An exquisite creation of weightlessness and depth, Yayoi Kusama’s Untitled seems almost to billow on the wall as air passes it by. Painted in 1960, two years after the artist had arrived in New York, the work dates from the artist’s first period of Infinity Net paintings – fields of repeating, all-over designs of dots that organically swell and recede on the canvas. The work immerses the viewer in meditative repetitions of form, producing the sense of an infinite pattern that extends far beyond the confines of the frame. Rendered in an evocative aquatic cerulean blue, Kusama’s painstaking application of the tiny curved brushstrokes that structure the work generates a subtle spatial complexity. Variations in its patterning – here smaller black dots are clumped together, there they are larger and spread out – give the net of paint a natural texture and tactile contours, like an boundless bed of coral or an exotic marine plant. The longer we spend in front of these psychedelic, rippling lines of colour, the more profound our sense of the work’s expansive endlessness becomes.
This enveloping effect of the painting is in some sense a way of drawing the experience of the viewer into the world of the artist: losing oneself in the simplicity of its patterns, we re-enact the trancelike repetition of the painting process itself. The works are based on her own hallucinatory visions; dilating, proliferating patterns that seemed to dissolve the boundary between her own sense of self and the rest of the world. As she describes her first vision, “My room, my body, the entire universe was filled with [patterns], my self was eliminated, and I had returned and been reduced to the infinity of eternal time and the absolute of space. This was not an illusion but reality” (Y. Kusama, quoted in Yayoi Kusama, New York, 2000, p. 36). Thus, working for long periods of time – sometimes for forty or fifty hours – up close to the work’s surface, Kusama’s laborious work becomes a kind of mediating ritual, mirroring this psychic state through art – an all-consuming, quasi-spiritual experience in which the field of vision is reduced to this one fundamental pattern, a kind of universal structure that seems to underlie reality itself.
Indeed this notion of the infinity net as an underlying structure is crucial to Kusama’s art, the reason why it has become such a fundamental motif for the artist. The history of the pattern dates back to Kusama’s childhood, when at the age of ten she produced a drawing of a woman in a kimono, thought to be the artist’s mother, obliterated by a sea of dots. Through her career she has transferred the pattern onto objects, clothing, walls and even human bodies, as her work has migrated across mediums, into performance art, installation and fashion. This sense of continuity is of central importance to Kusama’s practice: in the endless repetition of the form, the infinity nets reveal a world arranged around one guiding principle, bonding disparate forms together.