Yoshitomo Nara - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction Hong Kong Tuesday, June 8, 2021 | Phillips

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  • “In a picture book you have a single image that can contain an entire narrative and I think this is a style of visual story telling that I have really learned a lot from and have been influenced by.” 
    — Yoshitomo Nara


    Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara is widely considered as among the most prolific creators of our contemporary times, having captured the attention of countless art lovers, critics, galleries, and institutions, who celebrate his globally cherished motifs that have come to be universally recognised. Executed in 2006, Shallow Puddles Part 2 is a captivating work showcasing the iconic ‘Nara girl’ submerged in a vast body of milky, pearlescent water. Situated at the centre of a three-dimensional, concave plate that blurs the boundaries between painting and sculpture, she radiates serenity and a sense of wistfulness despite her solitude, exemplified by her twinkling, all-knowing eyes that gaze off to the side and sweet half-smile that is pronounced in cherry-red.



    The present work exhibited at Tokyo, Blum & Poe, Yoshitomo Nara: Shallow Puddles, 2 October - 14 November 2015



    With selections of earlier parts of the series previously exhibited in Osaka in 2004 and Aomori in 2006, Shallow Puddles Part 2 was presented at the artist’s Shallow Puddles solo exhibition hosted at the prestigious Blum & Poe, Tokyo in 2015, a space personally selected by the artist for the debut presentation of the small series as a whole.


    Every Path Has Its Puddle 

    Puddles are a prominent motif Nara has explored consistently throughout his oeuvre, tracing back to the ripples surrounding the feet of his protagonists in Fallen Angel (1986) and Pandora’s Box (1990). One of the most prominent examples of this is his 1995 work, In the Deepest Puddle II, which is now housed in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art collection. Portraying the Nara girl depicted from her waist up, submerged into a milky white background, she looks back over her shoulder with a relatively hostile expression that Midori Matsui suggests ‘gazes back at this world from another world behind it’i.

    Yoshitomo Nara, In the Deepest Puddle II, 1995
    Collection of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art



    This archetypal work, In the Deepest Puddle II, was presented at Nara’s 1995 show at SCAI The Bathhouse in Tokyo of the same name - an exhibition that marked the beginning of wider recognition for the artist outside of Japan, which would soon propel to global acclaim. The included paintings featured the image of a child with a large head and piercing eyes, presented in various situations of solitude. Simultaneously psychologically complex and atmospherically magical, the exhibition showcased the fruits of Nara’s artistic apprenticeship at the Staatliche Kunstakademie in Dusseldorf, where he had trained under the tutelage of A.R. Penck between 1888 and 1993. It was here that Nara’s signature style came into its full effect, as he transitioned away from the thick black outlines and rough-hewn, vibrant backgrounds that had characterised his early works executed in Japan, and toward a softer, more delicate colour palette rendered with a refined touch that emboldened the personalities of the characters he was portraying. 



    Claude Monet, Water Lilies, 1905
    Collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston



    Executed in 2006, Shallow Puddles Part 2 continues the artist’s trademark motif of painting portraits of young girls with oversized heads, however her isolation within the composition, devoid of details such as fangs or knives, marks a departure from his earlier work and displays what has critically been recognised as a growing maturity. At the same time, the rippling water in Shallow Puddles Part 2 is more delicately composed with subtle changes in colour, in a style reminiscent of Claude Monet’s Water Lilies that signifies the subject’s content stillness, strongly contrasting the wading movement captured in In the Deepest Puddle II. Crucially, the subject of the present work’s depiction in the midst of a plate that looms off the wall also emphasises Nara's distance from the concepts of the Superflat espoused by fellow Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, while also adding a tactile, sensory quality to this imposing image.



    A Unique Blend of Painting and Sculpture 

    Nara began to produce his fibre-reinforced plastic tondo works after returning to Japan and moving to his studio in the idyllic Nasushiobara, Tochigi Prefecture, where he now lives and works. Deriving from the Italian rotondo, or ‘round’, the Renaissance term ‘tondo’ refers to a circular work of art that historically allowed painters to emphasise the centre of an image by containing a scene within a frame, thereby separating it from its environment. Nara subverts the traditional characteristics of tondo compositions in the present work, as his spherical structure contains a vast, ambiguous space that appears as if it could almost extend beyond the edges and into the room as the girl’s world blends into ours, or ours into hers.


    Raphael Sanzio, The Alba Madonna, circa 1510
    Collection of Andrew W. Mellon, National Gallery of Art, Washington



    In these pieces of Nara’s, backgrounds which were previously rendered as limitless voids have been extended to a new format that suggests an illusionistic three-dimensional space within which his characters can dwell. And although the heroine of Shallow Puddles Part 2 possesses the same chickpea forehead that has become iconic of Nara, marking a clear link to the Nara girls that came before her, her proportions are notably less warped as she takes on a more humanised form. 

    At the same time, in the present work we also see that Nara’s palette has expanded to a more distinctive treatment of colours that is strikingly harmonised. Indeed, in acknowledging the artist’s meticulous process when examining Shallow Puddles Part 2 from up close, minty green, cotton-candy pink and jewelled cerise details emerge, composed of small brushstrokes that add subtle texture and a sense of luminous light. This is most powerful in the child’s glimmering eyes, which turn into microcosms of themselves as they glisten with a constellation of tonally rich dots that recall the image of a shimmering constellation of stars.



    Detail of the present work



    The three-dimensionality of the circular work causes the viewer’s gaze to firstly focus on the subject’s head which is situated at the centre of the concave structure. Submerged in what appears to be a milky, hot, onsen bath, the girl does not meet our stare. Instead, she looks to the side with her wide, twinkling eyes and small smile. With the water up to her chin, it appears as if she could sink below at any given moment. A curious juxtaposition thus arises between the shallowness of the plate, which too, resembles a puddle, and the deep body of water it seemingly contains. 



    Lot 17 – Yoshitomo Nara – Missing in Action
    Estimate on Request


    Marking a distinct contrast to the glaring rendition of Nara’s iconic girl who—as exemplified in Lot 17 – Yoshitomo Nara, Missing in Action—is often portrayed with an aggravated look in her eye that leaves us to wonder what we could have done wrong, here, Nara’s character feels much more at peace, despite the fact that she is more physically entrapped within Nara’s suspended, physical world. Created six years later, the expression of his girl seems to have also matured in comparison, as whilst her bright eyes remain vacant, they are at the same time all-knowing. Appearing at odds with her implied age with a detached awareness of her surrounding’s unreasonable reality, this allows Nara to invite his viewers to project themselves into the image, to recall the intensity of the feelings of childhood and the naïve hope for the grown-up world. 

    In his afterword to his 1997 book In the Deepest Puddle, Nara provides his reader with a sense of what the important puddle motif means to him, as he explains: 


    “It began with a small puggle in my heart where rain was falling incessantly. I swam in this small world like a tadpole. As rain kept falling, the puddle became larger, eventually joining the neighbouring puddle. The puddles formed stronger connections, and there were times when I could not keep pace with their growth, but it made me happy nevertheless.” 
    — Yoshitomo Nara


    Although in this ‘world of his own’, Nara can ‘fly freely on the wings of his imagination’ii, it is an isolated place both he and his protagonist find themselves within. But, as the rain continues to fall, this lonely world for one makes a connection with another, and so, whilst the child in Shallow Puddles Part 2 is submerged within her solitary pool of shallow water - we feel a sense of powerful hope for the vast world of Nara’s boundless creativity that extends beyond her dome’s perimeter. 



    Collector’s Digest

    Testament to the universal appeal of Nara’s oeuvre, works by the artist are now housed in over sixty public collections worldwide. Notably, this includes the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art; Aomori Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles; Museum of Modern Art, New York; Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo; National Museum of Art, Osaka; National Museum of Art, Tokyo; 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa; and Yokohama Museum of Art.

    Nara is currently the subject of an international retrospective that began at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (1 April – 5 July 2021) and will travel to Shanghai’s Yuz Museum, Museo Guggenheim Bilbao and the Kunsthal Rotterdam. He is also currently being honoured with a well-received solo exhibition in Taiwan at the Kuandu Museum of Arts (12 March – 20 June 2021) and a monumental museum show at the Dallas Contemporary, Texas (20 March 2021 – 22 August 2021). 


    i Midori Matsui, ‘Twilight Parallel World: The world of Yoshitomo Nara’s Paintings’, Yoshitomo Nara: In the Deepest Puddle, Tokyo, 1997, n.p.
    ii Shigemi Takahashi, ‘Shallow Puddles 2004’, in Yoshitomo Nara: Shallow Puddles, exh. cat., Blum & Poe, Tokyo, 2015, p.13


    • Provenance

      Blum & Poe, Los Angeles
      Acquired from the above by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Tokyo, Blum & Poe, Yoshitomo Nara: Shallow Puddles, 2 October - 14 November 2015, pp. 21, 40, 55 (illustrated, titled as Shallow Puddles)

    • Literature

      Noriko Miyamura and Shinko Suzuki, eds., Yoshitomo Nara: The Complete Works Volume 1: Paintings, Sculptures, Editions, Photographs 1984-2010, Tokyo, 2011, no. P-2006-028, p. 207 (illustrated)

Property of an Important Private Collector


Shallow Puddles Part 2

acrylic on cotton mounted on FRP
95 x 95 x 15 cm. (37 3/8 x 37 3/8 x 5 7/8 in.)
Executed in 2006.

Full Cataloguing

HK$4,800,000 - 6,500,000 

Sold for HK$9,325,000

Contact Specialist

Charlotte Raybaud
Head of Evening Sale, 20th Century & Contemporary Art

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale in Association with Poly Auction

Hong Kong Auction 8 June 2021