking forms creates a motif of gripping optical sensation. Furthermore the reverberating sequence of hand-painted orange and yellow shapes, emboldened by pink cells, embodies Kusama’s meticulous precision and technical virtuosity in acrylic paint. Created less than three years before Kusama was invited to be the first solo artist and the first woman ever to grace the Japanese pavilion at the 45th Venice Biennale, the present work is also chronologically significant. This exhibition marked the artist’s return to the global stage and the beginning of an illustrious chapter for Kusama: her meteoric rise to the felicitous status as one of the most important living artists today. Sharing this pivotal moment in the artist’s career, the present work masterfully uses acrylic paint to deliver an exacting method of virtuosic painting that concretises Kusama’s interests in the interconnectedness of the cosmos.
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