Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Artist of the Week: Yayoi Kusama

I just finished watching the documentary Yayoi Kusama: I Love Me and there is now no doubt about it: I love her too. The film, part of a series that follows Japanese artists as they work, focuses on a year and a half in the life of the prolific female avant-garde-ist as she finishes 50 intricately detailed large scale black and white paintings at breakneck speed.

Metamorphosis, 2006

Yayoi also works in sculpture, installation, performance, and the written word, and even now in her early 80s shows no signs of slowing down. Despite having battled deep depression her whole life (she voluntarily lives in a mental hospital), she still goes to her studio to work everyday.

When watching the movie I was struck by two things that I never knew before and now deeply, deeply admire: her significant output and her confidence.

There was a great time-lapse overhead shot of the artist working her way around the canvas of one of her black and white paintings. There is no hemming and hawing over what to do, where to put this line or that dot. She just launches right in, jumping straight into the canvas with purpose. “My hands just move,” she says, “Ideas just come in my head when I’m drawing.”

Flowering New York, 2005, silkscreen on canvas, 63.83 x 51.34 in, Ed of 5

A Dream I Dreamed Yesterday, 2006, silkscreen on canvas, 63.83 x 51.34 in, Ed of 5

Hymn of Life, 2005, silkscreen on canvas, 51.34 x 63.83 in, Ed of 5

Seeing all of the paintings together in one last shot, you feel at once overwhelmed by the number of canvases—the sheer amount of lines on each one—and amazed at the infinite detail, your eyes struggling to focus on one specific element before flitting to the next. Other artists might edit down the works to show only a few of the very best canvases, but it seems as if Yayoi wants to overwhelm you with the images, have them flood over you, as the images themselves flood over her, and spill out onto the canvases, as fast as her hands can draw them.

At one point in the film she reads a poem from a magazine, and after finishing the last line she says almost with surprise “This poem is wonderful. I’ve never heard one like this.” And then you realize she’s just read one of her own as she goes on to say, “I love everything that I have done. This poem just came down to me all at once. There’s the work of a genius in everything I do.” There’s not a hint of self-satisfaction in her voice—she says things like this throughout the whole film as if they are not just her opinion, but fact.

And then the best line yet: “I haven’t seen a poem this wonderful, ever. Nobody can write a poem like this since nobody has had a life like mine.”

This line spoke to me the most. A reminder that no matter what you do, no one can make your work as well as you can. If you are ever feeling doubtful about what you do, put all of that asideyou make what you make because you are compelled to. It is coming out of you, and on one else can do what you do by virtue of the fact that no one else has experienced what you have. You put all of your knowledge into every mark that you make, and that’s what makes it unique and wonderful and interesting and unlike anything else that’s out there. Keep doing what you do, keep making what you make, because no one can do it as well as you can.

- Cathleen

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