Yayoi Kusama is known for her Infinity Nets and dots, two interchangeable motifs that she adopted as her alter ego, her franchise, and her weapon of incursion into the world. Growing up in a mountainous region of Matsumoto in Japan, where her family owned a large seed nursery, Kusama spent much time drawing at the seed-harvesting ground when she was a child. She has always had an affinity with the natural world since her earliest formative years, particularly vegetal and floral life.
Kusama traces the roots of her celebrated style back to her childhood. Her autobiographical, surreal, and psychedelic works are re-creations of her overwhelming hallucinations since the age of ten, providing a glimpse into her eccentric and profound world vision. As Kusama recalled, “when I was a child, one day I was walking in the field, then all of a sudden, the sky became bright over the mountains, and I saw clearly the very image I was about to paint appear in the sky. I also saw violets which I was painting multiply to cover the doors, windows and even my body….I immediately transferred the idea onto a canvas. It was hallucination only the mentally ill can experience” (Y. Kusama, quoted in “Damien Hirst Questions Yayoi Kusama, Across the Water, May, 1998,” Kusama: Now, exh. cat., Robert Miller Gallery, New York, 1998, p. 15).
Returning to Japan in 1977, Kusama’s paintings in 1980s pay tribute to her hometown. Watermelon (Lot 31) is a piece that perfectly captures Yayoi Kusama’s uncompromising optical illusion aesthetic, for which the artist is celebrated. It comprises of a myriad of dots and nets in vivid red and white hues to depict a watermelon and utensils on the table, that are repeated almost ad infinitum across the surface of the canvas. Juxtaposed with the jarring effect of rhizomatic structure, the modest deviations in shape hint at organic form, the work approaches a near hallucinatory eminence as we are pulled into the folds of the composition. The bichromatic colour palette gives emphasis to the two-dimensional shaped subjects in contrasting simplicity.
The net appears to be ceaselessly expanding, repeating and creating. It reaches beyond the canvas with an almost remarkable sense of energy, reflecting the Eastern philosophy of infinity. ‘My nets grew beyond myself and beyond the canvases I was covering with them. They began to cover the walls, the ceiling, and finally the whole universe. I was always standing at the center of the obsession, over the passionate accretion and repetition inside of me’ (Y. Kusama, quoted in L. Hoptman and U. Kultermann, Yayoi Kusama, New York 2000, p. 103). Its pictorial depth and hypnotic poeticism evokes an unfathomable and transcendent space, inviting the viewer to the vastness of the cosmos, the infinitesimal forms of cells or atoms. The resulting work is playful yet mesmerising in its rhythmic patterns. Kusama beautifully crafts an integrated dialect extracted from geometric, decorative, and organic motifs, abridged and distilled into powerful visual and chromatic patterns that broaden the possibilities of abstract painting.