This lot has been selected by Los Angeles County Museum of Art for its exhibition planned to be held tentatively from April 2020 to August 2020; by YUZ Museum for its exhibition planned to be held tentatively from September 2020 to January 2021; by Guggenheim (Bilbao, Spain) and Kunsthal (Rotterdam, Netherlands) for their exhibitions planned to be held tentatively from January 2021 to September 2021. Therefore, the buyer of this lot shall agree to exhibit this lot in the above institutions for the duration of the above exhibitions. For more details, please contact the department (email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
“Rather than merely offering the work for the viewers to see face-on, I want to trigger their imaginations. This way, each individual can see my work with his or her own unique, imaginative mind…Maybe an exhibition is not where I present my achievement but an experimental place where visitors find an opportunity to see themselves reflected as though my work were a mirror or a window”. — Yoshitomo Nara
“I was not deliberately painting any particular girl. Through painting representational features such as eyes, noses, and mouths, I wanted to express something deeper. This deeper thing cannot be described with language. Yet, people will understand.” - Yoshitomo Nara
Yoshitomo Nara’s seminal Can’t Wait ‘til the Night Comes offers a monumental vision of an artist at the veritable apogee of his mature artistic output. Painstakingly rendered, the present work is among the most technically complex and emotionally nuanced of the renowned artist’s career. To this end, Can’t Wait ‘til the Night Comes is specifically requested by the artist himself to be a highlight in his upcoming survey exhibition that will debut at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and will travel to the YUZ Museum in Shanghai, Guggenheim Bilbao and the Kunsthall Rotterdam.
In order to understand the origin of the present work, it is important to understand the origin of the artist himself. Born in Hirosaki, Japan, a town that is characterized by long, snowy winters, a young Nara spent much of his time indoors as the latchkey child to working class parents. Left therefore, to the resources of an active yet introspective young imagination, it is of no coincidence that Nara’s heroic characters champion independence, defiance, mischief, alluding to the complex emotional state of his own childhood. Presently, the adult Nara surrounds himself with a select few, only accessed by an intimate circle within his inner personal sanctum. Known to paint late into the evening thusly rising only well into the mature hours of the day, Nara himself is a brazen and direct parallel to the vampire protagonist of the present painting, a mythical yet fearsome figure that is characterized by a lethal yet lonesome nocturnal existence. Perhaps Nara, as an aesthetic vampire, is in excited anticipation of the solitary night hours for his painterly mischief to create Can’t Wait ‘til the Night Comes. The deliberately reductive and modernist pictorial at once celebrates the flatness of paint and enables the viewer to revel in the sumptuous colors and confrontational subject matter. There are no other distractions, an experience transported directly from the seclusion of the artist’s studio.
Nara has continually employed impish figures not only as subjects, but also as stand-ins for emotional states and reactions. Can’t Wait ‘til the Night Comes is therefore born from his own nostalgic views on childhood, and yet, Nara’s characters reflect a transposition of these values onto today’s world. Deceptively innocent on the exterior, upon close inspection, the figure exhibits one small, pointed tooth that draws the eye and acts as the conceit and hostility. This surprising detail cuts through any complacency or heart-warming acceptance and makes the viewer look for more. Infamously introspective and inwardly scrutinizing, Can’t Wait ‘til the Night Comes, Nara transforms into a painterly extrovert, exuding the stylistic and coloristic virtuoso of an artist operating at the very height of his creative faculties.
Turning inward, for a painter’s painter such as Yoshitomo Nara, he is an artist who respectfully revels in the medium of his creations. Therefore, it is understandable that the subject of self-portraiture, which is utmost importance within the art historical canon, would be of considerable interest. Nara does not concern himself with likeness or exactitude in representation, but as evidenced in the present work, the protagonist is irrefutably an abstracted self-portrait of its creator. The innuendo and emotional relativity of the artist to subject and thusly from the subject to viewer, is of the artist’s greatest achievements. Startling in its subtle but profoundly nuanced chromatic distinctions, this painting is a masterwork of deliberate artistic self-interrogation. In employing the image of the youthful spiritual doppelganger, Nara brilliantly escapes the limitations of self-portraiture and pushes into the holistic realm of self-awareness. Unlike predecessors such as Picasso and Bacon, whose tremendous fetes of self-portraiture directly conveyed the artists ego in their painterly exploits, Nara subtlety revels much more in Lucien Freud’s approach to self-portraiture. When approached on the subject matter of whether Freud believed that he was a good model for his own profoundly psychological self-portraits, Freud famously replied, “No, I don’t accept the information that I get when I look at myself, that’s where the trouble starts”. This notion of “trouble” is precisely the origin of extraordinary authenticity that lends to the universal appeal of Nara own visual self-investigations as they become self-portraits of the very beholder. As Nara himself has noted, “Rather than merely offering the work for viewers to see face on, I want to trigger their imaginations…this way, each individual can see my work with his own unique, imaginative mind.” (Y. Nara in conversation with M. Chiu, “A Conversation with The Artist,” M. Chiu et.al. (eds.), Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool, p. 179.)
The physical stages of Can’t Wait ‘til the Night Comes are methodical and deliberate. Worked on over an extended period of time, Nara builds up the paint layers in distinct stages that recalls the various emotional stages of painting famously documented in the iconic 1970’s paintings by Willem de Kooning. Nara, however, substitutes overt emotion with philosophical maturity. The respect for the discipline of painting transcends mere wit and play into existential contemplation and reflection. Although the end result of the picture represents a culmination of the artist’s conceptual enquiry: namely, the way in which his art is authored and received. Far more complex that his earlier oeuvre, Nara’s thoughtful brush celebrates the history of painting and while monumental in scale, still astonishingly generate a sense of child-like intimacy. Mark Rothko famously stated that his paintings should be viewed from a distance of 18 inches, and similarly, Can’t Wait till the Night Comes is intended to encapsulate all that we perceive, to create a sense of intimacy through its impressive scale, and until we turn and look in the mirror, distancing ourselves from the painting but simultaneously inserting ourselves into the artwork, that is precisely their effect. Either way, we too are implicated in the devious smirk of the protagonist, the artist, Nara.
Over six feet high, the monumental scale of Can’t Wait till the Night Comes is at odds with Nara’s intimate attention to his androgynously malefic subject. Taking nearly a year to realize, the neutral cream background is impossibly born from layers of chromatic underpainting. Depicting a bust-length portrait of a smirking youth, the painting is rendered in the utmost mature iteration of the artist’s signature style. Possessing a decided menacing air, the severe point where the fringe of bangs converge, mimics the severity of the protruding fang. And yet, the most poignant feature of the figure is her confrontational and beckoning stare. Prismatic eyes glisten with the artist’s concern for the psychological state of the subject, and simultaneously reflects the artist’s own psyche at the witching yet artistically fecund hours of the evening, much as the similarly introspectively cerebral Van Gogh cast his nocturnal gaze on the shimmering luminescence conveyed in Starry Night over the Rhone (1888).
Nara’s paintings are often noted for their stillness, as he purposefully constructs them with an eye for flat colours and compositions equally reminiscent of animation stills and art historical portraiture. Michael Darling, the James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, notes that this tranquillity in works like Can’t Wait ‘til the Night Comes has an ability to “intimate the ultimate dissociation from the world: death.” Darling presses on, “Thankfully, the artist lets us have it both ways, neither dragging viewers down with melodramatic doom and gloom, nor presenting 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, Issue 37, November-December 1997, n.p.). By instilling both peace and foreboding in his canvases, Nara is able to catch the viewer unaware.