My big job is to glance my vision
a polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots become movement … Polka dots are a way to infinity.
Yayoi Kusama (草間 彌生 or 弥生 Kusama Yayoi?, born March 22, 1929) is a Japanese artist and writer. Kusama’s work is based in conceptual art and shows some attributes of feminism, minimalism, surrealism, Art Brut, pop art, and abstract expressionism, and is infused with autobiographical, psychological, and sexual content. Throughout her career she has worked in a wide variety of media, includingp ainting, collage, sculpture, performance art, and environmental installations, most of which exhibit her thematic interest in psychedelic colors, repetition and pattern. Kusama is also a published novelist and poet, and has created notable work in film and fashion design. A precursor of the pop art, minimalist and feminist art movements, Kusama influenced contemporaries such as Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg. Although largely forgotten after departing the New York art scene in the early 1970s, Kusama is now acknowledged as one of the most important living artists to come out of Japan, and an important voice of the avant-garde. Major retrospectives of her work have been held at the Museum of Modern Art in 1998, the Whitney Museum in 2012, and Tate Modern in 2012. In 2008, Christies New York sold a work by her for $5.1 million, then a record for a living female artist.
Video about the Tate Exhibition 2012
Earth is a polka dot – about Mirror Room
Kusama’s self-obliteration: Jud Yalkut video, 1967
Princess of polka dots
Floating in her Lemon Juice
Born in Matsumoto, Nagano into an upper-middle-class family of seedling merchants, Kusama has experienced hallucinations and severe obsessive thoughts since childhood, often of a suicidal nature. She claims that as a small child she suffered severe physical abuse by her mother.
Kusama started creating art at an early age, going on to study Nihonga painting in Kyoto in 1948. She was frustrated with this distinctly Japanese style and hated the rigidities of the master-disciple system where students were supposed to imbibe tradition through the sensei. “When I think of my life in Kyoto,” she is quoted as saying, “I feel like vomiting.”
She became interested in the European and American avant-garde. By 1950, Kusama was depicting abstracted natural forms in watercolor, gouache and oil, primarily on paper. She began covering surfaces (walls, floors, canvases, and later, household objects and naked assistants) with the polka dots that would become a trademark of her work. The vast fields of polka dots, or “infinity nets,” as she called them, were taken directly from her hallucinations. The earliest recorded work in which she incorporated these dots was a drawing in 1939 at age 10, in which the image of a Japanese woman in a kimono, presumed to be the artist’s mother, is covered and obliterated by spots. Her first series of large-scale, sometimes more than 30 ft-long canvas paintings, Infinity Nets, were entirely covered in a sequence of nets and dots that alluded to hallucinatory visions. In the early 1960s Kusama began to cover items such as ladders, shoes and chairs with white phallic protrusions. Despite the micromanaged intricacy of the drawings, she turned them out fast and in bulk, establishing a rhythm of productivity she still maintains. She established other habits too, like having herself routinely photographed with new work. She staged several solo exhibitions of her paintings in Matsumoto and Tokyo during the 1950s.
Yayoi Kusama said about her 1954 painting titled Flower (D.S.P.S),
One day I was looking at the red flower patterns of the tablecloth on a table, and when I looked up I saw the same pattern covering the ceiling, the windows and the walls, and finally all over the room, my body and the universe. I felt as if I had begun to self-obliterate, to revolve in the infinity of endless time and the absoluteness of space, and be reduced to nothingness. As I realized it was actually happening and not just in my imagination, I was frightened. I knew I had to run away lest I should be deprived of my life by the spell of the red flowers. I ran desperately up the stairs. The steps below me began to fall apart and I fell down the stairs straining my ankle.
1957 – 1973: US Pop culture
After living in Tokyo and France, Kusama left Japan in 1957 at the age of 27 for the United States, settling down in New York City where she produced a series of paintings influenced by the abstract expressionist movement. Her organically abstract paintings of one or two colors (the Infinity Nets series), which she began upon arriving in New York, garnered comparisons to the work of Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman.
Switching to sculpture and installation as her primary mediums, Kusama became a fixture of the New York avant-garde, having her works exhibited alongside the likes of Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg and George Segal during the early 1960s, where she became associated with the pop art movement. In 1961 she moved her studio into the same building as Donald Judd and sculptor Eva Hesse. She was also a friend of Georgia O’Keefe.
Embracing the rise of the hippie counterculture of the late 1960s, Kusama came to public attention when she organized a series of happenings in which naked participants were painted with brightly colored polka dots. Kusama organized outlandish happenings in conspicuous spots like Central Park and the Brooklyn Bridge, often involving nudity and designed to protest the Vietnam War. In one, she wrote an open letter to Richard Nixon offering to have vigorous sex with him if he would stop the Vietnam war. Between 1967 and 1969 she concentrated on performances held with the maximum publicity, usually involving Kusama painting polka dots on her naked performers, as in the Grand Orgy to Awaken the Dead at the MOMA (1969), which took place at the Sculpture Garden of the Museum of Modern Art. In 1968, Kusama presided over the happening Homosexual Wedding at the Church of Self-obliteration in 33 Walker Street in New York, and performed alongside Fleetwood Mac and Country Joe and the Fish at the Fillmore East, New York City. She opened naked painting studios and a gay social club called the Kusama ‘Omophile Kompany (kok).
Since 1963, Kusama has continued her series of Mirror/Infinity rooms. In these complex installations, purpose-built rooms lined with mirrored glass contain scores of neon coloured balls, hanging at various heights above the viewer. Standing inside on a small platform, light is repeatedly reflected off the mirrored surfaces to create the illusion of a never-ending space.
In 1966, Kusama first participated in the 33rd Venice Biennale. Her Narcissus Garden comprised hundreds of mirrored spheres outdoors in what she called a “kinetic carpet”. As soon as the piece was installed on a lawn outside the Italian pavilion, Kusama, dressed in a golden kimono, began selling each individual sphere for 1,200 lire (US$2), until the Biennale organisers put an end to her enterprise. Perhaps one of Kusama’s most notorious works,Narcissus Garden was as much about the promotion of the artist through the media as it was an opportunity to offer a critique of the mechanisation and commodification of the art market. Various versions of Narcissus Gardenhave been presented worldwide venues including Le Consortium, Dijon, 2000; Kunstverein Braunschweig, 2003; as part of the Whitney Biennial in Central Park, New York in 2004; and at the Jardin de Tuileries in Paris, 2010.
During her time in New York, Kusama had a decade-long sexless relationship with the American artist Joseph Cornell, Kusama’s only recorded romantic attachment to date.
However, she did not profit financially from her work. Around this time, Kusama was hospitalized regularly from overwork, and O’Keeffe convinced her own dealer Edith Herbert to purchase several works in order to help Kusama stave off financial hardship.
1973 – present return to Japan
In 1973, Kusama moved back to her native Japan, where she found the art scene far more conservative than that in New York. Becoming an art dealer, her business folded after several years, and after experiencing psychiatric problems, in 1977 she voluntarily admitted herself to a hospital, where she has spent the rest of her life. From here, she has continued to produce artworks in a variety of mediums, as well as launching a literary career by publishing several novels, a poetry collection and an autobiography.
In 1973, Kusama returned to Japan in ill health, where she began writing shockingly visceral and surrealistic novels, short stories, and poetry. Kusama checked herself into the Seiwa Hospital for the Mentally Ill and eventually took up permanent residence. She has been living at the hospital since, by choice. Her studio, where she has continued to produce work since the mid-1970s, is a short distance from the hospital in Shinjuku, Tokyo. Kusama is often quoted as saying: “If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago.” She continued to paint, but now in high-coloured acrylics on canvas, on an amped-up scale.
When she left New York she was practically forgotten as an artist until the late 1980s and 1990s, when a number of retrospectives revived international interest. Following the success of the Japanese pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 1993, a dazzling mirrored room filled with small pumpkin sculptures in which she resided in color-coordinated magician’s attire, Kusama went on to produce a huge, yellow pumpkin sculpture covered with an optical pattern of black spots. The pumpkin came to represent for her a kind of alter-ego or self-portrait. Kusama’s later installation I’m Here, but Nothing (2000–2008) is a simply furnished room consisting of table and chairs, place settings and bottles, armchairs and rugs, however its walls are tattooed with hundreds of fluorescent polka dots glowing in the UV light. The result is an endless infinite space where the self and everything in the room is obliterated. The multi-part floating work Guidepost to the New Space, a series of rounded “humps” in fire-engine red with white polka dots, was displayed in Pandanus Lake.
In her ninth decade, Kusama has continued to work as an artist. She has harked back to earlier work by returning to drawing and painting; her work remaining innovative and multi-disciplinary, and her most recent exhibition displayed multiple acrylic-on-canvas works. Also featured were an exploration of infinite space in her Infinity Mirror rooms; which typically involve a cube shaped room being clad with mirrors, water on the floor and flickering lights; which suggests a pattern of life and death.
In 1977, Kusama published a book of poems and paintings entitled 7. One year later, her first novel Manhattan Suicide Addict appeared. Between 1983 and 1990, she finished the novels The Hustler’s Grotto of Christopher Street (1983), The Burning of St Mark’s Church (1985), Between Heaven and Earth (1988), Woodstock Phallus Cutter (1988), Aching Chandelier (1989), Double Suicide at Sakuragazuka (1989), and Angels in Cape Cod (1990), alongside several issues of the magazine S&M Sniper in collaboration with photographer Nobuyoshi Araki.
In 1968, the film Kusama’s Self-Obliteration which Kusama produced and starred in won a prize at the Fourth International Experimental Film Competition in Belgium and the Second Maryland Film Festival and the second prize at the Ann Arbor Film Festival. In 1991, Kusama starred in the film Tokyo Decadence, written and directed by Ryu Murakami, and in 1993, she collaborated with British musician Peter Gabriel on an installation in Yokohama.
In 1968, Kusama established Kusama Fashion Company Ltd., and began selling avantgarde fashion in the “Kusama Corner” at Bloomingdales. In 2009, Kusama designed a handbag-shaped cell phone entitled Handbag for Space Travel, My Doggie Ring-Ring, a pink dotted phone in accompanying dog-shaped holder, and a red and white dotted phone inside a mirrored, dotted box dubbed Dots Obsession, Full Happiness With Dots, for Japanese mobile communication giant KDDI Corporation‘s “iida” brand. Each phone was limited to 1000 pieces. In 2011, Kusama created artwork for six limited-edition lipglosses from Lancôme. That same year, she worked with Marc Jacobs (who visited her studio in Japan in 2006) on a line of Louis Vuitton products, including leather goods, ready-to-wear, accessories, shoes, watches, and jewelry.
In Yayoi Kusama’s Walking Piece (1966), a performance that was documented in a series of eighteen color slides, Kusama walks along the streets of New York City in a traditional Japanese kimono with a parasol. The kimono suggests traditional roles for women in Japanese custom. The parasol, however, is made to look inauthentic as it is really a black umbrella painted white on the exterior and decorated with fake flowers. Kusama walks down unoccupied streets in an unknown quest. She then turns and cries without reason, and eventually walks away and vanishes from view. This performance, through the association of the kimono, involves the stereotypes that Asian American women continue to face. However, as an avant-garde artist living in New York, her situation alters the context of the dress, creating a cross-cultural amalgamation. Kusama is able to point out the stereotype that her white American audience categorizes her in by showing the absurdity of cultural catergorizing people in the world’s largest melting pot.
In 2010, Kusama designed a Town Sneaker-model bus, which she titled Mizutama Ranbu (Wild Polka Dot Dance) and whose route travels through her home town of Matsumoto. In 2011, she was commissioned to design the front cover of millions of pocket London Underground maps; the result is entitled Polka Dots Festival in London (2011). Coinciding with an exhibition of the artist’s work at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 2012, a 120-foot reproduction of Kusama’s painting Yellow Trees (1994) covered a condominium building under construction in New York’s Meatpacking District. That same year, Kusama conceived her floor installation Thousands of Eyes as a commission for the new Queen Elizabeth II Courts of Law, Brisbane.
Woodblock printing in Japan (Japanese: 木版画, moku hanga) is a technique best known for its use in the ukiyo-e artistic genre; however, it was also used very widely for printing books in the same period. Woodblock printing had been used in China for centuries to print books, long before the advent of movable type, but was only widely adopted in Japan surprisingly late, during the Edo period (1603-1867). Although similar to woodcut in western printmaking in some regards, the moku hanga technique differs in that it uses water-based inks—as opposed to western woodcut, which often uses oil-based inks. The Japanese water-based inks provide a wide range of vivid colors, glazes, and transparency.
In-depth video on history and development of techniques of Japanese woodcut from monochrome through painted monochrome prints to multiblock printing. It looks at its influence on Western artists like Van Gogh and Monet following the exhibition of Japanese art for the first time at the Paris Exhibition of 1867. It also looks at the modern day revival of ukiyo-e prints as paintings on shops in Tokyo regeneration.
Japanese woodblock prints with Paul Binnie
Lecture on background and underlying ideas in Japanese printing techniques.
Japanese woodblock printing History Ukiyo-e Jose Ortega
History of Japanese printing and way it spread and related to earlier Chinese and Buddhist prints.
Woodblock-printed books from Chinese Buddhist temples were seen in Japan as early as the eighth century. In 764 the Empress Kōken commissioned one million small wooden pagodas, each containing a small woodblock scroll printed with a Buddhist text (Hyakumanto Darani). These were distributed to temples around the country as thanksgiving for the suppression of the Emi Rebellion of 764. These are the earliest examples of woodblock printing known, or documented, from Japan.
By the eleventh century, Buddhist temples in Japan produced printed books of sutras, mandalas, and other Buddhist texts and images. For centuries, printing was mainly restricted to the Buddhist sphere, as it was too expensive for mass production, and did not have a receptive, literate public as a market. However, an important set of fans of the late Heian period (12th century), containing painted images and Buddhist sutras, reveal from loss of paint that the underdrawing for the paintings was printed from blocks.
Not until 1590 was the first secular book printed in Japan. This was the Setsuyō-shū, a two-volume Chinese-Japanese dictionary. Though the Jesuits operated a movable typeprinting press in Nagasaki from 1590, printing equipment brought back by Toyotomi Hideyoshi‘s army from Korea in 1593 had far greater influence on the development of the medium. Four years later, Tokugawa Ieyasu, even before becoming shogun, effected the creation of the first native moveable type, using wooden type-pieces rather than metal. He oversaw the creation of 100,000 type-pieces, which were used to print a number of political and historical texts. As shogun, Ieyasu promoted literacy and learning, contributing to the emergence of an educated urban public.
Printing was not dominated by the shogunate at this point, however. Private printers appeared in Kyoto at the beginning of the 17th century, and Toyotomi Hideyori, Ieyasu’s primary political opponent, aided in the development and spread of the medium as well. An edition of the Confucian Analects was printed in 1598, using a Korean moveable type printing press, at the order of Emperor Go-Yōzei. This document is the oldest work of Japanese moveable type printing extant today. Despite the appeal of moveable type, however, craftsmen soon decided that the running script style of Japanese writings was better reproduced using woodblocks. By 1640 woodblocks were once again used for nearly all purposes.
The medium quickly gained popularity among artists, and was used to produce small, cheap, art prints as well as books. The great pioneers in applying this method to the creation of art books, and in preceding mass production for general consumption, were Honami Kōetsu and Suminokura Soan. At their studio in Saga, the pair created a number of woodblocks of the Japanese classics, both text and images, essentially converting handscrolls to printed books, and reproducing them for wider consumption. These books, now known as Kōetsu Books, Suminokura Books, or Saga Books, are considered the first and finest printed reproductions of many of these classic tales; the Saga Book of the Tales of Ise (Ise monogatari), printed in 1608, is especially renowned.
Woodblock printing, though more tedious and expensive than later methods, was far less so than the traditional method of writing out each copy of a book by hand; thus, Japan began to see something of literary mass production. While the Saga Books were printed on expensive fancy paper, and used various embellishments, being printed specifically for a small circle of literary connoisseurs, other printers in Kyoto quickly adapted the technique to producing cheaper books in large numbers, for more general consumption. The content of these books varied widely, including travel guides, advice manuals, kibyōshi (satirical novels), sharebon (books on urban culture), art books, and play scripts for the jōruri (puppet) theatre. Often, within a certain genre, such as the jōruri theatre scripts, a particular style of writing became standard for that genre. For example, one person’s personal calligraphic style was adopted as the standard style for printing plays.
Many publishing houses arose and grew, publishing both books and individual prints. One of the most famous and successful was called Tsuta-ya. A publisher’s ownership of the physical woodblocks used to print a given text or image constituted the closest equivalent to a concept of “copyright” that existed at this time. Publishers or individuals could buy woodblocks from one another, and thus take over the production of certain texts, but beyond the protective ownership of a given set of blocks (and thus a very particular representation of a given subject), there was no legal conception of the ownership of ideas. Plays were adopted by competing theatres, and either reproduced wholesale, or individual plot elements or characters might be adapted; this activity was considered legitimate and routine, at the time.
Woodblock printing continued after the decline of ukiyo-e, and introduction of movable type and other technologies, as a method and medium for printing texts as well as for producing art, both within traditional modes such as ukiyo-e and in a variety of more radical or Western forms that might be construed as modern art. Institutes such as the “Adachi Institute of Woodcut Prints” and “Takezasado” continue to produce Ukiyo-e prints with the same materials and methods as used in the past. 
Schools and movements
- Torii school, from 1700
- Kaigetsudō school, from 1700–14
- Katsukawa school, from about 1740, including the artists Suzuki Harunobu and Hokusai
- Utagawa school, from 1842, including the artist Kunisada
- Sōsaku hanga, “Creative Prints” movement, from 1904
- Shin hanga “New Prints” movement, from 1915
The technique for printing texts and images was generally similar. The obvious differences were the volume produced when working with texts (many pages for a single work), and the complexity of multiple colors in some images. Images in books were almost always in monochrome (black ink only), and for a time art prints were likewise monochrome or done in only two or three colors.
The text or image was first drawn onto washi (Japanese paper), then glued face-down onto a plank of wood, usually cherry. Wood was then cut away, based on the drawing outlines. A small wooden hard object called a barenwas used to press or burnish the paper against the inked woodblock to apply the ink to the paper. Although this may have been done purely by hand at first, complex wooden mechanisms were soon invented and adopted to help hold the woodblock perfectly still and apply proper pressure in the printing process. This was especially helpful with the introduction of multiple colors that had to be applied with precision over previous ink layers.
While, again, text was nearly always monochrome, as were images in books, the growth of the popularity of ukiyo-e brought with it demand for ever increasing numbers of colors and complexity of techniques. The stages of this development follow:
- Sumizuri-e (墨摺り絵?, “ink printed pictures”)—monochrome printing using only black ink
- Benizuri-e (紅摺り絵?, “crimson printed pictures”)—red ink details or highlights added by hand after the printing process；green was sometimes used as well
- Tan-e (丹絵?)—orange highlights using a red pigment called tan
- Aizuri-e (藍摺り絵?, “indigo printed pictures”), Murasaki-e (紫絵?, “purple pictures”), and other styles in which a single color was used in addition to, or instead of, black ink
- Urushi-e (漆絵?)—a method that thickened the ink with glue, emboldening the image. Printers often used gold, mica, and other substances to enhance the image further. Urushi-e can also refer to paintings using lacquerinstead of paint. Lacquer was rarely, if ever, used on prints.
- Nishiki-e (錦絵?, “brocade pictures”)—a method of using multiple blocks for separate portions of the image, using a number of colors to achieve complex and detailed images. A separate block was carved to apply only the part of the image designated for a single color. Registration marks called kentō (見当) were used to ensure correspondence between the application of each block.
Contemporary Japanese woodblock