Details
YAYOI KUSAMA (B. 1929)
A FLOWER
titled in Japanese; signed, titled and dated 'YAYOI KUSAMA 2014 A FLOWER' (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
162.2 x 162.2 cm. (63 7⁄8 x 63 7⁄8 in.)
Painted in 2014
Provenance
Ota Fine Arts, Tokyo
Private collection, Asia
Acquired from the above by the present owner
Exhibited
Singapore, Ota Fine Arts, Yayoi Kusama, 28 November 2014 – 11 January 2015.
Further details
The work is accompanied by a registration card issued by the artist’s studio.

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Jacky Ho (何善衡)
Jacky Ho (何善衡) Deputy Head of Department

Lot Essay

‘All I wanted to do was to breathe the vitality of the time in which I lived to the best of my ability and blossom as a bright red flower towards the future...or as flowers are coloured red or purple to symbolise they are being alive.’——Yayoi Kusama

Eternal vitality
Set against an ocean of glistening golden petals that evokes the regenerative power of the universe, a full-bloom violet dahlia with its undulating petals marvellously swaying in all directions as if energised with vigorous vitality. Unlike other flower paintings by Kusama, A FLOWER is a monumental work featuring exuberant imagery, and it stands out as a rare surrealist still life among the figurative works in the artist’s oeuvre. Painted in 2014, Kusama continues to use her extremely forward-looking artistic lexicon to explore the possibility of representational works. Through portraying this simple object, Kusama marries the infinity realm of the universe and the eternal vitality with the presence in the process of ‘self-obliteration’—a concept that the artist continues to explore over the last seven decades. After the millennium, Kusama's paintings expanded from the monochromatic, all-over aesthetic in the earlier years, and demonstrated a gradual shift from the dialogue between herself and the outer world to an understanding of the life forces of humankind and nature. Created in her eighties, A FLOWER was Kusama’s heartfelt ode to life.

A universe in a flower
Flower, as a theme, embodies the dualities of life and death, celebration and mourning, and masculinity and femininity. It echoes Kusama’s artistic practice—the creative concept of envisioning negatives as positives to achieve obliteration, which is an important thread that runs through her artworks. In the first ten years of her artistic career, flower was a theme that she consistently explored and portrayed in different areas. In the late 1960s, amidst New York’s counterculture of anti-war and anti-establishment, Kusama incorporated flower into her happenings, which also paid tribute to the ‘Flower Power’ movement at the time. Later, flower has become one of the recurrent motifs in a series of collage works Kusama created after her return to Japan in the early 1970s—it is perhaps through the image of flower that the artist expressed her longing for artist Joseph Cornell and her father who had passed away. In the 1980s, the flower appeared in the form of soft sculpture in the artist’s works, and its surreal shape resembled an extra-terrestrial entity that was beyond human understanding. Coming back to the present work, Kusama’s subject appears to be a still life—a blossoming flower—yet what she portrays may be a kind of pure reflection of the universe. In his Sunflowers series, van Gogh sought not to portray everyday objects but to capture his sensory perception and spiritual projection of the external world—light and life. Kusama's A FLOWER moves beyond internal and external boundaries as a spiritual concept. While this work contains elements and concepts of figurative painting, it resonates with abstract meaning—where infinite polka dots and nets overlap and co-exist, ‘the self’ and ‘the universe’ meet and coalesce in the flower.

Flower, as the initial image emerged in Kusama’s hallucinations when she was ten years old, is one of the seminal motifs in Kusama’s oeuvre that informs the artist’s virtuoso creative process—‘self-obliteration’. Born in 1929, Kusama grew up in a family of merchants who owned a plant nursery in Matsumoto, Nagano in Japan. ‘One day, looking at a red flower-patterned tablecloth on the table, I turned my eyes to the ceiling and saw the same red flower pattern everywhere, even on the window glass and posts,’ Kusama recalls, ‘The room, my body, the entire universe was filled with it, my self was eliminated, and I had returned and been reduced to the infinity of eternal time and absolute of space’ (Y. Kusama, quoted in Yayoi Kusama, London 2017, p.35) In an attempt to overcome her escalating anxiety caused by nervous disorders, the artist painted flowers in her works; more precisely, she painted the image of flower as an authentic projection of her interiority. This deep connection is reflected in a semi-abstract Self-Portrait (1950) from her early career—a prickly pink organic form reminiscent of a sunflower or a seed hovering above the lips, where a natural organism is an embodiment of the self.

Throughout the creative process of the present work, Kusama did not limit herself to depicting the reality of the subject. The lively and twig-shaped petals are reminiscent of the overflowing organisms in her Accumulation series; the fertile buds look like self-replicating cells, while they emanate a feeling of mystery that calls to mind the planets in the universe. Klimt used repetitive, simple and decorative lines to depict the Tree of Life, a motif of deep religious symbolism, instilling a fantastical and supernatural touch into the painting; Matisse used dissected and overlapping blocks of colours to redefine the relationship between object and space. A FLOWER by Kusama employs the two kinds of seemingly ornate compositions to open up possibilities in the graphic space. Repetitive and pure polka dots fill up the picture plane, extending its dimensions into a surreal space. Vibrant blocks of colours overlap to reconstruct the space in the picture plane that appears relatively flat. Compared to her Pumpkin and Infinity Nets series, the present work transcends the metaphysical in its concept as well as the limits of the picture plane. The same year A FLOWER was painted, Kusama was at another crest of her career—she was not only the subject of two major retrospectives, Infinity Obsessions and A Dream I Dreamed, but also named as the world's most popular artist of that year(A. Needham, ‘Yayoi Kusama named world's most popular artist in 2014’, The Guardian, April 2015). The present work encapsulates Kusama’s artistry that evolved over seven decades, as well as the endless creativity of one of the most influential female artists of this century.

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