In 1988, Nara took up temporary residence in Germany to study at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. The artist´s experience from his studies in Germany compelled him to return to his roots and delve into his native culture. The result is his idiosyncratic portraiture style which is an amalgamation of western classical technique and Japanese Ukiyo-e composition. In Winter Long, the face and the body of the subject receive a flat treatment. This style of rendering and the reduced composition evokes the format of manga. In the late 1990s, Nara departed from the bold outlines and the highly vibrant palette that characterised his early works and turned his attention to iconic techniques and compositions from art history. The present work is an early example of the nuanced style later distinctly associated with Nara; the character exudes an air of poetry and the use of pastel colour and meticulous brushwork is an homage to the artist’s favourite Renaissance works. Nara has explained his connection to prominent art of the past, “I’ve learned a lot from Renaissance fresco painting; I especially love the translucent colours of Giotto and Piero della Francesca. The surface texture of fresco painting contains a space that I can enter easily” (Midori Matsui, Yoshitomo Nara, Index Magazine, Spring 2001, online).
The poetic tranquillity emanating from Winter Long is characteristic of Nara’s highly personal creative oeuvre. His portraiture style actively addresses issues ranging from appropriation and representation to popular culture, style, and tradition. In the present work, the artist depicts his most important archetype; the lonely child. The subject is highly self-reflective. During his youth in the rural Aomori Prefecture of Northern Japan, Nara was largely isolated and left to his own devices. The solitude and independence he experienced have filtered into paintings throughout the artist’s career. As Nara himself explained in an interview, "They are all self-portraits in a way. But the emotions that I feel can, of course, be universal" (James Lindon, Artworker of the Week #58 Yoshitomo Nara, Kultureflash, 2 February 2006, online).
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