Executed in 1980, Yayoi Kusama's Pumpkin is a rare example of a collaged painting from a time when the artist had just returned to canvas. Festooned with myriad shimmering dots and crystallisations, the rich visual optical effect of Pumpkin is achieved through Kusama's reverential attention to detail, each small section of the canvas attended to with precision and devotion, integrating hundreds and thousands of tiny painted dots, juxtaposed against crystalised formations and psychedelic colours. Stippled with hypnotic black dots, the ochre and sunglow yellow Pumpkin appears to radiate off the canvas. Using vibrant blue and white cotton to offset the sharp yellow and black background, Kusama creates a near hallucinatory quality, the soft cotton collaged against the gleaming painted surface. The result is a work that is light and playful yet mesmerising in its rhythmic pattern.
The bulbous, speckled Pumpkin is a symbol of the artist herself, embodying Kusama's long-running investigations into personal identity and experience through her art. The solid, hearty vegetable of the earth, compellingly paired with her signature black dots, is one of the artist's most iconic and beloved motifs. Kusama's Pumpkins were the focus of the artist's exhibition at the Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1993 which consisted of an installation in which the artist lived, a mirrored room filled with small Pumpkin sculptures. An unusual iteration of the motif in paint and collage, the present work was included in the artist's exhibition at the Nagano Prefectural Shinano Art Museum in 1994.
At once profoundly autobiographical and surreal, the psychedelic quality of the hypnotic formations in Pumpkin is informed by the intensely personal quality of Kusama's work. A reiteration of the artist's earliest childhood experiences, the proliferation of dots references the overwhelming visual hallucinations the artist experienced as a child. As Kusama recalled, 'When I was a child, one day I was walking 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. It was then I learned the idea of self-obliteration. I immediately transferred the idea onto a canvas. It was hallucination only the mentally ill can experience' (Y. Kusama, quoted in Y. Kusama: Now, exh. cat., Robert Miller Gallery, New York, 1998, p.15). Having returned to Japan in the early 1970s, by 1977 the hallucinations that had plagued the artist as a child had returned, prompting her to voluntarily commit herself permanently to hospital for her psychological ailments, where she has lived since. This move was directly reflected in her artistic practice, which was marked with a return to painting and object making, following her critically renowned Happenings from the decade prior.