Yoshitomo Nara - Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale Hong Kong Saturday, June 1, 2024 | Phillips
  • Visually striking and angelically sweet, O.T (N.G) is a quintessential archetype by the indomitable Japanese Contemporary artist, Yoshitomo Nara. A seemingly innocent child wearing red pigtails and a little blue dress is centrally positioned on the canvas, juxtaposed against a reduced and vivid tangerine background. At first glance, the figure’s reserved posture, tinted rosy cheeks and upward gaze indicate a sense of purity. However, despite its simplicity, the present work’s narrative is perhaps more sophisticated than it seems. The child’s demonic green eyes invite confrontation, prompting viewers to question the identity of the protagonist. As observed through Nara’s iconic portraits, his little girls are not portrayed without melancholy, wickedness, and mischief. These ominous young children who float in an empty atmosphere oscillate between innocent violence and violent innocence.Featured atop the little girl’s head is an organic form, which resembles a reverse lily pad with stems branching outwards. This particular motif was also featured in one of the artist’s earlier paintings, titled Chick the Ambassador. Recalling a specific species that is only found in Northern Japan, the motif not only references Nara’s upbringing but also plays an important compositional role. Depicted in reverse, the lily pad sucks onto the figure’s head, as if she is hovering in mid-air.


    Over the course of the past few decades, depictions of seemingly innocent little girls have become synonymous with Nara’s creative output. Transcending beyond aesthetic sensibilities, these signature figures are often tinged with deeper psychological meaning and have been interpreted as characters representing portraits of oneself or a reflection of Nara’s childhood experiences of rebellion and isolation. Growing up with working parents, Nara had spent most of his adolescent years alone. As a latchkey child, he was frequently left to preoccupy himself with nothing other than his imagination. Nara’s solitary childhood saw great challenges; however, it also cultivated his sharp creative awareness that nourished his later artworks.


    A rare and important aspect of O.T (N.G) is the revelatory discovery of Nara’s signature cat, depicted beneath the surface of the young girl. Examination under Ultraviolet light has revealed an imagery of a cat, which uncovers a previously unknown work by the artist. Nara’s association with cats harkens back to his earliest childhood memories, where he grew up in Aomori Prefecture. Whilst Nara was at home listening to English songs on the radio, he often drew and spent copious amounts of time with his beloved stray cat, Chako.

    “Seeing the children or animals as my other self, it signified me leaving the familiar confines of Japan and liberating myself from my surroundings.”
    Yoshitomo Nara 

    The present work photographed under Ultraviolet light revealing an image of a cat painted in reverse at the centre of the canvas

    Nara studied at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf from 1988 to 1993 and these enriching years played a pivotal role in the development of his artistic career. During his sojourn in Europe and under the tutelage of the Neo-Expressionist painter A.R. Penck, Nara sought to absorb inspiration from Western styles whilst integrating them into his own visual lexicon. With Penck’s advice, Nara pared down the simplicity of his paintings and in the early 1990s, the artist began to concentrate on the figures themselves – simultaneously simplifying and intensifying their gazes by experimenting with their slightly off-centre placement and bringing them into a bolder and fuller focus against monochromatic backgrounds. This reflects a significant change from his earlier works, whereby Nara removes patchwork scenes of mismatched motifs in favour of a bare monochromatic background, which we see in the present painting.

     “These blank backgrounds reflected the liberation from the places that I had become familiar with. These works were born not from confronting the other, but from confronting my own self.”
    Yoshitomo Nara

    Phillips is pleased to be offering O.T (N.G) this season as the work is fresh to the market and has remained in private hands since it was executed in 1993. Most notably, the painting was a gift from Nara to the family, who currently still holds it today. Recent international exhibitions have cemented Nara’s unparalleled current influence: In the past three years alone, Nara’s solo exhibitions have christened the most prestigious global institutions such as the Art Gallery of Western Australia in Perth which ended this past June, Yuz Museum in Shanghai in 2022-2023, Los Angeles County Museum of Art in 2021-2022, Dallas Contemporary in 2021, and the Kuandu Museum of Arts in Taipei in 2021. Rarely can a contemporary Japanese artist at Nara’s age match his institutional prestige. His artworks are prominently collected by the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, the British Museum, London, and the Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art, Australia, amongst others. 


    i Michael Govan, Yoshimoto Nara, Los Angeles, 2020, p 11.

    • Provenance

      Private Collection, Asia (acquired directly from the artist)
      Thence by descent to the present owner



O.T (N.G)

signed, titled and dated '"O.T (N.G)" Yoshitomo Nara [in Japanese] '93' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
42 x 52.2 cm. (16 1/2 x 20 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1993, this work will be registered in the Yoshitomo Nara Online Catalogue Raisonné.

Full Cataloguing

HK$2,500,000 - 3,500,000 

Sold for HK$3,810,000

Contact Specialist

Anastasia Salnikoff
Associate Specialist, Head of Day Sale
+852 2318 2014

Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 1 June 2024