Veiled in a delicate lattice of small loops and curls, Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Nets (BCO) (2013) enthralls with its brilliant white and poetic splendor. Swoops and coils blanket the canvas in a gauzelike web that is at once engulfing and mesmerizing, and the painting’s intricacy of detail beckons us closer. The hypnotic strokes that roll across the surface of the canvas envelop the viewer, completely consuming the surface of the work. The composition is made up of semi-circular arches of pigment, leaving only the slightest glimpses of a soft layer of underpainting. Kusama’s strokes vary from light applications of paint, to more globular strokes that allow for one to directly note the artist’s hand. Across the painting’s surface, thick crests of impasto peak and then give way to smooth circlets, rising and falling in rhythmic swells and creating the impression of lace floating on serene ocean waves. Mirroring the quiet repetition that went into its making, Infinity Nets (BCO) stimulates introspection and transcendence, and lulls its viewers into a meditative state.
Kusama traces the roots of her celebrated style back to her childhood, when she first noticed the signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder and began experiencing hallucinations, completely enveloping her field of vision. Starting with the onset of her illness at age 10, she created many works over the following several years, demonstrating the fanatical work ethic that she would continue to display as an adult. She has described how the hallucinations have left her in debilitative states, making her Infinity Nets even more powerful, as they help the artist process her experiences. These paintings would often be created while Kusama was in an almost transcendental state, where she would compulsively paint for forty or fifty hours at a time without sleeping. The artist once said of the experience that, As Kusama recalled, “When I was a child, one day I was walking in the field, then all of a sudden, the sky became bright over the mountains, and I saw clearly the very image I was about to paint appear in the sky. I also saw violets, which I was painting, multiply to cover the doors, windows and even my body….I immediately transferred the idea onto a canvas. It was hallucination only the mentally ill can experience” (Y. Kusama, quoted in “Damien Hirst Questions Yayoi Kusama, Across the Water, May, 1998,” Kusama: Now, exh. cat., Robert Miller Gallery, New York, 1998, p. 15).
With her Infinity Nets such as Infinity Nets (BCO), the signs of Kusama’s meticulous obsessive-compulsive behavior are evident in the “infinitely” repeated loops she lays down, one at a time, across the entire canvas. After applying a semi-transparent under layer of chrome-toned paint, Kusama adds small strokes of paint—in this case, white paint, which was the first and historically most significant color of her Infinity Nets—until the surface is covered in loops. In contrast to the gestural and at times explosive practices of the Action painters, Kusama fixes a single, undivided space on the canvas in order to ensure that each individual element of the work is given as much physical structure as possible. Kusama customarily works with the canvas placed flat on a table top or other surface, making it impossible to see the whole of the composition while she is painting. In so doing, she is unable to respond to or alter the composition of the work as it is being created, with the result that she is forced to abandon any attempt to try and control the whole of the picture plane or construct it out of parts.
Kusama has always insisted that the process of creating the Infinity Nets is integral to the significance of the works. Although she had little financial means during her first years in New York—she later confessed that “day after day, I forgot my coldness and hunger by painting” (Y. Kusama, quoted in G. Turner, “Yayoi Kusama,” Bomb, vol. 66, Winter 1999)—she managed to find the money to hire professional photographers to document her with the net paintings in her studio, underscoring her belief that these works are inextricably bound up with the labor of making them. The works were an extension of her in the most literal sense. The process of painting is also a highly therapeutic activity for Kusama, and through such works as Infinity Nets (BCO), she can channel her creative energy and find some spiritual stability. Kusama named this method of stepping outside of herself through art “self-obliteration.” In this process, she explained, “my self was eliminated, and I had returned and been reduced to the infinity of eternal time and the absolute of space. This was not an allusion but reality” (Y. Kusama, quoted in Yayoi Kusama, New York, 2000, p. 36). In this way, the infinite patterns of Kusama’s art also represent the artist’s destruction of self in favor of universal wholeness, and psychosomatic peace.
Throughout the past half-century, Yayoi Kusama has self-obliterated her hallucinations though artistic expression, gaining international recognition as a pioneer of contemporary art. With scalloped curves that spread across the canvas in rippling arcs, Infinity Nets (BCO) is emblematic of Yayoi Kusama’s iconic Infinity Nets paintings that she has spent her career mastering, and as a part of her psychological and “feminine”-coded practice it foreshadows many of the developments that would follow shortly thereafter in feminist, performance and post-Minimalist art. The artist’s absorbing, sensual, hypnotic body of work has become a subject of public intrigue with her exhibitions receiving both critical and popular success around the world. Amongst her many contributions to 20th century art—drawings, paintings, immersive installations, site-specific performances, fashion, film and literature— her Infinity Nets have come to define the artist’s provocative identity. Infinity-Nets (BCO) is an arresting example of the artist’s visually complex and psychologically laden series. Executed at the pinnacle of Yayoi Kusama’s career, this painting illustrates the artist’s tireless quest to express the infinity of the universe while coming to terms with her individual reality.