Yoshitomo Nara - 20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale London Tuesday, October 20, 2020 | Phillips

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  • Overview

    'Painting is something more objective and controlled, while drawing is more intimate, uncontrolled and raw. Some drawings may be a little naïve. Drawings show what’s inside.' —Yoshitomo Nara

    Executed in 2012, Magic Carpet is one of the largest works on paper produced by the Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara. Evincing exquisite linework and thorough detail, the composition depicts a child surfing through celestial realms on a loosely delineated flying carpet, her hands manifesting a cartoonish constellation of stars. Above the young protagonist’s crouched silhouette hovers a rhythmic expression reading ‘Hey Hey, My Friends, Fuck ‘Bout Centralizationism’, and just below her feet can be deciphered the discreet peak of a mountain, suggesting proximity to earthly grounds. Combining the whimsicality of the child’s likeness with grown-up, politicised language, Nara locates the artistic intention of Margic Carpet in a characteristically polyvalent realm, straddling innocence and cynicism, childhood purity and adult conscientiousness. This is perhaps the artist’s most renowned and celebrated trademark: the paradoxical union of an innocuous appearance with subtle undercurrents of tension and unease, overall embodied by the enduring motif of a solitary, mischievous child. Quintessentially kowa kawaii (‘scary cute’), Nara’s faux naïve aesthetic fuses impressions of anime and manga cartoons that he read as a child, and traditional Japanese otafuku and okame theatrical masks. Further testament to its importance in the artist’s wider oeuvre, Magic Carpet was included in his major survey Greetings from a Place in my Heart, which took place at the Dairy Art Centre in London at the end of 2014, and remains his largest and most comprehensive show to date in the United Kingdom.

  • Yoshitomo Nara’s Cantankerous Kids

  • Exploring the psychological universe of childhood experience, Nara’s work straddles infantile imagination, adult anxiety, and ageless rebellion. The artist began developing this thematic aesthetic following his graduation from the Aichi University of the Arts, when he moved to Germany and undertook a six-year artistic apprenticeship at Düsseldorf’s Staatliche Kunstakademie under the mentorship of the Neo-Expressionist painter A.R. Penck. Language barriers in Germany had plunged Nara back into a period of acute solitude which he had not experienced since his childhood. Seeking relief, the artist began plumbing the depths of his subconscious through art, manifesting his profound sense of alienation through proliferating illustrations of sulky children. ‘These paintings all featured the single image of a girl or sexually ambiguous child with a large head and piercing eyes, involved in situations of predicament or solitude’, wrote Midori Matsui.i  Beneath their luminous, almost comical faces lied a spirit of mutinous, naïve defiance; in other instances they betrayed a distinctly adolescent sense of angst and melancholy. Nara would remember this period of introspection as formative, restoring a ‘sense of [his] true self’ that he had almost forgotten.ii  A mature example of Nara’s exquisite draftsmanship, Magic Carpet prodigiously illustrates the artist’s mental blend of tenderness, melancholy and mischief; three cornerstone states that defined the elaboration of his disarming – and now iconic – visual language.

    'If Murakami is Japan’s Warhol, impersonal and deadpan, then Nara is its Keith Haring, sincere and expressive.' —Sarah BoxerDescribing Nara’s artistic process, the curator Kristin Chambers said, ‘Nara works alone in his studio, usually late at night, with punk rock screaming from speakers. He chain-smokes as he concentrates on channeling all of his past ghosts and present emotions into the deceptively simple face of his current subject. Each painting—each figure—is typically executed in the span of one night, capturing both a range of emotion and a specific mood’.iii  In this unlikely combination of serenity and vigour, consciousness and impulse, Nara arrived at Magic Carpet: an image characterised by childlike wonder and shrewd combativeness. While the composition’s inclusion of a flying rug alludes to a distinct childhood trope (Aladdin’s flying carpet), the girl’s naughty expression denotes a rebellious departure from juvenile innocence – together building the dichotomic blend for which Nara has become known. As Chambers further noted, ‘Nara does not retreat entirely into the make-believe. Rather, he provides a conduit to another world—a world hopefully still within reach—through the immediacy and directness of children. He invites us to reconnect with the imaginative and imaginary possibilities in their distant but once familiar land’.iv 


    Yoshimoto Nara in Conversation


    In an interview with Metal Magazine, Yoshitomo Nara spoke about his sources of inspiration, his understanding of childhood and adolescent sensibilities, and his career path which took him from Japan to Germany, and back.


    Julija Kalvelytė: Critics often associate your works with various aspects of childhood, while you highlight the universal teenage sentiments they convey. Do you think there’s a clear line between these life stages and if so, where is it drawn?


    Yoshitomo Nara: I think that the sensibility of childhood is universal, but the teenaged sensibility of adolescence when people try to stretch themselves has an expiration date. Sometimes reading feels like a substitute for actual personal experience, leading people to think they’ve gained something really vital. This might motivate them to create more artwork but once they realize how superficial the influence was, they become deflated or give up on creating. I think this can happen often. But I think I was able to continue creating freely because I was an underachieving art student with neither pride nor ambition.


    JK: Based on your personal experience of the two countries and their art schools, how do the Japanese and German attitudes towards art and artists differ?


    YN: Before the question of art and so forth, there is a fundamental difference in the education of children between these countries: Europe teaches children to ‘have their own mind, think and speak for themselves.’ In contrast, Japan’s educational system teaches children to ‘learn skills, do exactly what they’re told.’ This is a problem that goes beyond just art and artists.


    Read the rest of the interview here.


    Midori Matsui, “A Child in the White Field: Yoshitomo Nara as a Great ‘Minor’ Artist”, Yoshitomo Nara: The Complete Works, London, 2011, n.p.
    ii Yoshitomo Nara, quoted in Nara Yoshitomo: A Bit Like You and Me, exh. cat., Yokohama Museum of Art, Japan, 2012, p. 129.
    iii Kristin Chambers, Yoshitomo Nara: Nothing Ever Happens, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, 2003, p. 26.
    iv Kristin Chambers, Yoshitomo Nara: Nothing Ever Happens, exh. cat., Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, 2003, p. 26.

    • Provenance

      Blum & Poe
      Private Collection

    • Exhibited

      London, Dairy Art Centre, Greetings from a Place in my Heart, 3 October - 7 December 2014
      Los Angeles, Blum & Poe, Yoshitomo Nara, 1 March - 12 April 2014


Magic Carpet

colour pencil and acrylic on paper laid on canvas mounted on wood
162 x 162 cm (63 3/4 x 63 3/4 in.)
Executed in 2012.

Full Cataloguing

£500,000 - 700,000 

Sold for £504,000

Contact Specialist

Kate Bryan
Specialist, Head of Evening Sale
+44 20 7318 4026

20th Century & Contemporary Art Evening Sale

London Auction 20 October 2020