3 More
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK … Read more LE JEUNE, A COLLECTING LEGACY

Girl with a Knife

Girl with a Knife
signed in Japanese, titled and dated 'Girl with a knife 99' (on the reverse)
acrylic, graphite, coloured pencil and crayon on paper
20 1/8 x 14 1/8in. (51 x 36cm.)
Executed in 1999
Galerie Michael Zink, Regensburg.
Private Collection, Belgium (acquired from the above in 1999).
Thence by descent to the present owner.
N. Miyamura and S. Suzuki (eds.), Yoshitomo Nara: The Complete Works, Vol. II: Works on Paper, San Francisco 2011, p. 357, no. D-1999-006 (with incorrect dimensions, illustrated in colour, p. 139).
Nuremberg, Institut für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, Somebody Whispers in Nuremberg, 1999.
Special notice
This lot has been imported from outside of the UK for sale and placed under the Temporary Admission regime. Import VAT is payable at 5% on the hammer price. VAT at 20% will be added to the buyer’s premium but will not be shown separately on our invoice.

Brought to you by

Tessa Lord
Tessa Lord Director, Senior Specialist

Lot Essay

Executed in 1999, and acquired that year, Girl with a Knife is a bold iteration of one of Yoshitomo Nara’s most important motifs. Upon a pale ground, a little girl stands with a blade in her hand, her bright green eyes aglow with an almost neon luminescence. Created a pivotal moment in his early career, shortly before he returned from Cologne to his native Japan, the work captures the graphic, punk-inspired aesthetic that would propel him to fame over the next few years. His cast of children, with distinctive exaggerated features, would become global icons, often styled as tiny rebels carrying miniature weapons. The knife, in particular, would become a key image for Nara, after featuring in his seminal 1991 painting The Girl with the Knife in her Hand (promised gift to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art). Exquisitely rendered in pencil, crayon and acrylic, the present work is a sumptuous example of his drawings: a fundamental strand of his practice, and which formed a major part of his first international touring retrospective this year. The show completed its second leg at the Yuz Museum, Shanghai, this September, marking Nara’s solo debut in mainland China.

Nara grew up as a ‘latchkey kid’ in post-war rural Japan, and was frequently left to his own devices as a child. Lost in the company of his own imagination, he absorbed the influx of Western culture that was sweeping the nation at the time: from Warner Brothers cartoons and Walt Disney films to European fairy tales and American comics. Often dialling in to the American military base radio station, he would immerse himself in punk and rock-and-roll music, imbibing a spirit of subversive rebellion that would later find expression in his characters. Though frequently wielding guns, chainsaws and other instruments of destruction, Nara has explained that his subjects are not intended to be aggressive. ‘Look at them, they are so small, like toys’, he has said of his knives. ‘Do you think they could fight with those? I don’t think so. Rather, I kind of see the children among other, bigger, bad people all around them, who are holding bigger knives’ (Y. Nara, quoted in ‘Why does Yoshitomo Nara’s girl have a knife in her hand?’, www.phaidon.com). Girl with a Knife, in this regard, may be seen to relate to the work of artists such as Andy Warhol and Banksy, who similarly combined graphic wit with deeper social commentary.

Nara had moved to Germany in 1988, where he studied at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf under A. R. Penck. It was there that the foundations of his practice truly took shape, fusing elements of Western art and culture with traditional Japanese influences: among them Edo period ukiyo-e woodblock prints and Okame theatrical masks. Penck, notably, encouraged the artist to combine painting and drawing, and the two media would become almost interchangeable throughout his practice, each imbibing one another’s properties. By the time of the present work, his characters had begun to soften in appearance, paving the way for his mature language. Drawing upon the Japanese kawaii (‘cute’) subculture that elsewhere inspired Takashi Murakami, his protagonists became increasingly less caricatured, with smaller heads, gentler outlines and pastel-toned palettes. While the present work bears all the hallmarks of this trajectory, the girl’s eyes continue to emit a piercing green tone that almost seems to glow in the dark. The knife in her hand might almost be a pencil or paintbrush, ready—like Nara’s own—to wield its influence upon the world.

More from 20th/21st Century: London Evening Sale

View All
View All