The Eccentric, Off-Kilter Universe of Artist Yayoi Kusama

The Eccentric, Off-Kilter Universe of Artist Yayoi Kusama

Yusuke Miyazaki

Through her avant-garde vision, Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama invites you into her kaleidoscopic world.

Polka dots and mirrored designs have become synonymous with artist Yayoi Kusama. Over the past seven decades, the 93-year-old’s oeuvre transcends Surrealism, Pop art, Eccentric Abstraction, Minimalism, the Zero and Nul movements. Guided by her avant-garde vision, her work offers snapshots of boundless space and fantastical paintings of loops and dots.

In January, Kusama’s transformative world takes over French luxury fashion house Louis Vuitton for a third collaboration. Every piece is a rendition of the artist’s revered installations with cascading motifs and the notion of infinity projected through hand-painted dots and exotic flowers. Emblazoned on the Capucines, Dauphine, and iconic trunks, her signature brush-stroked dots prove to be timeless.

Black and silver leather handbags are embedded with silver orbs known as Kusama’s metal dots (derived from her 1966 exhibition, Narcissus Garden). In the latest collaboration, the artist’s psychedelic flowers unfurl across the Taurillon Monogram Bum Bag, Sac Plat, Keepall, as well as ready-to-wear pieces.

A Visionary

Born in 1929 in Nagano, Japan, she began painting at 10 years old. During this time, she experienced visual and aural hallucinations that were harrowing, yet intensified her proclivity for art. After leaving the Kyoto City Specialist School of Arts, Kusama traveled to New York in 1957 and rose to prominence with her celebrated “Infinity Net” paintings.

In the 1960s, her large-scale monochromatic paintings, drawings, film, and sculpture achieved immense critical respect. By integrating interactive elements like mirrors, electric lights, sound, and kinetics, Kusama created endless planes and optical illusions that capitalized on her singular personal aesthetic. An avant-garde notable in the New York cultural scene, she would exhibit alongside the likes of Donald Judd and Andy Warhol.

A reflection of the times during that era, Kusama’s performance art known as “Happenings” embraced radical antiwar ideology. In the streets of New York, the series of happenings composed of nude participants decorated with vibrant polka dots. In 1973, the influential artist returned to Japan where she currently resides.

Fields Of Dots

For her “Infinity Net” works, intricate lattices were plastered on top canvas, translating negative space into delicate polka dots. This obsessive method became signature for the Japanese artist, where serial repetition merged with an allover painting technique. Thousands of tiny brush strokes continued in an all-encompassing manner, reaching the edges of the canvas as if they carried on into infinity.

Another of Kusama’s key motifs throughout her work is the pumpkin form. A mainstay of her childhood and heritage, the kabocha squash made its way from the fields that surrounded her home in Japan to a place in her iconography. To Kusama, these pumpkins were her interpretation of self-portraiture.

Far-reaching, expansive, and immersive, her art was a form of catharsis for the visionary. To this day, the acclaimed artist continues to navigate her own obsessive-compulsive disorder, sexuality, individualism, and perception. Her instinctual approach to art makes her a pioneer in a variety of art styles.

Art and Fashion Collide

Recently, the prolific artist’s career spans paintings, performances, room-size installations, large-scale public works, literary works, poetry, film, design, and even fashion. With color, geometry, and escapism, her artworks encompass both an infinitesimal and an immeasurable galaxy.

Using fashion as a tool to bring her visual identity to life, Kusama collaborated with French fashion house Louis Vuitton in 2012. A celebration of color, the collection comprised a yellow drop-waisted dress with a frill skirt, cropped pants, streamlined trench coats, and a surrealist spin on Kusama’s playful aesthetic.

In 2006, Louis Vuitton’s then-creative director Marc Jacobs met the artist at her studio and was enthralled by her “endless energy” and her distinct “world that never ends.” The collection has been worn by a slew of A-list celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Dianna Agron, and Pixie Geldof.

Earlier this year, Nicholas Ghesquière commemorated Yayoi Kusama and Louis Vuitton collaboration’s 10-year-anniversary with a line of leather bags during Louis Vuitton’s Cruise 2023 show. Titled “Infinity Dots,” Louis Vuitton’s emblems and monogram canvas were blended with Kusama’s hypnotic motifs. Grayscale and colorful polka dots enveloped the collection from the label’s signature trunks to a myriad of soft Monogram canvas bag icons.

Expanding the legendary initial exchange, the worlds of Louis Vuitton and Yayoi Kusama intersect again in a sublime collection that is expected to drop on January 6, 2023 and will be available in Louis Vuitton stores starting March 31, 2023.

Below, Kusama’s iconic dots are rendered in a myriad of accessories from the French fashion house.

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