Yoshitomo Nara - New Now London Thursday, December 9, 2021 | Phillips

Create your first list.

Select an existing list or create a new list to share and manage lots you follow.

  • 'Like journal entries reflecting the events of each day, they [drawings] sometimes intersected memories from the past. My little everyday world became a trigger for the imagination, and I learned to develop and capture the imagery that arose.' —Yoshitomo NaraYoshimoto Nara is one of the leading Japanese artists working today. Born in 1959 in Hirosaki, Nara’s childhood would be marked by his exposure to American pop culture which gained momentum in Japan during the aftermath of the Second World War. Today he is considered one of the pioneers of the Japanese Neo-pop movement, and is also associated with the Superflat movement since his 2001 collaborations with Takashi Murakami. Nara’s oeuvre spans drawing, painting, sculpture and installation and draws inspiration from Japanese tradition as well as Western popular culture.


    As an international figure in contemporary art, Nara’s work is part of prominent institutional collections such as the British Museum in London, the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. Executed in 1996, the present work was created after the artist concluded his postgraduate studies at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in Germany, under the tutelage of A.R. Penck, in 1993. Although best known for his abstractions that probed the depths of the post-war German condition, the Neo-Expressionist Penck encouraged Nara to forge emotional connections in his work between the past and the present, finding in Germany that ‘the inadequacy of the outer world enriched my inner world.’i


    A. R. Penck, Untitled (The Artist and His Wife), 1982, Saint Louis Art Museum, Missouri, Image: © Saint Louis Art Museum / Gift of Betsy Millard, the Earl and Betsy Millard Collection / Bridgeman Images, Artwork: © A.R. Penck/DACS 2021

    You Just Wanna Be A ? is an example of Nara’s most recognisable and iconic subject: a personal exploration of the vast potential of childhood, vis-à-vis feelings of anger and frustration towards adulthood or the establishment. It reminisces the mood of the 1960s and 70s countercultures, which the artist was a witness to as he came of age in his native Japan.


    As critic Yewan Koon explains in the latest monograph on the artist, released to accompany his retrospective exhibition at Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Nara’s works are tinted with the influence of folk culture, both Japanese and American, that render the artist’s work moving, relatable and universal. Haroki, the town where Nara spent his childhood, as Koon mentions, is close to Mount Iwaki, a volcano known for having sacred powers for children.  While just eight years old and still living in Haroki, Nara built his own radio and connected it to the nearby music station run by the US Air Force base. This exposed him to the spirit of American folk, rock and roll and punk music.


    Permeated by phrases of pop culture, Nara’s defiant and simultaneously tender images of children are imbued with layers of meaning beyond the two dimensions of the work. The work here provides a powerful insight into the personal world of this artist who constantly revisits the feelings of loneliness of childhood to speak about the tensions and feelings of alienation in adulthood. In this work, the wide-eyed child looks inquisitively at the world outside the confinements of the piece, an expression that is rendered with feelings of anxiety as one reads the words below. What is the impact of this question on the potential creative freedom of this child, seemingly interrupted as she draws?


    As if reluctant to succumb to these questions himself, more than twenty years after creating this work, Nara still considers himself a beginner and a perpetual student. When asked if he knew when he wanted to become an artist, Nara responded ‘Never. I unwittingly became an artist by profession, but it wasn’t done on purpose.’ii Alas, the question You Just Wanna Be A ? remains undefined and contested, very much in the rebellious spirit of the beloved characters in Nara’s work.


    i Yoshimoto Nara, quoted in ‘Yoshimoto Nara’, quoted in Art Review, 14 September 2015, online 
    ii Yoshitomo Nara, quoted in Y-Jean Mun-Delsalle, ‘Among Japan’s Most Important Living Contemporary Artists, Yoshitomo Nara Now Wishes To Participate In Small-Scale Exhibitions’, Forbes, 15 December 2019, online

    • Provenance

      Private Collection
      Christie's, Hong Kong, 25 May 2008, lot 723
      Private Collection
      New Art Est-Ouest Auctions, Hong Kong, 29 November 2014, lot 89
      Private Collection, Japan
      New Art Est-Ouest Auctions, Hong Kong, 27 May 2018, lot 155
      Acquired at the above sale by the present owner

    • Literature

      Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara: The Complete Works, vol. 2, San Francisco, 2011, p. 345 (illustrated, p. 96)



You Just Wanna Be A ?

signed and dated 'Yoshitomo Nara '96' lower right
graphite and coloured pencil on paper
45.6 x 33.4 cm (17 7/8 x 13 1/8 in.)
Executed in 1996.

Full Cataloguing

£60,000 - 80,000 

Sold for £94,500

Contact Specialist

Simon Tovey
Specialist, Head of New Now Sale
+44 20 7318 4084

New Now

London Auction 9 December 2021