Lot 178: YOSHITOMO NARA
Asian Contemporary Art (Evening Sale)
May 24, 2008
Hong Kong, Hong Kong
(Born in 1959)
acrylic on cotton canvas
120 x 110 cm. (47 1/4 x 43 1/4 in.)
Painted in 1995
The artwork of Yoshimoto Nara precedes the artist's own name; they are easily recognizable icons that both the young and old generations are fond of and relate to. The emergence of his artwork, whether in the context of popular culture or high art, has given all viewers common grounding to associate with his paintings, sketches and sculptures. While a great number of his admirers are of the younger generations who perhaps draw an immediate connection to the anguished moments depicted in the paintings, curators and critics alike are equally drawn to the complex, ambiguously titled and technical characteristics of his works. Yr. Children (lot 178) is an example of his affable and compassionate images, one that is evocative of many of our childhood years.
Young and vulnerable, Yoshimoto Nara was often left to entertain himself as a young child, playing games and using his imagination to pass time. The result of this solitary existence was a deep sense of loneliness, one which does not stem from the literal sense of being alone but from a lacking impression of group identity. In many encountered pieces of Nara, the figure sits or stands alone, a testament to the idea that we often have a very personal experience that deeply effects our consciousness despite being surrounded by large group of people. Drawing manifestations of his childhood, Nara returns to the initial experience in any situation and reminisces over the emotions and thoughts it provoked. These expressions are often transformed into slogans accompanying his paintings and through the inadvertent wide circulation and acceptance of his works, have forged with modern Japanese popular culture. The overall flatness of the paint and blockish colours of Nara's creations further lends itself as a vastly replicated image for t-shirts, mugs, alarm clocks and chotskys for the pleasure and entertainment of the general public. So great is the influence of Nara's works that his figures have become a common consumer item. Capturing the spirit of childhood, the kitsch slogans alongside Nara's images are sentimental to all who have survived childhood and adolescence. As viewers we simultaneously admire the aesthetic qualities of his work and are prompted to reflect upon how his concise expressions and images tightly embrace our personal sentiments, even how deeply engrained our childhood events and memories fail to escape or recede in adulthood. The featured depicted prepubescent child is a deliberately preferred theme and is not a preliminary stage to depicting adults in all their sophistication and wisdom.
From time to time I am like a child From time to time I really am a child From time to time I am like an adult However [I] cannot truly become an adult -Yoshimoto Nara
In Yr. Children, we find a small boy partly submerged in a shallow pool and engaged in a school swimming class despite his singular representation. While the fronts of such distinctive orange caps are commonly embroidered with the child's name in primary schools across Japan, we find here that this is not the case. The child is nameless; he could be any one of us in the past, embarrassed and fearful of Physical Education classes. As the child stares above, his blushed cheeks gently fall to flank his tightly pursed lips; in spite of the mortification his eyes communicate, we cannot resist but stare adoringly at his oversized head. Even any anger presented by the child is helplessly humourous and cute, likely adding further frustration to the temperamental child. Children upon seeing this painting can identify either to the teardrop that gently lingers to the figure's eye or to the aggravated expression they have ever so recently experienced. Similarly, an adult who is a veteran of this rite of passage can laugh at the once worrisome lesson or perhaps empathize with the figure in the painting. Every viewer stands in front of this painting and takes away a different thought, influenced and tied to his or her own experience thus making the artist's work one that surpasses generations and social strata's.
Nara's works though provocative and psychologically complex is not one that is too strongly influenced by abstract high art and alternatively reflective of an inner realism. Following the example of Italian Renaissance artist Giotto who renounced lush, stylized characteristics that preoccupied the viewer from understanding the intrinsic significance of a holy scene, Nara barters ornamentation for substance. The pragmatic source of true life -as Giotto did- for artistic inspiration is inadvertently portrayed in the rough and unpolished surface quality of Nara's painting. Orange paint strays from the cap and onto the forehead and backdrop. The paint of the boy and his cap is so thinly applied that patches of canvas are exposed. However the creamy, custard like yellow background is also slightly acidic in colour, reminiscent of Nara's slightly troubled and bitter youth. The water is not rendered with any immense technical talent but is rather infantile and unpolished. Ironically the visual effect achieved by the sprawling white is a deliberate artistic choice as the lack of adherence to formal artistic techniques summons parallels to children's pictures, an association to which Nara aspires and enjoys.
However much founded on his personal experiences as a lonesome child, the dark stirring experiences fail to wholly present themselves and are instead replaced with a diluted more blithe story. It is upon this prompting tale that viewers whether old or young are able to draw personal connections with Nara's works. Audiences are able to unreservedly associate with the manifested experiences of Nara, a professional artist of the masses. Despite Nara's formal painting training in Japan, an extended education in Koln, Germany and a ceaselessly impressive list of monumental institutions and venues which held his exhibitions and lectures, Nara's undemanding compositions are humble and approachable. His works have often been featured at exhibitions alongside other contemporary Japanese artists; however he truly is representative of contemporary Japan in its entirety. Nara's ability to appeal to the masses, his embrace of common scenarios and the easily recognizable iconic figures of children is powerfully indicative of Nara's prowess as an artist who genuinely articulates to both genders, young or old.
Deep Deep Water Puddle
where is this place
how did I come to be here
looking around the restrictive shallows
the light from the sun glitters on the water's surface
I walk slowly while submerged in the water
walking in scattered patterns like the other children
without passing one another
keeping a certain distance
expressionlessly passing by one another
there seems to have been the sound of a helicopter above my head
regardlessly I continue forward through the shallows
water clings heavily around my legs
while feeling my own existence
in the deep deep puddle
while having a dream of drowning
Nagoya, Japan, Hakutosha, Hothouse Fresh, 20 Januray - 24 February, 1996.
Ibaraki Prefecture Museum of Modern Art, The Family Scene in Japanese Modern Art, 16 September - 5 November, 2006.
Kadokawa Shoten Publishing Co., Ltd., In the Deepest Puddle, Tokyo, Japan, 2006, not paginated. (illustrated)