Pursuit of Freedom
Yoshitomo Nara’s highly stylised paintings have become one of the most instantaneously recognisable images in contemporary art. His wide eyed, disproportionately large skulled, menacing and melancholic children are acknowledged internationally as icons of New-Pop and, along with Murakami’s Superflat cast of characters, have come to epitomise the Japanese quality of kawaii (lovable cuteness). Directly influenced by Japanese manga, animation and punk rock, Nara’s images resonate across a broad spectrum and invite easy familiarity. This initial access to the image however, is often only thinly masked by a deeper and less light hearted social and personal dimension that seeps into the viewer’s consciousness with disquieting ease. While he is known for producing a wide body of sketches, drawings, and paintings, a small yet significant part of his works would showcase the artist’s experimentation in expanding beyond the two- dimension realm. Untitled (Lot 144)from 2002 belongs to a group of celebrated works produced on dish shaped fiber reinforced plastics that play out to the warping of perspective rarely seen in the artist’s oeuvre.
In the present work, Nara presents the viewer with another of his otherworldly children. Suspended within a void and against a patch-worked background reminiscent of medical bandages, the little girl holds out her mitten-like hands to reveal two tiny sprouts from which she recoils in dazed confusion.
A trope often employed by Nara, the patchworked bandaged background is curiously suggestive of the ephemerality of the world in which the child resides; an unstable world that could easily come apart at the already fraying seams. The circular dish shape would further challenge the viewer in re-interpreting the traditional plane of painting, bringing the overall understanding of painting back toward zero, along with the two sprouts in the child’s hands, softly alluding to the artist’s life motto: “Never Forget Your Beginner’s Spirit!”
In marked contrast to a depiction of a child picking flowers in a garden (an idealised scene of freedom in childhood), the present image also directly redefines the serene image, presenting the contemporary human condition as one of disintegration and existential perplexity. The profundity of these psychological concerns and their effect on the individual within contemporary reality is made more so in its attachment to and transmission through the image of a child. While most obviously redolent of an environment in which the sanctity of childhood has been lost, Nara’s connection to punk culture and its inherent avowal of rebellion, also invites one to view his work from a more endemic and overarching vantage point – one in which his children represent not youth, but a rejection and refusal by the limit and control of the society.
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