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1, 2, 3...

1, 2, 3...
signed in Japanese and dated '2006' (on the reverse)
acrylic on panel, in artist's wooden frame
48 ¾ x 71 x 2 ½ in. (123.8 x 180.3 x 6.4 cm.)
Executed in 2006.
Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo
Private collection, London
Anon. sale; Christie's, London, 1 July 2010, lot 117
Acquired at the above sale by the present owner
N. Miyamura and S. Suzuki, eds., Yoshitomo Nara: The Complete Works, Volume 1: Paintings, Sculptures, Editions, Photographs 1984-2010, Tokyo, 2011, pp. 233 and 392, no. B-2006-008 (illustrated).
Hirosaka, Yoshii Brick Brew House, Yoshitomo Nara + graf: A to Z, July-October 2006, n.p. (illustrated).

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Lot Essay

“Nara works alone in his studio, usually late at night, with punk rock screaming from speakers. He chain-smokes as he concentrates on channeling all of his past ghosts and present emotions into the deceptively simply face of his current subject. Each painting – each figure – is typically executed in the span of one night, capturing both a range of emotion and a specific mood” (K. Chambers, Nothing Ever Happens, Cleveland, 2003, p. 26).

A rare painting of his most iconic protagonists, Yoshitomo Nara’s 1, 2, 3... (2006) is a classic vision of the artist’s widely celebrated artistic practice. Featuring his trademark disobedient young girls, the present painting is one of three billboard paintings of the artist’s infamous three sisters, cultivating a celebration of punk rock and the spirit of rebellion. Characteristic to his billboard paintings, Nara’s beloved engrossing style is perfunctory, euphonious and enthrallingly vague. Along with his contemporaries, Nara finds inspiration in traditional Japanese figurative works while simultaneously diverging from them. For example, in traditional Japanese Noh drama, a plain background situates the character as the only focus of the picture. Likewise, a similar style echoes with the technique of leaving blank spaces in traditional Eastern water-and-ink painting. 1, 2, 3... is classic Nara – with his whimsical contours of his musical ensemble labeled ‘1,’ ‘2’ and ‘3’ conveying expressive eyes and their small rhythmic bodies flaunting dynamic drumsticks against a bare background, Nara has given the viewer just enough information to imagine the performance about to take place.

Like Takashi Murakami, Nara provoked new developments in the Japanese Pop Art movement. While Murakami mined the depths of anime, manga and other popular Japanese media, Nara looked to different influences in order to develop his personal style. Though many have drawn parallels between Nara’s characters and Japanese Pop, the artist maintains, “Honestly, I have been more influenced by children’s books… I don’t dislike manga, but I’m not interested in it, and I don’t watch animé at all” (Y. Nara, quoted in M. Chiu, Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool, exh. cat., New York, Asia Society, 2010, pp. 174-175). Instead, the artist credits his childhood as the greatest impact on his artistic production. Having grown up in a post-war Japan inundated with Western influence, Nara gravitated toward the counter-cultural, defiant strains of rock and punk music, punctuating his oeuvre with references to his interest in the genre. By including elements from both the Western and Eastern worlds, Nara combines these dichotomous sensibilities into a thought-provoking and deeply personal style.

In the present work, Nara’s enthusiasm for rock and roll thrives in his animated, bright-eyed musical triplets, which served as the inspiration for his 2020 figurines exclusively created for the Museum of Modern Art Design Store. In his own words: “Music certainly played a major role in the formation of me as an individual. The influence of music on me is far more significant than that of manga and other things that people talk about” (Y. Nara, quoted in M. Chiu, Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool, exh. cat., New York, Asia Society, 2010, p. 181). As a teenager, the artist was introduced to mainstream rock and roll, as well as songs from independent labels. Recalling the first time he heard a song by the Ramones, Nara said, “One such night, one song that played from the radio blew my mind… My whole precocious self was blown away! That song lit a fire in my raw teenage emotion. It was the Ramones! And then the Sex Pistols, and The Clash, and Bob Marley… They gave me an answer to how I’d live my life from then on” (Y. Nara, quoted in M. Chiu, Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool, exh. cat., New York, Asia Society, 2010, p. 258).

The anti-establishment attitude and spirit of freedom in Nara’s love for rock and roll permeates his artistic production and takes center stage in 1, 2, 3.... Painted in a bravura of concise and direct brushwork, Nara’s adorable characters bring the infectious spirit of punk rock to life and attract the attention of audiences near and far, alike and not alike. His genius is evident in heartfelt nostalgia for the media that defined the artist’s youth in rural Japan, rendered in the artist’s signature tantalizing style and exhibiting a deep interest in classical portraiture, recalling the lucid style of pre-Renaissance painters like Giotto and Piero Della Francesca and the baroque compositional technique of masters like Anthony van Dyck and Diego Velázquez. Here, Nara transforms the artist’s chosen medium of repurposed wooden panels to a performance of pictorial space. ‘Of course, if you think back to the ’70s,’ he says, ‘information moved very differently … all you have is the music itself and you have the album cover, twelve inches square. I would just sit there, listen to the music, look at the art on the cover and I think I really developed my imagination through that’ (N. Hegert, “Interview with Yoshitomo Nara,” Artslant, 18 September 2010). One can imagine Nara smoking in his studio late at night, blaring punk rock music and crafting this little girl unapologetically shredding her guitar and inviting the viewer to head-bang along. By combining his personal experiences and variety of inspirations into one work, Nara successfully brings numerous representational ideologies into the current era while promoting introspective freedom for himself and his viewers.

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