"The layers of dry white paint, which result from a single touch of the brush repeated tirelessly over time, lend specifically to the infinity of space" (Y. Kusama, quote in Yayoi Kusama, exh. cat., Tate Modern, London, 2012, p. 179).
Spreading in an endless and accumulative repetition across the surface of the canvas, Infinity Nets is an important example from a body of work that has both obsessed and liberated Yayoi Kusama since the mid 1950s. She has described her long engagement with pattern and form as a method of self-eradication, dissolving the ego of the artist into cool and impersonal layers of paint. But with its vertiginous intensity, and meticulous detail Infinity Nets has paradoxically come to define Kusama's artistic persona.
The artist traces the origin of the series to a specific bout of hallucinations she experienced as a ten year old chid: "One day looking at a red flower-patterned table cloth on the table, I turned my eyes to the ceiling and saw the same red flower pattern everywhere... my self was eliminated, and I had returned and been reduced to the infinity of eternal time" (Kusama quoted in L. Huton, Kusama, London 2000, p. 35).
In Kusama's own construction of her artistic mythology, mental illness is central to every aspect of her oeuvre, from the primal, organic imagery to her relentless and prolific working process. Although regarded as "self-therapy" - and driven by an inner necessity - the series is nonetheless conceptualised as a curative device for everyone. "I think," Kusama explains, "[the Infinity Nets] may also serve to relieve the illness of others" (ibid, p. 20). Or, in other words, might function as an aesthetic remedy for the ineluctable stresses of everyday life.
Doubtlessly the product of an obsessive spirit, Infinity Nets should not, however, simply be seen as an exercise in psychopathology. For Kusama, illness is a generative force. The symptoms of her disease may provide the source of her imagery, but it is not the subject of her work.
Recent scholarship on the artist has connected her with various canonical art movements of the 1960s: Minimalism, Pop and Abstract Expressionism. Even more importantly perhaps, she has come to be regarded as the progenitor for feminist and issue-based art. Her work can be related to all these contradictory discourses, but still retains a fierce and aberrant independence. Her ongoing resistance to assimilation is perhaps the engine of her art producing activities. The great appeal of her work is that it appears, because of an overwhelming effort of will, as defiantly itself and impervious to fashion as the artist intended.
Yayoi Kusama, The Gleaming Light of the Souls from the Liverpool Biennial, 2008.
Photo by Jim Dyson/Getty Images
Artwork: Yayoi Kusama, 2013