Yoshitomo Nara - Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale Hong Kong Saturday, June 1, 2024 | Phillips
  • “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


    Painted in 1995—a pivotal year in Yoshitomo Nara’s career as he joined the prestigious Blum & Poe gallery’s roster of artists; was the subject of a breakthrough solo show at SCAI The Bathhouse in Tokyo which propelled him to international prominence; and had his first book published of his paintings—No Reason Why is an exquisite painting that combines a number of the Japanese artist’s most iconic motifs. The first of a small series of only 5 works created in 1995 that feature text within a comic book style speech bubble, with this particular iteration spelling out in bold, red letters, ‘NO REASON WHY’, this is the only painting of the group to feature Nara’s iconic large-headed girl with her most desirable traits.


    Sharing the same sweeping fringe, chickpea-shaped head and narrowed, jellybean eyes as in his top 2 works at auction, the little girl in No Reason Why purses her lips into a rounded red pout. As if we, the viewers, have questioned a mischievous child on her actions, she avoids our gaze as she offers her inconclusive response. Atop her head grows a small, sprouting plant, which perhaps can be viewed as a metaphor for this Nara girl’s own growth, as she transgresses away from infant naivety and becomes not just more independent, but more defiant too.


    "Nara’s roly-poly children balance on the razor’s edge: they are cute embodiments of infantilism in their chubby-cheeked plumpness […] but at the same time true individuals who will not be defeated, quiet carriers of hope."
    — Stephan Trescher


    The minimalist structure of the painting owes greatly to the training Nara received during his advanced degree under German painter A.R. Penck at the prestigious Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, from where he graduated three years prior to the present work’s execution. It was during these transformative years that Nara softened his palette to pastel hues and began to omit any signifiers of setting from his compositions. In No Reason Why, the background is a pearlescent void that extends to the canvas perimeters with infinite depth, bringing the protagonist into fuller focus through the employment of a simplistic pictorial framework that nods to traditional Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock prints. Despite the background being, at first glance, a wash of cream-tones, it is actually formed of innumerable layers that Nara carefully builds up one by one. Hints of pinks and purples become more prominent upon a closer inspection, teasing the eye through nuances of texture in a technique reminiscent of the acclaimed painter Peter Doig (b. 1959), who later became an influential tutor at the Kunstakademie Dusseldorf.



    Peter Doig, Ski Jacket, 1994
    Collection of Tate Britain, London
    © 2024 Peter Doig/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


    Though ambiguous, it is plausible that the ruby-red phrase was inspired by Nara’s passion for music, as song titles and lyrics often feed their way into his work. At the age of eight, during his upbringing in post-world war II Hirosaki, Nara built himself a radio and would tune into the radio station of a nearby US Air Force base in Misawa, where he listened to music genres that ranged from the flower-child bliss of the mid-60s, to the rock n’ roll attitude of 70s punk. He began collecting albums at a young age, purchasing foreign import records and splitting the cost with his friends. With music always playing in his mind and in his studio, one cannot dismiss the influence this passion has on his work, as the references in his paintings intertwine the artist’s memories with what he had blasting on shuffle at the time. The title of the present work perhaps alludes to the 1991 song, No Reason Why, by Punk band Pennywise (click to listen on Spotify):


    “I look at myself, the person in the mirror is asking me
    Asking me why I lie to myself
    What's the meaning of this charade of the reason why
    'Cause no one else knows me quite better than I
    I know myself, but that doesn't stop me from asking myself

    The reason why, no reason why
    Why we lie to ourselves or anyone else
    No reason why and no reason why
    Why we lie to ourselves or anyone else”
    — Pennywise, ‘No Reason Why’ (1991)

    Boasting impressive exhibition history, No Reason Why was first presented at an exhibition at Mitsubishi-Jisho Artium in Fukuoka, Japan, in 1996. Later that year, the work also featured as part of a show titled Hothouse Doll, hosted by Hakutosha Gallery in Nagoya, Japan.


    Today, Nara is considered one of the most significant artists of our time. His works are highly sought after, forming part of over sixty public collections worldwide, and he has been the subject of extensive solo exhibitions in prominent institutions around the globe. Recently, this has included a major international retrospective that opened at the Los Angeles County Museum in April 2021, before travelling to Shanghai's Yuz Museum, Museo Guggenheim Bilbao and the Kunsthal Rotterdam.


    8 of the artist’s top 10 results at auction have been set within the past 2 years, demonstrative of the strength of his market presence.

    • Provenance

      Hakutosha Gallery, Nagoya
      Private Collection, Japan
      Est-Ouest Auctions, Hong Kong, 26 November 2010, lot 30
      Private Collection
      New Est-Ouest Auctions, Tokyo, 12 December 2020, lot 18
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Exhibited

      Fukuoka, Mitsubishi-Jisho Artium, Yoshitomo Nara: Empty Surprise, 18 January - 18 February 1996
      Nagoya, Hakutosha Gallery, Yoshitomo Nara: Hothouse Fresh, 20 January - 24 February 1996

    • Literature

      Kadokawa Shoten, ed., Yoshitomo Nara: In the Deepest Puddle, Tokyo, 1997, n.p. (illustrated)
      Noriko Miyamura and Shinko Suzuki, eds., Yoshitomo Nara: The Complete Works Volume 1: Paintings, Sculptures, Editions, Photographs 1984-2010, Tokyo, 2011, no. P-1995-045, p. 124 (illustrated)



No Reason Why

signed, inscribed and dated 'she doesn't know what's wrong with Mum. Yoshitomo Nara '95' on the reverse
acrylic on canvas
65 x 70 cm. (25 5/8 x 27 1/2 in.)
Painted in 1995, this work is registered in the Yoshitomo Nara Online Catalogue Raisonné under registration number YNF1276.

Full Cataloguing

HK$4,000,000 - 6,000,000 

Sold for HK$4,826,000

Contact Specialist

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

Modern & Contemporary Art Day Sale

Hong Kong Auction 1 June 2024