In her day, Yayoi Kusama was as popular as Warhol amongst Pop Art aficionados. She was both prolific and daring, making headlines with her Nude Body Painting Festivals and anti-war demonstrations. In her spare time, she also directed performance-art orgies in secret Manhattan bunkers, paying police bribes to avoid arrest. Who knew you could do so much with polka-dots?
Her journey to Pop Art icon came via Japan, where Kusama grew up in a wealthy but oppressive home. It was here she developed an ability to imagine or ‘hallucinate’ her way out to infinity by painting and drawing polka dots.
Inspired by the work of Georgia O’Keefe, Kusama traveled to New York in the late 1950’s. Despite having no English language, little money and few friends, she began creating large-scale polka dot paintings and selling them as fast as she could. Before long she developed a reputation as an avant-garde artist and was embraced by the New York art scene.
Not content with the vast polka-dotted universe she’d built, Kusama began to design her own clothing range, Kasuma Dress and Textile, which sold at department stores and boutiques all over the United States.
But Kasuma’s journey through Pop Art world would eventually come to an end. Due to mental illness, she returned to Japan in the late 1970s and by choice, checked herself into a mental hospital. It was here that Kasuma began yet another artistic incarnation, this time as a writer. She has since written and published over 23 novels, short stories and poetry books, including the shocking and surrealistic novels, The Hustler’s Grotto of Christopher Street (1983) and Violet Obsession (1998).
In 2008, Christies New York sold a work of Kasuma’s for $5.1 million, a record for a living female artist at the time.
Text by Howard Collinge- The Unique Creatures