Happy birthday Yayoi Kusama

(film still from Princess of Polka Dots, a documentary in the making, see more here)

One of my favourite artists, Japanese Yayoi Kusama, is 85 years old today, so let's have a little birthday celebration here! This great little colorful Japanese lady is still active, and as far as I can see (it took a little weird google translate from japanese), she participates in an art festival in Japan, opening on April 10th, and did a huge solo exhibition in New York last year, with series of enormous, psycedelic canvases, massive room installations, videos and whatnot. Her work is all over the world, and right here in my local modern art museum, Louisiana, there is a permanent Yayoi Kusama room installation, which is one of the most breathtakingly beautiful (and slightly vertigo-inducing) works you can see there.

(Gleaming Lights of the Souls, Louisiana, Denmark)

When you look at her work you see a sort of reckless, almost intoxicating, joyfullness, a wild and humourous love of color and of simple graphic statements (especially polka dots!), repeated and stretched to an almost impossible scale - but the story of her own life is that of a woman a little less happy go lucky than you might think. She was born in a bourgeois Japanese family, and started studying classical Japanese painting, at a very young age. She rebelled against that and her whole background, and ventured to the US in the fifties to become one of the most important avant garde artists of her generation, working not only in painting and sculpture, but as a tireless anti war activist, feminist and political performance artist. She stayed in the states for most of the sixties and seventies, and was a huge influence on many younger artists, such as Andy Warhol.

(from a 1967 performance in Woodstock)

She has had a rocky life and a vulnerable soul, and in the seventies she decided that it was best for her to let herself voluntarily commit to an institution for the mentally ill, back in her native Japan - and that is where she still lives and works today. She has her studio nearby, and comes and goes as she pleases.

Read much more here and here. And now, let's look at her fantastic art....

Some of her signature polka dot installation work - the last image is from the show in New York, 2013

Here, below, are some of her paintings in the 'infinity' style, where she expands a simple motif on and on and on, and creates these dizzying, swirling patterns. Infinity and space are important themes in her art.

The pumpkin is another theme, and she has made many of them - she explains that they are both symbolical self portraits and childhood memories. Her family were well off merchants, and in a (war)time of food shortage in most of Japan, she remembers warehouses full of local produce, such as these pumpkins, she has depicted again and again. Here is a large scale fibreglass pumpkin from the nineties, on the end of a pier in Naoshima, Japan:

The last picture is one I found long ago and I bookmarked, not even realizing it was Yayoi Kusama, but simply because it is such a lovely portrait of a serious little girl. When I clicked on the image and read more about it, I saw who it was! The photographer is unknown (as far as I have been able to find out), but she is ten years old here, the young Yayoi. Yayoi is a traditional Japanese March girls name (it is the old Japanese name for the month of March), and means 'full life'.


  1. What amazing and inspirational work and still going strong at 85!

    1. Thanks for commenting, Lexi! See more below :-)

  2. Yes, she really is a character. Hope you followed the links and read some more + saw some more of her work (it was hard to choose just a few images!). Astonishing!