(Japanese, B. 1959)
titled 'Wind' in English; dated ''99'; and signed in artist's signature (on the reverse)
acrylic on canvas
60 x 55 cm. (23 5/8 x 21 5/8 in.)
Painted in 1999
Galerie Michael Zink, Berlin, Germany
Acquired from the above by the present owner in 1999

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Eric Chang
Eric Chang

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Lot Essay

Since the early 1990s, Yoshitomo Nara has painted simple figures and compositions, developing his unique artistic style with children and small animals as the major subjects of his works. With his unbounded imagination, he created a variety of characteristic images. Sometimes he even dresses the children up as animals, which leads to interesting identity exchanges and associations. He resisted depicting grand and imposing scenes, but stayed very keen on presenting the character alone in a monotone background without companions. He is keeping the details to minimal so as to free his work from the interference of storylines, and to highlight the subject. As a result, the audience can communicate with the character in the most direct way, and keep their focus on the character's emotional change. Such a practice favours the display of affection, and it is the very reason why Nara's work has always remained insightful and appealing despite the passage of time.
The painting Wind (Lot 430) is a midrange portrait of a long-haired little girl, and is designed in one of Nara's typical ways of composition - depicting a close-up of the figure's head. The symmetrical depiction of the girl brings a peaceful atmosphere to the picture, and the girl appears elegant with a calm look in her eyes and compressed lips. Although her body is hidden from the painting, it is still reasonable to assume that she is in an absolutely still position; the only source of movement in the picture is the girl's hair floating rightward in the wind. There is no intense change in her facial expression. She is wearing a thoughtful expression, and seems to be enjoying the sensational instant of change brought about by the breeze. The atmosphere of the picture reminds us of the concept of "Mono no aware," which prospered in the Edo period in Japan. "Mono no aware" is a special aesthetic standard that has long prevailed among Japanese art. In summary, it means that various feelings will arise when human beings find themselves in contact with the outside world. It can be either joy, sorrow, anger or fear. As the Japanese are particularly sensitive towards the temperamental nature of life and reality, they are very involved and obsessed with the beauty of sadness and brevity. Thus, together with the prevalence of "Kongji," an aesthetic concept originally from Zen Buddhism meaning "empty and silent", they have formed a unique national aesthetic in Japanese literature and art. The foundational spirit of "Kongji" is "emptiness." It has profoundly influenced traditional Japanese water and ink painting, in which colour is replaced by ink, and "fullness" is highlighted by leaving blank areas and employing simplistic brushstrokes. Nara's Wind shares some similarity with Mountains of Severe Winter (Fig. 1) painted in the 15th Century, as the artist of the latter painting also hinted the presence of wind by depicting the character's hair and clothes in a floating motion. By painting an "empty" background to match the temperamental nature suggested by the theme of "wind," and employing harmonious brushstrokes to bring out the beauty of the little girl, Nara naturally reflected the concepts of "Mono no aware" and "Kongji" in the painting, and brought out the Japanese's fine and delicate sentiments. Compared to the bold rendering of lines in Untitled (Lot 30), the lines in Wind are rendered relatively subtly: the outlines of the girl are sketched with thin and delicate lines, which ambiguously define the character's head, facial features and body. The most eye-catching part of the picture is the girl's wavy hair. Her irregularly shaped hair, which slant to one side, bring movement to the picture to neutralize the painting's still atmosphere. Thus it also strengthens the character's vitality. Here, Nara is mainly focusing on the variation and flow of the little girl's hair, presenting only its outlines, and reminding people of the renowned Red and White Plum Blossom (Fig. 2) painted by Ogata Korin, an artist of the Rinpa school between 17th and 18th century. It is a simplistic yet grand piece of work with a clean and simple composition in which an elegant stream of water emerges from between two plum trees, extending all the way down. Similar to Korin's stream of water, the little girl's hair exhibit an extraordinary beauty of abstractness and decoration created through artistic refinement; her hair are floating as if they were a stream of water flowing with the waves ; creases are made by the blowing wind. By combining the intangibility of wind and the tangibility of water in an abstract artistic sense, the depth of this piece of work extends far beyond its objective appearance.

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