Friday, September 16, 2011

Designer of the Month: Yoshitomo Nara

Week 2

Yoshitomo Nara was born in 1959 in Hirosaki, northern Japan, and received his BFA and MFA from the Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music.[1] In 1988, Nara moved to Germany, in search of time to develop his style and study art.[2]

Yoshitomo Nara, At Night When Building Blocks Fall, A Big Tear Drops, 1989. Watercolor on paper. H. 8 1/16 x W. 5 3/4 in. (20.5 x 14.5 cm). Aomori Museum of Art, 1881. Courtesy of the Asia Society, New York.

While Nara had a solitary childhood, his sense of isolation was even more profound in Germany, a country where he knew very little of the language, but where he learned that he could communicate through the use of very basic spoken, written and visual language.[3] This experience translated into a distinct visual style for Nara; he began to get rid of all excess background elements in his work and focus more completely on the subject, determining that “each painting needs only to speak of one thing."[4] What was left was Nara's signature style: a solitary figure or animal on a solid background, with minimal scenery, words or other props to distinguish the scene.

 Yoshitomo Nara, Pale Mountain Dog, 2000. Acrylic on canvas. H. 50 x W. 80 in. (127 x 203.2 cm). Private collection, New York. Courtesy of Marianne Boesky Gallery and the Asia Society, New York.

In 2000, Nara's time in Germany ended when he made the decision to return to Japan, where he began a leading figure of the Japanese Neo Pop movement. As Miwako Tezuka explains of this movement in her essay Music On My Mind: The Art and Phenomenon of Yoshitomo Nara:
Nara is a representative Neo Pop artist of 1990s Japan. Pop art, as it is classically defined, signifies various strategic assaults on high art, as first made by British artists such as Richard Hamilton, who integrated elements from popular culture into his art, thus prompting the birth of the term "Pop art" in the 1950s...Taking into account this culturally specific context, the major artistic trend of 1990s Japan was quite appropriately named "Neo Pop," as it was the second coming of Pop art; however, this time it came with a completely new object of interest: Japan's subculture, particularly manga and anime. Neo Pop flourished as the artists of the subculture generation who had spent their childhood years in the 1960s, such as Yoshitomo Nara (born 1959) and Takashi Murakami (born 1962), came of age and became the main players in contemporary art.[5]
 Yoshitomo Nara, The Girl with the Knife in Her Hand, 1991. Acrylic on cotton. H. 59 1/16 x W. 55 1/8 in. (150 x 140 cm). Collection of Vicki and Kent Logan, fractional and promised gift to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Courtesy of the Asia Society, New York.

The parallels between Nara's work, with its wide-eyed, cartoonish children, and the subcultures of manga and anime are undeniable, but it's more than just a need to rebel from the formal education of his youth that is a driving force in the creation of his work. As Nara often remarked, he felt that the more cerebral his approach to art became, the less true his works were to his idea of reality, and that he was most comfortable just drawing, painting and listening to music.[6] In fact, music is often cited by Nara himself as one of his most important influences, one that cannot be separated from his work as an artist.[7]

[1] Asia Society online, "The Artist," Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody's Fool, (accessed September 12, 2011).

[2] Asia Society online, "The Exhibition: Isolation," Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody's Fool, (accessed September 12, 2011).

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Miwako Tezuka, "Music On My Mind: The Art and Phenomenon of Yoshitomo Nara," in Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody's Fool, ed. Melissa Chiu and Miwako Tezuka (New York: Asia Society Museum in association with Abrams, 2010), 90-91.

[6] Ibid., 89.

[7] Ibid., 89.

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