Born in Matsumoto, Japan in 1929, Yayoi Kusama is commonly acknowledged as one of the most important living Japanese artists. Her work is instantly recognisable, as is her distinctive look - a bright bob and clothes to match her art, she cuts an incredible character.
Kusama's family owned a plant nursery and seed farm, so she grew up surrounded by plants and flowers. As a child, she would hallucinate about flowers and pumpkins - the very same pumpkins that would later become synonymous with the name Kusama.
In interviews, Kusama has described how she hallucinated from a young age, and art was her way of distracting herself from her sometimes scary visions, as well as from her volatile family. Ever since, art was a way for Kusama to express her mental health and find relief, stating that '[she] followed the thread of art and somehow discovered a path that would allow [her] to live.'
On the surface of her larger than life, bright polka dot coloured pumpkins, infinitely dazzling mirror rooms and paintings of bright and wild shapes may seem to be jolly and cheerful, but they are conceptually laden with autobiographical, psychological, and sexual subtext.
She moved to New York City in 1958 and became a part of the New York avant-garde scene through the 1960s and was key player in the pop-art movement. She soon found success, but in 1973 she returned to Japan and a few years later would check herself into hospital in Tokyo for her mental health, and she has resided there ever since, just a short walk from her studio.
Kusama's flower paintings may not be the most famous of her works, but they have been a key motif in her work throughout her career, as representations of her past, but also as 'emblems of transformation that suggest the possibility of changing an unpleasant situation into something beautiful.' We couldn't agree more.
‘I found myself trembling ... with fear, amid flowers incarnate, which had appeared all of a sudden. I was surrounded by several hundreds of violets ...with uncanny expressions ... chatting among themselves just like human beings.’
You can visit Yayoi Kusama: Mirror Infinity Rooms at Tate Modern, but you'll have to be eagle eyed about it, it's fully booked until March 2022 but you might be able to catch a cancellation.