Yoshitomo Nara (b. 1959)

Lot 22: Yoshitomo Nara B. 1959 , Northern Light acrylic on paper


October 4, 2008
Hong Kong, Hong Kong

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Description: titled, framed under glass Executed in 2000. acrylic on paper
Dimensions: measurements 150 by 160cm. alternate measurements 59 by 63in.
Literature: Yoshitomo Nara, Lullaby Supermarket, Institut für Moderne Kunst in Zusammenarbeit mit der Galerie Zink, 2002, p.177.
Provenance: Galerie, Michael Zink, Munich: bought directly from artist in 2000
Private German collection, bought from Gallery in 2001
Notes: Having emerged onto the foreground at a time when figurative painting was at a low tide in Japanese contemporary art, Yoshitomo Nara draws refreshingly simple portraits of innocent little children. It is tempting to generalize his works and at first glance, they all appear awfully similar--a light monochromatic background before which a lone figure is prominently featured. Sometimes a child, sometimes a pet, sometimes both, where the child is bestowed with feline attributes or the dog is anthropomorphized with human expressions. Always, however, the protagonist of his picture is disproportionate; its head is overwhelmingly large while the rest of the body is abbreviated. Such a rendering generates the impression of extreme "cuteness," summoning in the hardest of hearts protective as well as loving instincts. It is difficult not to regard his babyish characters with a doting affection. The reductive approach he employs in drawing and painting further imparts an innocuous air to his figures, yet beneath the veneer of childish simplicity is something else entirely. Accompanied by nothing but empty space, his children are presented in plain view and ready for scrutiny. Indeed they are very ready as some of them wield bloody knives and almost all are armed with defiant, knowing stares. As he paints fervently in his studio against a background of rock'n roll music, Yoshitomo Nara is laying down piece by piece disjointed fragments of his own childhood memories. Every new portrait is an additional clue into his very own nostalgia. His works are a visual meditation on being a child--the freedom of being innocent yet unruly, vulnerable yet fearless. Nara ventures a proposal for how one should tackle the onslaughts of a harsh contemporary world. His children, though isolated and left imprisoned within the confines of four edges, boast a self-assurance laced with a covert aggression, even. They are mischievous and unpredictable, their power lying squarely in their perceived innocence and spurious helplessness. The travelling exhibition "I DON'T MIND, IF YOU FORGET ME" that had begun at the Yokohama Museum of Art in 2001 was Yoshitomo Nara's first major solo event. His works have since trickled into the collections of contemporary art museums all over the world. Nara's distinctive compositions have translated into a recognizability that has made him a fixture in any major Japanese or international contemporary art exhibition. He is highly prolific as he works everyday, embodying the endeavour of blending art with daily life. Nara has matured into his current style very early on and considers his pieces transcendent of time and development. The organic, unfinished effect of his art, a product of technical virtuoso and calculated precision, will remain timeless and current for ages to come. "Northern Light" permits a glimpse into the cosmos of Yoshitomo Nara's imagination, where children are cast in leading roles. A child with red hair and Nara's signature upturned eyes is front and center of the picture. The words Northern light are scribbled at the bottom of the composition. Northern Light (Lot 22) is a classic specimen out of Yoshitomo Nara's well-known repertoire. Perhaps more unexpected is Be Happy IV, (Lot 23), a work starring a girl framed by three colours that together are mostly associated with Africa. There is a clear foregrounding of racial specificity in this particular piece; any ambiguity of his intention is erased by the blatant selection of an African national flag as the backdrop. The lone child figure in Yoshitomo Nara's works has become a potent icon that has spurred a new class of Japanese contemporary artists who favour the primitive and the childlike in pictorial strategy. He has injected the tradition of figurative painting back into the Japanese mainstream, contributing to the broader flourishing of artistic and aesthetic development in his native country.
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