In 1988, Nara took up temporary residence in Germany to study at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf. The Neo-expressionist movement that was dominant in Germany at the time left a lasting impression on the artist. These influences are visible in the seminal early work Mumps, with its bold outlines and monochrome, yet vibrant palette. Nara´s experience from his studies in Germany also compelled the artist to return to his roots and delve into his native culture. In the present work, a young girl glares past the viewer with a bothered stare. The cutesy charm of this doll-like figure is undercut by her pursed lips and frowning eyes. A bandage is tied around her cheeks and bright red hair, emphasising what the title suggests; the girl has mumps. Regardless of the virus, the plucky child with her steely attitude seems to suffer from weariness rather than pain. What Nara masterfully encapsulates with the subversive sweetness of the present work is kimo-kawaii – cuteness with an edge – a Japanese genre of art and popular culture that emerged in the 1990s.
In his paintings of defiant girls, Nara places his viewer in a cerebral encounter with figures that embody the very essence of childhood by conflating two important archetypes; the rebellious youth and the lonely child. These subjects are highly self-reflective. During his youth in the rural Aomori Prefecture of Northern Japan, Nara was largely isolated and left to his own devices. The solitude and independence he experienced have filtered into paintings including Mumps. As Nara himself explained in an interview "They are all self-portraits in a way. But the emotions that I feel can, of course, be universal" (Yayoi Kusama cited in: James Lindon, ‘Artworker of the Week #58 Yoshitomo Nara’, Kultureflash, 2 February 2006, online).
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