Yayoi Kusama posing in front of an Infinity Net painting with the Manhattan skyline in the background, c. 1961. Artwork © 2016 Yayoi Kusama
Kusama’s net motif emerged in the 1960's and has been established as her most celebrated series. Kusama relocated to New York from Japan in the 1950's and witnessed the emergence of Pop and Minimalism. For Kusama, Japan represented an oppressive force, "the land, the shackles, the conventions, the prejudice," she explains, "for art like mine—art that does battle at the boundary between life and death, questioning what we are and what it means to live and die—this country was too small, too servile, too feudalistic, and too scornful of women. My art needed a more unlimited freedom, and a wider world." (Yayoi Kusama in Mignon Nixon, "Infinity Politics," Yayoi Kusama, Tate Modern, London, 2012, p. 177)
Kusama’s net paintings prove that New York provided her with the artistic freedom she so desperately sought. The finely formed nets stretch across the surface of her paintings, their vastness takes a turn towards the natural, visually referencing the cosmos, cells or atoms. Her organic shapes emerge as floating membranes, sitting delicately upon the surface of the canvas.
Yayoi Kusama INFINITY-NETS (QRTWE), 2007
Yayoi Kusama’s INFINITY-NETS (QRTWE) from 2007 stands as a stunning example of her most iconic series. Rendered in white and light blue, the twisting pattern of her brushstroke envelopes the entire canvas; biomorphic shapes come in and out of focus creating an optically absorbing composition.
The large format of INFINITY-NETS (QRTWE) fully envelops the viewer. Lost in a trance like state, the nets present the viewer with a contemplative visual void upon which to meditate. Inspired by her own hallucinatory visions, Kusama explains "My nets grew beyond myself and beyond the canvases I was covering with them…..They began to cover the walls, the ceiling, and finally the whole universe. I was always standing at the center of the obsession, over the passionate accretion and repetition inside of me." (Yayoi Kusama in Udo Kultermann, Yayoi Kusama, New York 2000, p. 103)
Kusama’s net paintings prove that New York provided her with the artistic freedom she so desperately sought.
Detail of INFINITY-NETS (QRTWE)
The creation of the nets is a long and laborious process, hour after hour Kusama loses herself within her practice. Pulsating, the nets fan out in a methodical, yet compulsory manner. INFINITY-NETS (QRTWE) presents two competing obsessions, the comforting confinement of repetition and reckless indulgence of losing control.
As Kusama explains, "My room, my body, the entire universe was filled with [patterns]…… myself was eliminated, and I had returned and been reduced to the infnity of eternal time and the absolute of space. This was not an illusion but reality." (Yayoi Kusama in Udo Kultermann, Yayoi Kusama, New York, 2000, p. 36)