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signed with artist’s signature, dated ‘2004’ (on the reverse)
coloured pencil and acrylic on paper
132.4 x 115.9 cm. (52 1/8 x 45 5/8 in.)
Painted in 2004
Private collection
Private collection, USA
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s New York, 10 November 2010, lot 382
Private collection
Anon. sale, Sotheby’s Hong Kong, 5 October 2015, lot 827
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Bijutsu Shuppan Sha, Yoshitomo Nara: The Complete Works Volume 2 – Works on Paper, Tokyo, Japan, 2011 (illustrated, plate D-2004-003, p. 218).
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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡)

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Lot Essay

For Yoshitomo Nara, works on paper are a crucial medium through which he conveys his creativity and most intimate emotions. In the 1980s when he was studying at the Aichi Prefectural University of the Arts, he lived by himself in a mobile home surrounded by the forest where he blasted music every day. He would pick up any scrap pieces of paper that were lying around and use them to record his inspiration. He would write down lyrics from the music that he was listening to, and any rebellious manifestos that came to mind. He recalled, “Thinking back, I think it was like writing a pictorial diary. I drew things and events that moved me every day, and this process made me feel that every day was meaningful.”

To most contemporary artists, the oil painting medium is held in higher regard than works on paper. Yet, this hierarchy does not apply to Yoshitomo Nara’s works. On the contrary, his diverse use of media is a testament to the holistic approach of his artistic pursuit. Nara utilises any surface to draw, including envelopes, graph paper, and any scrap materials he can find. After spending 12 years abroad in Germany, he returned to his native country Japan. Completed in 2004, Peace on Your Feet is a work that Nara that executed four years after his return. It is an accomplished piece with a high degree of finish that belongs to Nara’s later and more mature period. Most of the artist’s signature elements can be found in this work — the distinctly rendered child in full portrait, the little vampire fangs, the peace sign, the immaculate lawn in the background, as well as the vividly coloured red text at the bottom. All the most iconic symbols in Nara’s visual language converge in this work.

The child is modelled in a Nara-esque style is instantly recognisable. Tracing back to the origin of Nara’s iconic characters, many believe that they share the same DNA as Japanese manga and anime. However, the artist explained that these genres contribute very little to the conception of his figures. In fact, the visual language of E-hon, the Japanese picture book genre that was popular during the Edo-Meiji era, influenced him stylistically in a much more profound way — this genre excels at using concise imageries to tell sophisticated narratives. In addition, this work utilises the self-expression principle of Neo-expressionism. Nara’s clean and economic use of lines succinctly completes the character modelling of the little girl. The influence from Japanese Ukiyo-E figure depiction is apparent here. Nara’s exceptional drawing technique is thoroughly demonstrated in his treatment of the little girl’s eyes. He expounded, “If you have studied traditional painting, it should be obvious to you that I am using all the techniques of the masters”. From the flat composition and exaggerated facial features in classic Japanese art, to the choice of palette of Renaissance masters like Giotto and Piero della Francesca, Nara poured over these different styles of representation in his youth with the most stringent and rigorous attitude.

The fundamental contradiction in Nara’s depiction of children is that the expressions of defiance on their faces are very much incongruent with their age and appearances. Seemingly innocent and adorable, the complexity of these children’s thoughts can rival that of the adult. This conflict is best exemplified in this work: the expression on the child’s face is full of hubris as she provocatively raises her hand in a peace sign. This attitude subverts the conventional image of the wide-eyed, innocent child. As a result, this reversal of roles between the adult and the child charges this work visually with a sense of menace and intimidation. Under the guise of warm pastel tones is the artist’s profound reflection on history, human nature, and its relationship with the world. The text in red declares a message of peace, and behind it the little girl stand on a patch of grass. As a symbol of the ecosystem, Nara’s message seems to extend to the issue of environmental conservation.

All artistic movements eventually fade into history, style becomes outdated, and forms obsolete. Only emotions can stand the test of time. For this reason, works that resonate with the human heart across temporal and geographical boundaries are inevitably ones that convey genuine emotions. Yoshitomo Nara resolutely remains true to himself — a principle that he applies both to his life and his artistic practice. As one of the most influential Japanese artists in the International contemporary art arena, his works are widely collected by some of the most esteemed art institutions in the world — they include the Art Institute of Chicago and the Museum of Modern Art in the United States, the British Museum in the United Kingdom, Aomori Museum of Art in Japan, and the Neues Museum in Germany.

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