Friday, September 23, 2011

Designer of the Month: Yoshitomo Nara

Week 3

Yoshitomo Nara, Happy Hour Shonen Knife, 1992-2000. Colored pencil and pencil on paper, 4 3/4 x 4 3/4" (12.1 x 12.1 cm). Fractional and promised gift of David Teiger in honor of Agnes Gund. © 2011 Yoshitomo Nara. Courtesy of The Museum of Modern Art, New York (411.2002.11).

Far more than anything else, Yoshitomo Nara has credited music as having the most influence over his artwork, particularly the less mainstream, more punk rock groups that he began listening to in the mid-to-late 1970s.[1] As evidenced by the frequent appearance of song lyrics in his works and their titles, Nara was enthralled by the anti-establishment spirit of punk and New Wave, identifying with its emotional intensity.[2] As Miwako Tezuka explains:
The physical and temporal immediacy that Nara found in the execution of drawing made it well suited for the spontaneous expression of raw emotion. It is this nature of live engagement in Nara's work that directly aligns him with musicians, whose trade allows them a physical relationship with their medium, sound...Nara created his very first album art in 1990 for The Birdy Num Nums, active in the German New Wave music scene of the early 1990s. During the mid-1990s he gained increasing exposure within the art scene, with gallery exhibitions in Germany and in Japan, while his music mania became known to some Japanese punk bands, such as Shonen Knife and The Star Club, who then commissioned him to create their album covers.[3]
Through his love of music, Nara was able to connect and appeal to wide audience from not only the art world, where he was gaining recognition, but the music world as well.

Yoshitomo Nara, Untitled (1, 2, 3, 4 Man), 2008. Colored pencil on envelope. H. 14 1/2 x W. 9 in. (36.8 x 22.9 cm). Gervais Pappendick Collection, Boston. Courtesy of the Asia Society, New York.
In addition to drawing inspiration from and using music as a means of connection, the music references in Nara's work also provide an additional context for the viewer. Music is a medium that's universally relateable, with these references deliberately encouraging viewers to recall their own memories of certain songs and bands.[4] Nara has expressed the hope that if the viewer is unfamiliar with the band, that they may thus develop an interest in them, while people who are more familiar with the music may find their perspectives widening.[5] As the exhibition Nobody's Fool elaborates:
In more recent years, a clearly noticeable change has taken place in Nara’s work. His children appear more contemplative, and carefully layered background color adds to the solemn atmosphere. Such a stylistic change not only is due to new life experiences, but as the artist himself explains, also parallels a shift in his preferred music. After his journey through the rebellion of rock and punk, Nara is turning again to American folk and soul music for inspiration.[6]

[1] 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), 93.

[2] Ibid., 93.

[3] Ibid., 93-94.

[4] Asia Society online, "The Exhibition: Music," Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody's Fool, (accessed September 22, 2011).

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

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