Since Yoshitomo Nara’s first solo exhibition, It’s a Little Wonderful House in 1984, house is a recurring symbol in Nara’s work. Painted in 2011, Home depicts a mesmerizing goggle-eyed child with a tiny house atop her head, against the isolated, ambiguous background. With nose illustrated in two nostril dots and tongue whimsically sticking out, Nara’s iconic figure embodies a cute yet menacing, revitalizing yet nostalgic juxtapose, resonating a kind of sugarcoat that let the viewers swallow the bittersweet.
Growing up in the 1960s of postwar Japan, Nara consumed Western media at a rapid pace and embraced the proliferaiton of popular culture, while establishing his own distinctive aesthetic. Art critic and curator Michael Darling has remarked that Nara’s highly recognisable works “either drag viewers down with melodramatic doom and gloom, nor present a scenario of worry-free beauty and pleasure. Nara tantalizes our senses and imaginations, while at the same time honing our understanding of the complexities of the contemporary condition.” (M. Darling, “Yoshitomo Nara”, Frieze , 1997). Reminiscent of Wayne Thiebaud’s candy machines series, which is ordinary enough to allow the artist to concentrate on the form, colour and texture, yet emotionally loaded with its capability to trigger childhood memories, it does not take much to envision how childhood gives rise to the sensibility of Nara’s work. Evoking more than a temporal passage of time filled with absent belonging, Nara began to wonder how does childhood make who we are as adults: “I get the feeling that childhood experiences were merely a catalyst. My art derives less from the self-centered instincts of childhood than from the day-to-day sensory experiences of an adult who has left this realm behind.” (Y. Nara, “Nobody’s Fool”, in Yoshitomo Nara Complete Works, San Francisco, 2011, p. 42).
Drawing comparison with Amedeo Modigliani’s composition in his portrait, which often revolves around the eyes, Home develops the focal point and encourages our gaze to rest on the eyes as well, as Nara recalled:“They say human eyes are the mirror of the soul, and I used to draw them too carelessly. (Y. Nara, “An Interview with Yoshitomo Nara”, Asymptote Journal , 2014). In the recent decade, Nara has worked in a much more painterly approach on the eyes, as rendered in Home, which engage the viewers into the lustrous, captivating kaleidoscope. However, unlike Modigliani’s portraits, Nara’s characters are neither particularly male nor female, in keeping with Nara’s belief that every person contains both masculine and feminine elements. Painted in the warmth of intense crimson, dusty orange and saffron yellow mediated with chalky white, Home is also evocative of Mark Rothko’s autumnal palatte, filling with philosophical reflections and transmitting a contemplative mood, as Nara explained: “It’s about the many levels of paint that have built up. Those layers draw out the sensibility of each person who looks at it. I think it provokes you to have a conversation with yourself.” (Y. Nara, interview by Artnews, 2017).
Nara’s painting is typically executed within a night, imbued with a range of mood and emotion, resembling to Chagall’s enchanting circus world, where night brings the circus performers together in a swirl of thrilling, magical movements, at the same time, there is an engaging measure of melancholic sadness. In Home, the fiery yet watery pupils emanate an air of sentimental poignance, stemming from the artist’s personal awareness of the fragility of life. Home was painted in 2011, when the 9.0 magnitude earthquake hit Fukushima, Japan. “The whole area between us and Fukushima was devastated; the whole scenery I was familiar with has been destroyed...I was a lot more affected on a personal level because I know people who were lost. I was quite depressed and unstable for quite some time, but then I saw people from that devastated area starting to come back and they started again.” (Y. Nara, interview by Ocula Magazine , 2016). Deeply distraught by the earthquake, Nara decided to take up a residency at his alma mater to reignite his creativity and to bring the silent carrier of hope, while simultaneously providing a self discovery sanctuary and spiritual solace.
Nara recalled that standing in front of his work felt like traveling on a solitary voyage in outer space: “My spaceship could go anywhere in this fantasy while I was painting, even to the edge of the universe” (Y. Nara, “Nobody’s Fool”, in Yoshitomo Nara Complete Works , San Francisco, 2011, p. 44). In Home, the lonely little spacecraft is no longer floating in the darkness of void—it shimmers in the magical, iridescent galaxy, and will eventually land at home.