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White Light; & White Night

White Light; & White Night
each signed with both artists’ signatures and dated ‘2004’ (on the reverse)
two acrylic on canvas
each: 79 x 65 cm. (31 1⁄8 x 25 5⁄8 in.) (2)
Painted in 2004
Private Collection
Private Collection, Asia (Acquired from the above by the present owner)
Pinakothek der Moderne, Yoshimoto Nara & Hiroshi Sugito: Over the Rainbow, Ostfildern, 2004 (illustrated, pp. 18-19).
Bijutsu Shuppan Sha, Yoshitomo Nara: The Complete Works Volume 1 -Paintings, Sculptures, Editions, Photographs, Tokyo, 2011 (illustrated, PC-2004-004 & PC-2004-005, p. 222).
Munich, Pinakothek der Moderne, Yoshimoto Nara & Hiroshi Sugito: Over the Rainbow, November 2004 - February 2005. This exhibition later travelled to Dusseldorf, K21 Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, March – May 2005.
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Ada Tsui (徐文君)
Ada Tsui (徐文君) Specialist, Head of Evening Sale

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Lot Essay

White Light and White Night offer two of the 35 exhibition pieces from the only collaboration between Yoshitomo Nara and Hiroshi Sugito. Rare to Nara’s history of collaboration projections, the paintings resemble his individual works as they are dominated by the artist’s distinctive style. The iconic, ingenuous girls with shimmering iridescence in their eyes are reminiscent of unworldly wonder. Electric, luminous, and full of life, the eyes contrast against their menacing expression and solitude within the canvas. White Light and White Night toy with the balance between fragility and hardiness, creating a mysterious allure that imbues the work with mesmerizing complexity, evoking the viewer’s childlike sense of curiosity.

Named after the Wizard of Oz, “Over the Rainbow” is a seminal project that marks one of the most important phases of Nara’s artistic development. The collaboration is not only a celebration of the friendship between Nara and his once pupil, but is also an artistic expedition that pushed his creation process. The duo has contrasting approaches: Nara works in a linear process and avoids revision, while Sugito works simultaneously on various pieces with multiple revisions. By sharing a studio in Vienna, this intimate arrangement prompted an exciting clash of creative processes that beautifully interweaves Nara’s endearing figures with Sugito’s enchanting landscape style. Notably, White Night underscores a critical turning point in Nara’s oeuvre when the artist starts to integrate more tonal details into the figure’s eyes. In his earlier works, figures’ eyes are depicted in minimal solid colours; this piece marks Nara’s exploration with the illustration of glistening eyes that later becomes quintessential in his paintings.

The eyes here are especially intriguing because they are the differentiating feature between the two almost identical figures. Viewers cannot help but wonder, could the two paintings be of the same girl? Could these be portraits of Dorothy? In White Light, the eyes are gray like prowling clouds in a thunderstorm but change to a luminescent green in White Night. This transition could represent the protagonist’s journey from gloomy Kansas to the dazzling Land of Oz and signifies her growth from oblivion and naivety as she confronts the façade of Emerald City. The pupil has also transitioned from slit to round and doll-like, akin to how a cat’s pupil can change from day to night. Cat is an important motif for both Nara and The Wizard of Oz; by incorporating this parallel, the slit eyes allow the artist to interweave his visual narrative with the classic children’s tale.

What makes Nara’s work so enchanting is his ability to build layers of psychological complexities through simple compositions. Though tender and innocent, the girl’s unwavering forthright star and stoic expression allude to something deeper beyond the guileless front. The allure of Nara’s art lies in this mesmerizing dynamic between childlike essence and adult emotions that results in pieces such as White Light and White Night that are effortless yet strikingly mesmerizing.

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