When Frances Morris (Head of Collections) and I began working on the Kusama retrospective for Tate Modern, Yayoi Kusama told us that she had recently begun work on a new series of paintings. Three years on, these works now number well over 100. It is not in Kusama’s nature to do anything in small doses. Her artistic practice is characterised by an eternal striving to fill the world and make it her own, to forever aim for more, more, more…
Throughout her long career, Kusama’s work has always dealt in excess. She has also been incredibly prolific. Her earliest solo shows in regional Japan featured hundreds of works on paper produced in a matter of months. Since that time she has always worked in series, sometimes several series simultaneously, in an attempt to work through her ideas and flesh them out as fully as possible.
In the late 1950s in New York she began work on her Infinity Net paintings feature all-over net patterning of a single colour. She produced dozens of variations of this unique painterly approach. The exhibition at Tate Modern features a room of her earliest, all white, Infinity Nets. Moving on from two-dimensional work, in 1961 she began producing her Accumulation sculptures, in which everyday household objects are covered with singular forms: soft phallic forms, dry macaroni or plastic flowers. As with her Infinity Nets, Kusama did not stop at one or two Accumulation sculptures, but made masses of these works. Photographs show these works taking over her studio and filling her gallery shows.
This pattern of working intensely on large bodies of work has continued throughout her subsequent career. If Kusama’s process is prolific, her subject matter is frequently excess itself. Her painterly nets cover the entire surface of her canvases; soft tubular forms encroach over the entirety of her Accumulation sculptures.
In the 1980s and 1990s, after her return to Tokyo, Kusama returned to painting. Her new work was intensely colourful and featured patterning that suggested foliage or microscopic animal life. Needing a wider scope for these works, she started making multi-part paintings: diptychs and triptychs, and in one case a sixteen-panel painting. This desire to fill the visual sphere has continued in Kusama’s more recent installation works. Her Infinity Mirror Rooms give the impression of extending endlessly into space.