In Attention, Nara places his viewer in a penetratingly cerebral encounter with a figure that embodies the very essence of childhood by conflating two important archetypes—the rebellious youth and the lonely child—in order to emphasize both naivete and mischief. In the very best examples of Nara’s oeuvre it is the figure’s eyes that, as the psychological centers of engagement, form the crux of subtle narratives. With her penetrating eyes, the resolute yet lonesome child in Attention captures the fascinating tension between childhood and adolescence, innocence and brimming mischievousness. First introduced in the 1990s, Nara’s conceptualization of the wide-eyed child became a perfected paradigm by the early 2000s, reflecting the disaffection of Japanese youth and capturing the imagination of viewers worldwide. In the present work, the combination of Nara’s delicate brushwork and intricate pastel passages typifies the artist’s technical bravura in bringing to life a character whose intrigue not only catches our attention but continues to haunt our imagination.
Following his education at the University of Tokyo and Aichi University, Nara took up temporary residence in Germany to study at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1988. Nara’s homecoming to Japan in 2000 mirrored a subtle stylistic variation, which welcomed the disintegration of sharp lines and inclusion of warmth in his palette with pastel colors. Enchantingly enigmatic, the figure of the little girl is reflective of iterations in Japanese visual culture: the comics and graphic novels of Manga and its video form, anime, and the absorption of Pop culture all powerfully colliding with Nara’s unique mindscape. Ultimately, the mischievous gaze and defiant twist of the little girl’s hand from view makes her the singular most iconic figure in Nara’s overall output.
Attention acts as a powerful point of entry for psychological engagement whereby viewers can both identify with the imagination of children and engage in a complex process of their own self-examination. The young girl is not only a significant contribution to the re-evaluation of figurative painting in the 21st century, but also a window for viewers to excavate their memories to evoke the immediacy of children’s feelings that have been long forgotten. The installation of Yoshitomo Nara’s solo exhibition Thinker at The Pace Gallery, New York in the spring of 2017 further demonstrates his ongoing fascination with the contradictory expressions of innocence and experience, anger and compassion, life in this current world and the afterlife—as splendidly captured by the single figure of the little girl who quietly, yet firmly returns our gaze.
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