Nara's 'Ice Candy Lollipop,' Conundrum of Mischief and Innocence

Nara's 'Ice Candy Lollipop,' Conundrum of Mischief and Innocence

"Children who possess the intellect or abilities that most do not cultivate until adulthood are perceived as magical, or wunderkinds: those who inspire awe.”
Isabella Bustamante

Y oshitomo Nara’s Ice Candy Lollipop presents a startling conundrum: the little protagonist has chubby cheeks, adorable juvenile features, and a baby-blue lollipop in his mouth, and yet there is nothing innocent about his penetrating, all-knowing, almost accusatory sideways glare.

Yoshitomo Nara, ICE CANDY LOLLIPOP, Estimate upon request

Created in 1998, Ice Candy Lollipop is a quintessential Nara portrait hailing from the final years of the artist’s pivotal 1990s Germany period where he developed his signature style of a single figure situated at the center of a neutral monochrome background. Reminiscent of Pop and exuding an undeniable Lichtenstein-esque vibe, the artist’s reductive figurations draw also on Modernism’s sign-like shorthand language of images to leaving endless space for fantasy for the child as well as adult viewer, combining mischief and innocence to convey a beguiling sweetness on the surface that melts to reveal darker angst. As iconic, pervasive, and paradigmatic of the contemporary visual lexicon as Warhol’s Marilyns and Lichtenstein’s blonde bombshells, Nara’s epochal iconography of sullen, disgruntled yet endearing youth have earned his place as one of the most important living artists of our generation.

Nara’s Germany period began in 1988, after his graduation from the Aichi University of the Arts. He first undertook a six-year artistic apprenticeship at the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf under the mentorship of A.R. Penck and thereafter stayed in Cologne until 2000. During the mid-1990s, while already exhibiting works in Nagoya and Tokyo, his works featured thick black outlines, a vibrant palette reminiscent of Neo-Expressionism, and the flat, rough-hewn aesthetic of sketches, drawings, and manga.

"These paintings all featured the single image of a girl or sexually ambiguous child with a large head and piercing eyes, involved in situations of predicament or solitude"
Midori Matsui, "A Child in the White Field: Yoshitomo Nara as a Great ‘Minor’ Artist” in Yoshitomo Nara: The Complete Works, Paintings, Sculptures, Editions.

These early works already revealed hallmarks that define his mature aesthetic.
Eriko Osaka, then senior curator at Art Tower Mito, attributed Nara’s unique style to the artist’s modification of Neo-Expressionist influences combined with recollections from childhood.

Toward the late 1990s, Nara gradually developed and refined his painterly technique: his surface work became increasingly fine, emanating gentle depth and luminosity. Inspired by a range of artists ranging from early Renaissance painter Giotto to Balthus, Nara softened his palette to pastel hues and dissolved the harsh outlines of his previous work to create a progressively sensuous effect. As Matsui observes, starting from 1996 and coinciding with the artist’s foray into sculpture, Nara’s figures began to attain “the illusion of three-dimensionality, coming out of the pastel background buoyed up by luminous shadows.”1

Most importantly, Nara accomplishes these painterly feats while still keeping with his masterful deployment of minimal narrative, minimal composition, and minimal pictorial framework to convey incisively perceptive emotive effects. During this time, the extended solitude of Nara’s residence in Germany contributed to a heightened introspection, enabling him to restore a “sense of [his] true self” that he had almost forgotten, because of his sense of “being watched by other people” while living in Japan, according to the artist.2

From the late 1990s onward, as in the present Ice Candy Lollipop, there is a marked maturation visible in his juvenile characters: vis-à-vis the wayward aggression of the earlier works, these later paintings opt for a more understated mode of expression, heightening viewers’ senses and acuity to the characters’ pensive and expressive inner worlds, as well as associated imaginings and narratives. The saccharine sweetness of Nara’s figurative lexicon enacts a language redolent of Pop, cartoon, and manga – one whose extraordinary emotive power endorses “the paradoxical strength of ‘minor art’, including ‘kitsch’ imagery’s ability to express the emotions of contemporary people.”3

Refering cultural critic Walter Benjamin, Matsui asserts the revolutionary potential of the ‘kitsch’, the ‘popular’, and the ‘heart-warming’, thus elucidating the era-defining phenomenon and magical power of Nara’s ‘minor’ yet universally resonant visual lexicon.

1 Midori Matsui, “A Gaze from Outside: Merits of the Minor in Yoshitomo Nara’sPainting”, in Exh. Cat. Japan, Yokohama Museum of Art (and travelling), Nara Yoshitomo: I Don’t Mind, If You Forget Me, 2001, p. 168.
2Exh. Cat. Nara Yoshitomo: A Bit Like You and Me…, Japan, 2012, p. 129.
3Midori Matsui, “A Child in the White Field: Yoshitomo Nara as a Great ‘Minor’ Artist”, in Yoshitomo Nara: The Complete Works, Paintings, Sculptures, Editions, Photographs, Vol. 1, Tokyo 2011, p. 349.

Lot 6001 - Details

Yoshitomo Nara
B. 1959
signed, titled Ice Candy Lollipop, and dated 98 on the reverse

acrylic on canvas
109.9 by 120 cm. 43¼ by 47¼ in.

Marianne Boesky Gallery, New York
Private Collection
Acquired from the above by the present owner

Tokyo, Setagaya Art Museum, Art/Domestics: Temperature of the Time, February - March 1999, pp 3 and 67, illustrated

Yoshitomo Nara: The Complete Works 1984 – 2010, Volume I, Bijutsu Shuppan Sha 2011, p. 151, illustrated in colour

Contemporary Art

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