While in the early 1990s Nara used the emblem of the young girl to explore hostility, rebellion and playful violence, at the close of the decade and into the early 2000s the artist softened his characters’ fickle temperaments. Mirroring these tendencies in his aesthetic, Nara sweetened his palette and dissolved harsh lines to create a sensuous effect of ethereal depth that finds its apotheosis in the present example, where the resultant state of harmonious tranquility supports its central theme. As Matsui Midori observed, since 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.” (Matsui Midori, “A Gaze from Outside: Merits of the Minor in Yoshitomo Nara’s Painting”, in Exh. Cat., Japan, Yokohama Museum of Art (and travelling), Nara Yoshitomo: I Don’t Mind, If You Forget Me, 2001, p. 168) Wish World Peace exemplifies the achievements of this technical enquiry, where Nara’s sentimental nuances of color and brushwork achieve a shimmering translucency. The luscious pink ground delicately contrasts with rusty warmth of the small girl’s autumnal palette. Instances of greater tonal discord occur with the verdant green swatches of her dress, which animate her with protruding corporeality and provide accents to the crucial locus of sentience embodied in her piercing eyes.
Glistening with the light of distant galaxies, this enchanting stare transcends our terrestrial realm and intimates an inherently spiritual reach. Indeed, in the figure’s left eye Nara delicately constructs his galaxy with the Christian crucifix, the Islamic star and crescent, and the Jewish Star of David: symbols of the world’s three most widely practiced religions which together constitute the ‘Coexist’ symbol. Originally created in 2000 by Warsaw-based graphic designer Piotr Młodożeniec as an entry in an international art competition sponsored by the Museum on the Seam in Jerusalem, the ‘Coexist’ image has since been shared prolifically across media, taking multiple physical forms as the ultimate symbol of human unity in the face of cultural difference. Making an icon of his mischievous youth, Nara evokes the innocent dreams of adolescence and the notion of an ordinary child’s imagination as being mythically infinite in scope. With the additional inclusion of the ‘peace’ sign in the girl’s other eye we are asked to draw from her optimism to construct our own utopian visions of a world that has achieved true social harmony. Originally designed for the British nuclear disarmament movement, the inclusion of this iconic peace symbol directly aligns Wish World Peace to Nara’s seminal activist image No Nukes from 1997. Depicting a small girl with a sign bearing the eponymous slogan, No Nukes quickly gained popular renown when it started to appear on banners at environmental protests. Radically, it was the artist himself who granted his fans the opportunity to download the artwork for use on such placards. Exercising his pervasive celebrity in Japan, Nara’s release of his artwork into the public domain came in the wake of the devastating 2011 Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, and a subsequent decision by the Japanese government’s to restart two nuclear reactors at the Ōi Nuclear Power Plant in the town of Ōi, Fukui Prefecture.
Born in Hirosaki, but temporarily leaving Japan to attend the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1988, Nara has frequently discouraged reductive associations made between his work and other internationally recognized proponents of Japanese visual culture such as the Superflat movement of the 1990s, as well as the comics and graphic novels of Manga and its video form, Anime. In contrast to Roy Lichtenstein’s equivalent appropriation of American comic book idioms and Takashi Murakami’s satirical absorption of Pop culture through Superflat, Nara stresses the highly personal origins of his characters which enact a nostalgic resuscitation of the sense of emotive fantasy that he gleaned from childhood fiction: “I think everyone misunderstands the influence of manga and anime on my work. Honestly, I have been more influenced by children’s books” (the artist cited in Melissa Chiu, "A Conversation with the artist," in Exh. Cat., New York, Asia Society Museum, Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool, 2010, pp. 174-75) Unlike Manga, in the limited number of large-scale ‘lonely child’ paintings of which the present work is exemplary, Nara crucially abandons text and explores dislocated narratives holistically bound within a single image: “Picture books tell many stories with one picture, so this kind of system, narratives emerging from a single picture, has had a much stronger influence on my work” (Ibid., p. 175) Nara identifies himself as a child who chose to grow up too soon amidst a transitional period in Japan when the larger three-generational family structure gave way to the nuclear family unit. In Wish World Peace we see remnants of the artist’s longstanding desire to reconnect with a lost childhood transformed into a metaphor for human unification and the dream of global harmony. But by enshrining the eternal mystery embodied in its innocence and its status as a universal rite of passage, Nara proposes the endless imaginative possibilities afforded to us by daring to conjure the prejudice-free state of childhood in the adult-present.
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