“The sun, the moon, the earth and stars are also polka dots. They cannot exist alone. Each and every one of us are polka dots. We gather and weave a beautiful pattern of polka dots.”
Yayoi Kusama cited in: ‘Yayoi Kusama Answers the Proust Questionnaire’, Vanity Fair, 8 March 2019, online.

Portrait of Yayoi Kusama, 2017
Image/Artwork: © Yayoi Kusama. Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York; Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo/Singapore/Shanghai; Victoria Miro, London/Venice

Executed in 2015, Yayoi Kusama’s Dying People encapsulates the mature practice of one of the most important contemporary artists of our generation. The work belongs to Kusama’s ongoing series My Eternal Soul, a vibrant, psychedelic body of paintings initiated in 2009 which showcases the artist’s talents as a master colourist. Rendered in richly saturated hues, these works mark a decisive shift from the monochromatic Infinity Nets for which Kusama first made her name in 1960s New York. Now in her ninth decade, Kusama has produced a prolific and diverse oeuvre – spanning painting, sculpture and performance art – which has continued to evolve and expand with astonishing originality for more than half a century. In the present work, the intricate nets and webs of her earlier paintings, composed of painstakingly rendered polka dots, have metamorphosed into colourful spots, dots and biomorphic forms which appear to effervesce on the canvas with dynamic force. Representing what art critic Akira Tatehata has termed an “explosion of creativity”, Kusama’s recent paintings are driven by the competing forces of life and death (Akira Tatehata, Exh. Cat., New York, David Zwirner, Yayoi Kusama: I Who Have Arrived In Heaven, 2014, n.p.). Whilst this tension between self-annihilation and self-aggrandisement has captivated Kusama throughout her career, the unique vibrancy of the My Eternal Soul paintings at once offer celebration, acceptance and an inquisitive probing into the transience of mortal life. Considering Kusama’s recent work, author Louise Neri has stated:

“Titles of recent primitivist paintings, in which worms, eyes, spermatozoa, and other more indeterminate biomorphic forms abound in dynamic, all-over patterns, reflect a preoccupation with mortality, as well as with enlightenment, solitude, nothingness, and the mysteries of the universe.”
Louise Neri, Ed., Yayoi Kusama, New York 2012, p. 25.

Joan Miró, Awakening in the Early Morning, 1941
Kimbell Art Museum, Fort Worth, Texas
Image: © Acquired with the generous assistance of a grant from Mr. and Mrs. Perry R. Bass © 2005 Successió Miró / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris / Bridgeman Images
Artwork: © Successió Miró / ADAGP, Paris and DACS London 2020

In Dying People, a cluster of organic forms, enclosed in an intricately painted boarder, fill the canvas with an array of vivid tones: orange, brick red, copper, vermilion, lush green and blue. As if to symbolise land, sea and fire, they are earthy, elemental and raw. Meticulously executed over a black ground, the elements are imbued with a sense of kinetic movement and energy. Diagnosed with obsessional neurosis, Kusama has famously struggled with hallucinatory visions of infinitely oscillating, kaleidoscopic patterns since her earliest childhood in Japan: these hallucinations have fuelled her unique pictorial idiom throughout her career. “I was always standing at the centre of the obsession,” she explains, “over the passionate accretion and repetition inside of me" (Yayoi Kusama cited in: Laura Hoptman, Yayoi Kusama, London 2000, p. 103). Her method of working requires a focus that is at once compulsive and meditative: entirely transfixed, she labours for hours, cathartically translating her inner visions from mind to canvas. The result, as the present work wholly exemplifies, is a transcendent creation that potently shifts from private experience to universal truth. As the artist has proclaimed, “My love for humanity and for the world has always been the driving force and energy behind all that I do” (Yayoi Kusama in conversation with Rosanna Greenstreet, The Guardian, 21 May 2016, online).