‘A polka dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing. Polka dots can’t stay alone; like the communicative life of people, two or three polka dots become movement. Polka dots are a way to infinity... Like human beings, a single particle among billions. I am just another dot in the world’ – Y. Kusama
Comprising an enigmatic veil of fiery red loops and swirls, Yayoi Kusama’s Accreations I of 1967 is an early example of one of the artist’s Infinity Net paintings with which she made her name. Upon a white canvas, Kusama weaves a meticulous lace-like pattern of red lines which flows over the surface of the canvas with intoxicating and hypnotic intensity. This is the result of the powerfully contemplative process that Kusama employs, her face in close proximity to the surface of the canvas – often for hours at a time – losing herself in an almost trance-like state as she renders her intricate tracery of colour. Here, pulsating waves of red pigment flow over the surface with a poetic force that beguiles the viewer with its delicate beauty.
Beginning at a single point on the canvas, the artist would begin applying her brushstrokes without any formal idea of composition, the patterns produced by her close working often only revealing themselves after she stood back from the painting. Because she worked so intently, the integrity of the individual loops would change over time as her brushes ran dry of paint, allowing the darker brushstrokes to reveal themselves through the thinner layers of red paint placed over them. This results in a surface which is rich in both visual and textural variety, and in which the artist’s technical skill and physical and mental stamina are very much on display. This unique pattern emerged from a series of hallucinations which the artist began to experience when she was a child and which have continued throughout her life. From when she was ten years old she started seeing veils before her eyes. ‘One day’, she said, ‘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, even on the window glass and posts. The room, my body, the entire universe was filled with it, my self was eliminated, and I had returned and been reduced to the infinity of eternal time and absolute space. This was not an illusion but reality’ (Y. Kusama, quoted in L. Hoptman, A. Tatehata and U. Kultermann (eds.), Yayoi Kusama, London 2000, pp. 35-36).
Born in 1929 in the Japanese city of Matsumoto, Kusama moved to the United States when she was 28 in order to further her artistic career. Painted in 1967 at the height of her career in the U.S.A., during a time when her paintings and notorious naked Happenings staged at New York landmarks made her as famous as Andy Warhol, these early Infinity Nets paintings were regarded as a beguiling combination of Eastern and Western artistic traditions. The influential critic (and later artist) Donald Judd described paintings such as Accreations I as ‘produced by the interaction of the two close, somewhat parallel, vertical panes, at points merging at the surface plan and at others diverging slightly but powerfully. The total quality suggests an analogy to a large, fragile, but vigorously carved grill or to a massive solid lace. The expression transcends the question of whether it is Oriental or American. Although it is something for both, certainly of such Americans as Rothko, Still and Newman, it is not at all a synthesis and is throughout independent’ (D. Judd, quoted in L. Zelevansky, ‘Driving Image: Yayoi Kusama in New York’, in Love Forever: Yayoi Kusama, Los Angeles 1998, p. 12).
In time, the dots became Kusama’s trademark motif and eventually left the canvas and began to cover a variety of surfaces including floors, walls, and objects. One of the most innovative artists of her generation, Kusama built a strong international presence. In addition to representing Japan in the 1993 Venice Biennale, her work has also been exhibited in numerous museums including the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Modern Art, New York, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, The National Museum of Modern Art, Toyko, Centre Pompidou, Paris, and Museo Centro de Arte, Madrid. In 2012-2013 Kusama was the subject of a landmark retrospective that was organized by Tate Modern, London, which then travelled to the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Her work was most recently celebrated in a major retrospective at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebaek, which is currently touring museums throughout Scandinavia.