Have you emerged from beneath the pile of recently eradicated rules and restrictions hungry for an injection of artistic inspiration? If so, chances are your research (or, let’s be honest, Instagram) has led you to the Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirror Rooms, currently wowing visitors to the Tate Modern.
Over the course of her career, Kusama has produced more than 20 distinct Infinity Rooms, based on her paintings, which celebrate life and its aftermath. Using mirrors and light, Kusama creates kaleidoscopic perceptual experiences that welcome the observer into an illusion of infinite space.
The exhibition offers attendees the unique opportunity to experience two of the artist’s rooms. The first is Filled With the Brilliance of Life, Kusama’s largest Infinity Room to date, full of colourful LED lights that reflect in mirrors and water to create seemingly endless space. The second room is named Chandelier of Grief, and features a rotating Baroque-style chandelier as the only source of light, combined with flickering, pulsating lights and mirrored walls.
A Life Less Ordinary
Not only are these mind-bending rooms the stuff of a photographers’ dreams, but they are the creation of arguably one of the most interesting artists of all time, but how much do you know about Yayoi Kusama?
Now 92 years of age, Kusama is a Japanese artist known primarily for her work in installation and sculpture. However, she is so prolific, working day and night, that she regularly dabbles in painting, fashion, poetry, performance, ceramics – you name it, Kusama has lent it her other-worldly touch.
Born and raised in Matsumoto in Japan, Kusama was raised by strict parents on a flower farm. It was while drawing these flowers as a child, that the artist experienced the first of her hallucinations, or ‘depersonalisations’ as she calls them, when a field of violets began closing in and speaking to her. While her mother forbade her from painting, preferring her to focus on etiquette training in the name of securing an arranged marriage, Kusama continued to do so in secret as it was the one thing that helped her make sense of her visuals. Whether it was flowers talking to her, or bursting from the tablecloth and chasing her, Kusama explains:
‘Whenever things like this happened I would hurry back home and draw what I had seen in my sketchbook… recording them helped to ease the shock and fear of the episodes.’
After Pearl Harbour, Kusama was conscripted to a factory that made parachutes, and after a long days’ work, she would return home and spend her evenings diligently painting flowers. It is these blooms and other organic structures, which she produced compulsively to control her mania, that have become the trademarks which now characterise her oeuvre.
The New York Years
After her first show in 1952, Kusama broke convention and left Japan for New York City. Armed with a collection of her paintings, and nominal money sewn into her dress, Kusama was determined to make her mark on the avant-garde art scene of The Big Apple.
Via various happenings, events and exhibitions, Kusama gradually established herself as one of the leading contemporary artists of the day. Her unique, often autobiographical style, transcended two of the most important movements of the time, Pop Art and Minimalism. As her fame grew, Kusama’s style is said to have influenced (or rather, been appropriated by) the likes of Andy Warhol and sculptor, Claes Oldenburg.
Perhaps her most iconic work from the era involved organising a series of happenings and protests in conspicuous spots like Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge, in which nude participants were painted with brightly-coloured polka dots. During one such happening, Kusama wrote an open letter to President Richard Nixon offering to have sex with him if he would stop the Vietnam war.
Healing through creativity
Following bouts of illness and poor mental health, Kusama returned to Japan where she picked up the pen and began writing shocking surreal novels, poems and short stories. Just a few years later in 1977, having spent her whole life using art as a tool for healing, Kusama checked herself into a psychiatric hospital, and it is here that she has spent the last 40 years. While this kind of leap might have spelled the end for other artists, it has had quite the opposite effect for Kusama, signifying a fresh start – and a way to manage her mental health by channelling it into her creativity.
Speaking of her decision, Kusama commented:
‘I fight pain, anxiety, and fear every day, and the only method I have found that relieved my illness is to keep creating art. I followed the thread of art and somehow discovered a path that would allow me to live.’
Since checking in, Kusama’s career has reached new heights, with her artworks going for millions at auction and her work in demand across the world. One such example involved her selling 90,000 exhibition tickets in the space of one afternoon, sparking the LA Times to ask whether Kusama is now, ‘Hotter than Hamilton?’
Kusama’s Infinity Rooms is fully booked until November, but fear not – it is in residence at the Tate Modern until June 2022. Plenty of time left to experience the infinite lightness of time and space…
In the meantime, add a little Kusama flourish to your home with our range of her homewares.