Yoshitomo Nara's uniquely stylized paintings of big-eyed children have become international pop icons. The impishly unruly children epitomize the Japanese concept of kawaii or cuteness but they also function as ciphers for the liminal state of childhood. Nara has dubbed these little girls "Ramonas," in honor of the legendary band The Ramones, as he finds inspiration in the rebellious spirit and brash attitude of punk music.
In Patched Head, Nara's signature Ramona floats in an indefinite body of water against a non-descript field of sky. Her over-large cone head is covered in the titular bandages, a collage of colorful square patches arranged like an installation of monochrome paintings. At the very top of her crown are two crisscrossed bandages surrounded by a halo of stars, the shorthand comic expression for a recent wound. For Nara, the bandages signify vulnerability and resilience. They speak to the artist's two-fold conception of childhood, as both a place of innocence and insolence.
She looks to her left, her gaze extended beyond the picture plane, suggesting an unknown protagonist perhaps even her assailant. Visible from the chest up, this Ramona is seemingly armless and certainly defenseless. Still, her gaze is indignant and her jaw clenched in defiance. Patched Head is unique in Nara's oeuvre in its suggestion of a larger narrative beyond the painted image; yet, like the majority of his work, the present lot gives little clue to the narrative's scope.
The figure suspended in a pool of water is a recurring iconographic motif in Nara's oeuvre-the child in a puddle, the puppy in a teacup. This floating figure is an ironic play on one of Nara's stylistic sources: the imagery of 19th century Ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) prints originally depicted the carefree or floating world of leisure but the genre grew to encompass landscape and seascape scenes as well. Stylistically, Nara is indebted to the flat colors, clean lines, and cropped compositions of Ukiyo-e and its present-day incarnation manga (comic books). While Patched Head makes a tongue in cheek reference to Nara's stylistic inheritance, it also evidences the artist's fascination with the quiet escapism offered by water.
Deep Deep Water Puddle
where is this place
how did I come to be here
looking around the restrictive shallows
the light from the sun glitters on the water's surface
I walk slowly while submerged in the water
walking in scattered patterns like the other children
without passing one another
keeping a certain distance
expressionlessly passing by one another
there seems to have been the sound of a helicopter above my head
regardlessly I continue forward through the shallows
water clings heavily around my legs
while feeling my own existence
in the deep deep puddle
while having a dream of drowning