As one of the most influential forces in contemporary art world today,Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara makes tangible connections betweenart and life by using non-traditional materials such as wooden panels,cardboards, canvas collages, used envelopes, commercial printedmatters, and receipts in his art-making. His deft use of textures on flatsurfaces and directness of expression in brushworks are stylisticallyunmistakable. To him, art and life are one and the same — literatures,rock and roll and punk aesthetics, childhood memories, and otherseemingly mundane moments that touch him deeply in everydaylife often appear in his works. His diverse use of media and subjectmatters are not bound by any categories or theories. Painted in 2008,the work Angry Blue Boy is a continuation of Nara’s artistic practicecoming to maturity in the mid-1990s. The use of cotton clothes ascollage material creates a unique spatial rhythm and handmadetexture. This treatment also complements the minimal but nuanceduse of colours. The purity in the expression and gaze of the child tugsat the heartstrings of the viewers. All these subtle elements work inconcert to create an unrestrained and direct emotional expression thatresonates strongly with the viewers by creating an unforgettable visualexperience.
“Everything is alive in one line”, renowned Japanese writer BananaYoshimoto praises Nara’s works, “His use of lines exceeds itsnarrative function and becomes a form and a space”. This type ofspace that is constructed by lines is not merely two-dimensional —it has a psychological depth. Though similar to Pop Art, manga andanime , as well as Murakami’s theory of Superflat, Nara’s approachhas a markedly different ambition and insight. The rich yet nuancedfacial expression seen in Angry Boy Blue is a reference to themesmerising Ukiyo-e works from the Edo period. The mysterious andsophisticated gaze of the child that brings out the spiritual sensibilityof the contemporary era is also reminiscent of Petrus Christus’acclaimed painting Portrait of a Young Woman. Nara does not needcomplicated details or extraneous symbolisms. He lets the texture ofthe canvas itself do the talking — the elegance of the muted blue inthe background creates a spacious and transparent atmosphere. Thisairiness juxtaposes with the impulsive quality in the rendering of themain character. Nara achieves a perfect harmony by skilfully mediatingthe synergy between these two contradictory tones. Nara pursuesa contemporary aesthetic that is supremely genuine and intuitive.Deceivingly naive, Nara’s use of lines not only delineates the character,it asserts an unique existential experience. His reduced style containsa depth of sensibility and imaginative space.
The large yet narrowed green eyes of Angry Blue Boy appear to avertdirect eye contact with the viewers. The tiny flaring nostrils andscowling mouth express a rebellious attitude. Two vertical lines denotea furrowed brow, and the flipped ends of his hair highlights his defiantcharacter. The face of this angry child has an uncanny familiarity.Not only does it demonstrates Nara’s obsession with faces, and hisrepeated depictions of these faces have made a lasting impression onthe viewers, it also awakens delicate emotional responses within them.These are traces of memories that they have unmistakably experiencedbut unable to articulate. The blank speech bubbles around the faceare both narrative elements as well as composition elements: theyexpress the sense of indignant that the angry boy is feeling, perhaps somuch so that he is able to articulate, or it is so great that it is effable.At the same time, the bubbles punctuate the space between theforeground and the background, thus amplifying the emotional tensionand immediacy of his anger. An anger so great that it renders one speechless seems to echo the Japanese aesthetics of mono no aware— “the pathos of things”. This sentiment contrasts sharply with thedramatic facial expression of the subject, and it creates an ambiguitythat lends itself to a sense of silent anger. This silence is transformedinto an internal dialogue — it is a space that is forever reserved forviewers to openly interpret. In classical Japanese literature, sorrow isan indescribable feeling that resides deep in the heart. Sceneries orobjects from the past may evoke emotional resonance that vary fromperson to person. The aesthetics of Mono no aware is precisely basedon a deep understanding and empathy for this feeling. The childishfaces that Nara paints always exudes a sense of matured worldwearinessthat coexists with innocence. Other than adorableness, theblank speech bubbles in Angry Blue Boy also demonstrates the artist’spursuit of meanings in the ineffable as well as his unique worldview.