Yoshitomo Nara - Editions, Photographs and Design Hong Kong Friday, June 14, 2024 | Phillips
  • “I was not deliberately painting any particular girl. Through painting representational features such as eyes, noses, and mouths, I wanted to express something deeper. This deeper thing cannot be described with language. Yet, people will understand.”
    — Yoshitomo Nara
    Straddling infantile imagination, adult anxiety, and ageless rebellion, Walk On is an individual work from Yoshitomo Nara’s ten-part Untitled series that explores the psychological universe of childhood experience. The series is comprised of a range of characters: some are playful – for instance, the child with Flintstone-styled crossed-bones on their forehead, who pulls a face and dances above the text “I don’t want to group up” – while others portray a deeper, emotive side – such as the girl who floats in the clouds alongside the phrase: “Don’t wanna cry.” In Walk On, we see an angry-looking child with a furrowed brow and a sharp tooth peeping out her mouth. She is mid-stride, stomping forwards with her arms held out before her, as though having a toddler-like temper tantrum. Nara’s work often underscores our intimate connection to childhood, a time often associated with both unguarded innocence and pure emotions. As we see in the present lot, Nara’s figures often contradict their childish exterior and kawaī features, presenting an unnerving sense of trouble and anger. The raw, impulsive emotion they emit is palpable, evoking a collective psyche burdened by anger, worry and fear.

    Nara grew-up in the rural areas near the city of Hirosaki in the 1960s. He has recalled a profound loneliness in his childhood; “When you are a kid, you are too young to know you are lonely, sad, upset,” said Nara, “…now I know I was.” His young characters are reflective of this notion, each image a glimpse into another facet of his internal psyche. This is particularly poignant in his archetypal little girl: a devious cherub with a protruding head who stands against a void, rendered in simplified shapes and subtle colours.

    Initially appearing in the early 1990s during the artist’s continued art studies at Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in Germany, the little girl is inherently autobiographical. She symbolises an ambivalence resulting from physical isolation, a genuine desire for human connection, and a sneering attitude towards containment. In subsequent years, through experimentations with depth, colour, and texture, Nara refined her character, creating a dichotomic emblem of innocence and vulnerability that ingeniously associates her with adult emotions of anxiety and pain.
    “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
    Music is entwined with Nara’s body of work. Alongside a generation of melancholic youths raised in the aftermath of World War II Japan, the young Nara sought empowerment in the insurgent and cathartic pop culture of rock music. At the age of eight, 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. He traces the origins of his interest in art to these album covers, and the visual elements of the 1970s Japanese underground culture informed his later characters, particualrly their punk-like attitude, as demonstrated in Walk On.


    Left: Utagawa Toyokuni I, The Actor Sawamura Sōjūrō III in the Role of Shimada Jūzaburō, from the series Image of Actors on Stage, c. 1795, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Howard Mansfield Collection, Purchase, Rogers Fund, 1936, JP2720;
    Right: Kitagawa Utamaro, Okita of the Naniwaya Teahouse, c. 1793, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York. Image: © The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, The Howard Mansfield Collection, Purchase, Rogers Fund, 1936, JP2734

    The minimalist composition present in Walk On is quintessential of Nara’s renowned body of work. It owes greatly to the training the artist received during his advanced degree in Düsseldorf under German painter A.R. Penck. 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 the present lot, the background is a void that extends to the sheet perimeters, bringing the protagonist into focus through the employment of a simplistic pictorial framework that nods to traditional Japanese ukiyo-e woodcut prints.

    Printed by master printer Yasu Shibata at the Pace Editions Workshop, this ukiyo-e woodcut print effortlessly presents Nara’s signature imagery through a labour-intensive printmaking process steeped in Japanese cultural heritage. Referencing his nimble drawings, often done on brown paper or cardboard, this woodcut embodies the same immediacy but is more refined, elevating his practice while imbuing the image with the same lively energy. In this sense, the deceptively simple and stylised lines of Walk On exemplify Nara's ability to express the shared experiences of solitude, rebellion, and the search for self through the simplicity and charm of his subjects.

    • Literature

      Noriko Miyamura and Shinko Suzuki E-2010-012



Walk On (M. & S. E-2010-012)

Ukiyo-e woodcut in colours, on Japanese paper, the full sheet
S. 42.6 x 29.8 cm (16 3/4 x 11 3/4 in.)
Signed, dated and numbered 40/50 in pencil (there were also 12 artist's proofs), published by Pace Prints, New York, framed.

Full Cataloguing

HK$300,000 - 500,000 

Sold for HK$330,200

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Editions, Photographs and Design

Hong Kong Auction 14 June 2024