“Painting is just another way of keeping a diary” – Picasso
To Kusama, the Infinity nets series is not just a painting, it is essentially a lyrical record of her existence. While confronted by this large work, viewers are immediately captivated by the striking contrast of the yellow-on-red aesthetics. From a distance, the calm and biomorphic repetition is visually dominating. However, with proximity, the laborious and meticulous techniques employed by Kusama unveils in front of you where viewers slowly get carried away. A parallel to Seurat’s pointillism technique, Kusama aspires to stimulate the viewer’s ability to merge thousands of dots into one cohesive image; where the once yellow-on-red pattern blurs out and transforms the work into a sea of orange waves. The painting embraces us without enclosing us, while the yellow layered nets seem to have stop the eye at first glance, only as we continue to gaze right through the red paint, we gaze into the infinite.
Diagnosed with obsessional neurosis from a young age, Kusama refigured her own hallucinations into artistic impulses. The densely textured painting not only reflects the artist’s childhood trauma derived from her illness, it was a symbol of her self-obliteration, as well as a narrative of the psychological hardships she had endured during her early years in New York. This sentiment was shared in her autobiography – “Unable to sleep, I would get out of bed and paint. There was no other way to endure the cold and the hunger, so I pushed myself on to ever more intense work [……] I often suffered episodes of severe neurosis. I would cover a canvas with nets, then continue painting them on the table, on the floor, and finally on my own body. As I repeated this process over and over again, the nets began to expand to infinity”. The Infinity Nets series first debuted in her solo exhibition at Brata Gallery New York in 1959, where it even caught the eye of artist Donald Judd as he displayed admiration towards the artist’s obsessive yet brilliant application. Hence, describing her work as “advanced in concept” and that “her strokes are applied with a great assurance and strength which even a small area conveys”. Here, Infinity Nets OQRWHN is vivid, instantly arresting, and a prime archetype of Kusama’s oeuvre. In this monochromatic work, the dots evoke a hypnotic effect as they weave through the canvas in an undulating arrangement. The patterns aim at interacting, inducing and changing each other in a back and forth manner to create movement similar to Alber’s orange square. As the eye dances across the canvas, it draws you deeper into the rhythmic folds of the composition. Just like that, the illusion allows one to immerse completely inside of Kusama’s stimulating mindscape, with each dot acting as a testimony to Kusama’s long artistic journey. Piece by piece, we come to understand her side of the story - a story that one should not just look, but also to feel beyond what has been set in front of them.
The repetitive flow of painted arches from the Infinity Nets series is also a motif she revisited in the form of soft sculptures, her infamous performance works and mirror rooms. Having revolutionized the avant-garde art scene in New York City for almost a decade, Kusama made a return to her homeland in 1973 due to her worsening health conditions. It was her aggravated hallucinatory visions that induced her decision to reside at a mental institution in Tokyo permanently since 1977. Subsequently, the paintings Kusama had created after her return to Japan manifested a new chapter of her career, celebrating cutting-edge works inspired by the renewed living surrounding. Executed in 2008, Infinity Nets OQRWHN is an extension of the original monochromatic paintings. Kusama retained her choice of using acrylic paint, a medium that represented the key transition the artist undertook in the late 1970s, paying homage to her roots as she first established her artistic career specializing Nihonga, which was a type of traditional Japanese watercolor painting. The quick drying properties of acrylic goes hand in hand with Kusama’s practice, allowing her the freedom to concentrate on one work, whilst displaying the stamina and endurance that is required for such caliber of art.
At the age of ninety, Kusama has shown no signs of slowing down, where she continues to embrace her passion for painting that continually captivates academic and commercial attention from the art world. Arguably the most outstanding Japanese female artist living today, she had composed a phenomenal body of work over the past six decades. Her commitment to the arts positioned her as a trailblazer of her time and an icon that shaped the course of Western contemporary art history.