Yayoi Kusama is an artist that I wasn’t aware that I knew, I’d seen pictures of some of her work in the tome-like books that were in the rooms I took GCSE Art & Design, I remember seeing pictures of her mirrored balls, and yet I’d never retained her name. It was only through reading Elisa Macellari’s lovingly put together biography on the Japanese artist that I was able to put a name to the images I’d seen in my adolescence. More than that, it wonderfully combines the artwork with the person in a way that brings Kusama’s whole life together as one.
Kusama’s story isn’t a simple one. Her mother disapproved of her artistic nature, her father was an adulterer and her home life was such that she was encouraged to move away, in fact, to leave the country and pursue her dream of being an artist. What developed when she landed in America is her growth as a key part of the hippy movement of the 60s and her working amongst such figures as Dali and Warhol and her relationships she held with Georgia O’Keefe. Macellari goes to some effort to show both the development of Kusama’s art and the maturation of her political idea’s and how the two would meld into the large variety of disciplines that she worked in, from painting through to performance art, all the while trying to push the boundaries of what is acceptable.
However, despite her successes, her mother never accepted her work and felt it brought shame upon the family.
There’s a personal element to the book though, Macellari talks openly in the introduction of Kusama’s influence on her and that’s apparent in the visuals of the book which are peppered with polka dots and infinity nets.
However, this isn’t a thorough biography of Kusama, more an illustrated annotation of her journey from Japan, to New York and back to Japan, with key moments in her career paving the way, it serves as an introduction into her life and work and it does that with a fondness and warmth that’s intoxicating.