Sunday, January 2, 2011

Cuts Like A Knife: The Rock Art of Yoshitomo Nara

I first came across the work of Yoshitomo Nara at Manhattan's Kinokuniya Bookstore. The thing that stood out for me as I was flipping through a book of his artwork was its simplicity. A raw, color pencil drawing of a child on what appeared to be graph paper, holding a small blade in its hands with the caption “Slash with a Knife!” kick started my fandom from that day forward.

So I was thrilled to visit Asia Society's enormous, all encompassing Nara retrospective entitled Nobody’s Fool featuring his drawings and paintings as well as work in mediums not often associated with him such as ceramics and sculpture -- all exuding Nara’s defining style.

Nara’s paintings typically have no backgrounds, or if there is a background it is on a small scale, thrusting the subject center stage. Often the subject is complimented by edgy, profane (often grammatically incorrect), yet somehow endearing slogans that appear to jump at the viewer.

Nara grew up in Aomori prefecture in northern Japan and speaks about his childhood as a period of isolation (one of the three central themes of the exhibit). It was not uncommon for Nara to come home and find an empty house. He also lived and studied art in Germany for a number of years which was another period of isolation for him. As such, the majority of his work features children or dogs as the main subjects due to his belief that they are the loneliest and most isolated beings in society.

Nara’s other main themes are rebellion and music. His love of 60’s and 70’s rock and punk and 90's grunge is prevalent in his work, with some pictures featuring song lyrics or titles lifted directly from his favorite artists' songs. Unlike the punk movement that inspired him over the years, Nara's idea of rebellion is not political. Rather, he encourages the viewer to follow his/her hopes and dreams even when the larger elements in society would have it otherwise.

Nobody’s Fool closes today, unfortunately, but much of the work and commentary is featured on Asia Society's micro site. You can even get a panoramic view from the middle of his three giant, adorable, somewhat terrifying puppy sculptures without leaving the comfort of your home!

The Asia Society Museum is located at 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street). Tickets are $10 for general admission, $7 for seniors, $5 for students with ID, and free for members and persons under 16.


Image: Make the Road, Follow the Road, 1990. Acrylic on cotton. H. 39 3/8 x W. 39 3/8 in. (100 x 100 cm). Aomori Museum of Art, 2678. Image courtesy of the artist.

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