Painted in a simple combination of white over black, The Galaxy pulsates with an organic, meticulously applied constellation of small circles. The circular shapes, which could be seen as an evolution of the artist’s signature motif – the polka dot – form an all-over composition that covers the entire canvas, a compositional trait that is, too, characteristic of Kusama’s paintings and that has been compared to Jackson Pollock’s own enveloping canvasses. Kusama’s works, however, originate from a much more personal and intimate place; at her arrival in New York in 1957 the artist encountered a tough, competitive city. Having been blighted by hallucinations since she was a child, Kusama used art making to channel and work through psychological hardship exacerbated by tough living conditions and an entirely alien environment: “Unable to sleep, I would get out of bed and paint. There was no other way to endure the cold and the hunger so I pushed myself on to ever more intense work […] I often suffered episodes of severe neurosis. I would cover a canvas with nets, then continue painting them on the table, on the floor, and finally on my own body. As I repeated this process over and over again, the nets began to expand to infinity. I forgot about myself as they enveloped me, clinging to my arms and legs and clothes and filling the entire room” (Yayoi Kusama, trans. Ralph McCarthy, Infinity Net: The Autobiography of Yayoi Kusama, London 2011, pp. 17-18, and p. 20).
At the time when The Galaxy was executed, Kusama had gone back to Japan, where she has lived and worked since the 1970s. Since then a milieu of biomorphic forms have entered and populated the artist’s universe; Infinity Nets unfolding and growing into endless fields of dots and sperm-like shapes, pumpkins, eyes and teeth making their way into her canvasses. All of these shapes, however, are tightly connected to Kusama’s own vocabulary from the 1950s. Trained classically in Nihonga technique, the artist’s early work is inhabited by cell like structures, flowers and other shapes reminiscent of living organisms. Over time Kusama would refine these shapes, as shown by the rhythmic amalgamation of dots in the present work. These, and her entire oeuvre, show an acute awareness of our place as humans in the universe. As the artist would put it: “My desire was to predict and measure the infinity of the unbounded universe, from my own position in it, with dots – an accumulation of particles forming the negative spaces in the net. How deep was the mystery? Did infinite infinities exist beyond our universe? In exploring these questions I wanted to examine the single dot that was my own life. One polka dot: a single particle among millions” (Ibid. p. 23).
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