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Yoshitomo Nara (Japanese, born 1959)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

Japanese painter, sculptor and draughtsman. He studied at the Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music (1985–7) and then continued his studies at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf (1988–93). Nara was born and raised in a rural area of Japan and, as a child of working parents, he spent much of his time alone with only his imagination, comic books and family pets as company. The paintings, drawings and sculptures of seemingly innocent, wide-eyed children and dogs that have become his trademark are an attempt to capture this childhood sense of boredom and frustration and recapture the fierce independence natural to children. His paintings and drawings have a childlike simplicity that is reminiscent of traditional book illustration, but the works also have a restlessness and tension that is influenced, in part, by Nara’s love of punk rock, and is reinforced with such titles as The Girl with the Knife in Her Side (1991), Silent Violence (1998), Neurotic to the Bone (1999) and There is Nothing (2000).

Nara’s earliest paintings are simple and straightforward with thick, bold lines and primary colours. In these early works, children and animals often share space on the canvas with fragments of text and painted props, such as tiny knives, toys and cardboard boxes. His paintings evolved until his subject-matter was reduced to its essentials—simplified child and animal figures, with piercing gazes, staring out at the viewer from an otherwise empty canvas. His sculptures, usually made out of fibreglass, share this same economy of form. Nara—a father of the Tokyo Pop movement—is one of a generation of artists who grew up during the post-World War II economic boom in Japan that was characterized by, among other things, an influx of popular culture from the West, including the animation of Warner Bros and Walt Disney. The influence of these American cartoons, as well as Japanese comics (manga) and animated television shows (anime), such as Gigantor and Speed Racer, is often cited in discussions of his work. However, Nara is a skilled and sensitive painter, who was also greatly influenced by the tranquil palette, classic balance and the space-consuming figures in paintings by such pre-Renaissance masters as Giotto.

In addition to painting and sculpture, Nara created many drawings. These are usually hastily scribbled on the backs of postcards, used envelopes and other scraps of paper and often incorporate text in English, German, or Japanese. Unlike the composed surface of the paintings, the drawings are raw and immediate and reveal Nara’s youthful rebellious streak. As one of Japan’s most popular contemporary artists, his works are shown in important galleries and museums around the world, but they can also be seen, and purchased, on t-shirts, postcards, CD covers, skateboards and even yo-yos.

Kristin Chambers
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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