Fruits and vegetables make up an important part of Yayoi Kusama’s oeuvre, symbolizing fertility and abundance, and expressing the whimsical nature of her imaginary universe. In Field (Lot 31), an ear of corn split from end-to-end spews out clouds of twining corn silk, while a bunch of grapes rendered in red and blue polka dots plays with our visual perception of color and depth. Themes of repetition and obsession appear in all of Kusama’s work, and here the concept is expressed in the collage-like use of her trademark patterns. Even the background – a black-on-red Infinity Net – is an iteration of the famous series that launched her career in New York City in the early 60s.
Before leaving for the USA, Yayoi Kusama spent two years studying nihonga painting at the Kyoto Municipal School of Arts and Crafts. Despising the strict rigidity of her classes and teachers, Kusama spent most of her time painting vegetables such as pumpkins, tomatoes, onions and yams alone in her room. In her autobiography, Kusama recalls that, “When the sun came up over Mount Higashiyama, I would confront the spirit of the pumpkin, forgetting everything else and concentrating my mind entirely on the form before me… Morning, noon, and night, I scrupulously painted each tiny bump on the rinds of my subjects.” This meditative, obsessive approach to detail would later inspire her Infinity Net paintings (Lot 29), in which the looping brushstrokes are an expression of self-obliteration in Kusama’s constant quest to express the infinity of the universe.
Decades later, Kusama returned to Japan, and rediscovered the subjects that engrossed her in her early years. Each Pumpkin (Lots 23, 24) she sculpts evokes the essence of what Kusama describes as “the pumpkin’s generous unpretentiousness… and its solid spiritual balance.” A similar charm is conjured by her Strawberry sculptures (Lots 85, 86), which faithfully capture every detail of the berry’s bumpy exterior, echoing the repetitive dots and lines of her infinity net paintings. Even the bright lines and spots of Town HHH (Lot 30) recall the organic shapes found in nature. Whether painting cell-like patterns or humble vegetables, all of Kusama’s work is rendered with a humor and sensitivity that hints at the expansiveness of the artist’s imagined universe, reminding us of the beauty that can be found in even the simplest of patterns and forms.