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In the Pinky Lake

In the Pinky Lake
titled ‘in the Pinky Lake’, artist’s signature and dated '2..4’ (on the reverse)
acrylic on cotton mounted on FRP
180 x 180 x 26 cm. (70 7/8 x 70 7/8 x 10 1/4 in.)
Executed in 2004
Galerie Jonhen + Schöttle, Cologne, Germany
Anon. Sale, Christie's London, 26 June 2013, Lot 296
S 2 Gallery, Hong Kong
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 2014
Private Collection, Asia
Bijutsu Shuppan Sha, Yoshitomo Nara: The Complete Works Volume 1 - Paintings, Sculptures, Editions, Photographs, Tokyo, Japan, 2011 (illustrated, plate P-2004-012, p. 193).
Helsinki, Finland, Helsinki Art Museum, Japan Pop, 9 September - 27 November 2005.
Essen, Germany, Museum Folkwang, Rockers Island, 5 March - 1 July 2007.
Hong Kong, S 2 Gallery, The World According to Yoshitomo Nara, 6 September - 24 September 2014.

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Kimmy Lau
Kimmy Lau

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Lot Essay

As an inherently social species, humans need to maintain relationships with other individuals to be happy. Isolation can lead to loneliness, and loneliness to depression. However, if one can meditate upon life, observe nature, and create works that express the inner thoughts of solitude, a state of isolation can be more rewarding than being out of place in a crowd. Internationally renowned Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara grew up in solitude. He lived in a rural area in the Aomori prefecture, and one of his most vivid childhood memories is of the snowscape during the harsh winters. Nara did not have anyone to talk to when he was young. His only companions were trees, cats, dogs, and other animals. Solitude taught him how to read nature with his spirit and reflect on his existence. This is the upbringing that enabled him to empathise with countless viewers through his art. The artistic style of every artist is somehow influenced by their upbringing. However, contemporary art was not easily accessible in Nara’s hometown of Aomori. Print media was the sole means by which to obtain information.

Fortunately, inspiration often comes from a realm that is outside of art: everyday life. Nara was drawn to punk rock and folk music from Europe and America in his youth. He would mail-order large quantities of western vinyl records from Tokyo. The square design of the vinyl sleeve became the seed that inspired Nara’s artistic language. Despite not understanding English, music and album design became Nara’s source of joy and inspiration. Later in his career, English lyrics would become one of the key subject matters in his artistic output.

In 1988, Yoshitomo Nara travelled to Kunstakademie Düsseldorf to further his artistic education. Because of the language barrier, he was once again isolated in solitude. Remarkably, the distance between the self and the outside world helped him to nurture a keen sense of observation. This sensibility helps Nara to transcend the technical side of art making and give expression to his inner voice. On his creative process, Nara comments that, “I don’t paint when I am happy. I only paint when I am angry, lonely, sad, when I am able to talk to the work.”

After living in Germany for twelve years, Yoshitomo Nara returned to Japan in 2000 to continue his artistic career. At the time, he was engrossed in one particular subject – an adorable little girl whose face suggests malevolent intentions. In the Pinky Lake (Lot 48) is a mature work from Nara’s tondo series. Myriad layers of translucent hues combine to demonstrate the artist’s reverence and mastery of classical oil painting techniques (fig. 1). The modelling of the girl in the painting is cleanly delineated, and it is evident that this work is influenced by Japanese Ukiyo-e painting (fig. 2). Yoshitomo Nara’s superior brushwork is amply demonstrated in the treatment of the girl’s eye, which emphatically dispels the myth that Nara’s child-like depiction is due to his lack of ability. 180 centimetres in diameter, this large-scale painting features only a child’ s head. Her body is obscured under the water. Around her puffy face, there are few lightly shaded arcs to suggest the presence of water. The treatment is similar to drawing ripple lines in the sand to indicate a body of water in Japanese rock garden. The child in front of the viewer can be perceived as the mountain, and the colour white around her water - a picture that represents a state of zen is thus completed (fig. 3). The air of solemnity permeates the scene as if it is taking the viewers back to a certain day in Nara’s lonesome childhood. This type of melancholic solitude is singularly graceful and poetic. This state of being connects with the traditional Japanese concept of mono no aware - “the pathos of things” -where human sentiments resonate with the objects and scenes around them. Empathy, compassion, and a deep appreciation for the poignancy of existence are all qualities of mono no aware. It is not a rational thinking process - one has to rely on intuition and honesty with oneself to reach this state of mind. It is with this attitude that Nara persists to create art to this date.

Yoshitomo Nara is an artist who boldly experiments with different kinds of creative media. Other than painting on rectangular canvases, he also enjoys painting in the round format. Paintings on round vessels were found as early as in ancient Greece. During the Renaissance in the 15th century, painting on round surfaces was formalised into a schema known as a tondo. Compositionally, the major difference between the round canvas and the rectangular canvas is that space is extremely compressed. Area that can express the background are reduced, and as a result, the subject is pushed into a more prominent position (fig. 4). By using a stripped-down background to complement a single figure, Yoshitomo Nara’s ingenious use of the tondo format in In the Pinky Lake emphasises an intangible quality that is unique in Eastern philosophy. This treatment is similar to how Anish Kapoor uses the primordial shape of circle to evoke a psychological response from the viewers (fig. 5). They both seek to open a direct passage to the hearts of the viewers with their art and bring them to an imaginative realm.

The shape of circle is closely associated with the feelings of completeness and harmony. Yoshitomo Nara infuses the sentimentality in Japanese aesthetics in the Western artistic format. This work amplifies the sense of zen in the visual domain, and it provides a resting place for a memory that was etched in the heart a long time ago.

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