Yoshitomo Nara (奈良 美智 Nara Yoshitomo?, born 5 December 1959 lives and works in Tokyo. Nara grew up in a time when Japan was experiencing an inundation of Western pop culture; comic books, Walt Disney animation and Western rock music. He first came to the attention of the art world in the 1990s during Japan’s Pop art movement. Since then he has achieved a worldwide cult status. In June, 2005, Nara’s artwork was featured in the album titled “Suspended Animation” by experimental band Fantômas. Other commercial products (including videos, books, magazines, catalogues and monographs) have been dedicated to Nara’s work. Recently, a two-volume catalogue raisonné of all his sculptures, paintings, and drawings was completed.
The fiercely independent subjects that populate so much of his artwork may be a reaction to Nara’s own largely independent childhood. The subject matter of his sculptures and paintings is deceptively simple: most works depict one seemingly innocuous subject (often pastel-hued children and animals drawn with confident, cartoonish lines) with little or no background. But these children, who appear at first to be cute and even vulnerable, sometimes brandish weapons like knives and saws. Their wide eyes often hold accusatory looks that could be sleepy-eyed irritation at being awoken from a nap—or that could be undiluted expressions of hate.
Nara, however, does not see his weapon-wielding subjects as aggressors. “Look at them, they [the weapons] are so small, like toys. Do you think they could fight with those?” he says. “I don’t think so. Rather, I kind of see the children among other, bigger, bad people all around them, who are holding bigger knives…”
The manga and anime of his 1960s childhood are both clear influences on Nara’s stylized, large-eyed figures. Nara subverts these typically cute images, however, by infusing his works with horror-like imagery. This juxtaposition of human evil with the innocent child may be a reaction to Japan’s rigid social conventions. He has been influenced by punk rock music – a similar – if more unsettling – image of rebellious, violent youth, Nara’s art embraces the punk ethos. Nara has cited other traditions as varied Renaissance painting, literature, illustration, ukiyo-e and graffiti as further inspiration.