Dairy Art Centre is pleased to present a major solo exhibition by Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara. The largest and most comprehensive exhibition in the UK to date, it will feature seminal pieces by the artist, many of which have never been shown before in the UK. Comprising a large body of recent and previously unreleased works, the exhibition will include painting, sculpture, and a unique retrospective of Nara’s drawings spanning 30 years.
One of the most renowned Japanese contemporary artists of his generation, Nara is best known for his paintings of children and animals sporting fiendish expressions and provocative stances, isolated against pastel-coloured backdrops. Exploring the psychological universe of childhood experience, Nara’s world straddles the make-believe of infantile imagination, adult anxiety, and rebellion.
His paintings are diligently layered with luminescent colour, making each textured brushstroke and gesture visible, revealing a broad range of artistic and cultural influences from modernist Japanese and Western paintings, literature, illustrated children’s books, and music (folk, rock, and punk).It is this very mix of seemingly random and unrelated influences that generates a practice that is instantly recognisable and distinct, but with the rare ability to blend seamlessly as New York Times columnist, Roberta Smith concurs, “Nara may be one of the most egalitarian visual artists since Keith Haring. He seems never to have met a culture or generation gap, a divide between art mediums and modes of consumption that he couldn’t bridge or simply ignore. His art is highly synthetic, representing fusions of high, low and kitsch; East and West; grown-up, adolescent and infantile; and so seamless as to render such distinctions almost moot.”
The exhibition explores an important development in Nara’s artistic practice, where he becomes more concerned with the approachability of his subject matter through the use of a softer, more vivid colour palette, as exemplified in paintings such as Midnight Silence (2014) and I wanna be. (2013). The serene and wide-eyed gazes of the children he portrays in these works are a striking contrast to the more familiar, menacing characters seen in paintings such as Midnight Vampire (2014), depicted in more solid colours. In Edan Corkill’s 2012 article of Nara’s works in The Japan Times, he notices “Nara’s application of colour has become more complex, more nuanced. Where there used to be deep browns there are now matrices of colour. And the chests of his subjects; where there used to be the monotones of T-shirts, there are now patchworks of colour.” This attention to the application of colour remains evident in No MEANS NO, (2014) a new painting specially made for the exhibition.
Dating from 1984 to 2014, the drawing survey provides a rare opportunity to see over 200 individual pieces of Nara’s extensive collection of works on paper, brought together for the first time. Located in the ‘Fridge’ space of the Dairy, these works are displayed in a concentrated grouping that occupy the entire perimeter of the room. They hang together in a manner that contrasts significantly to the placement of his sculptures and paintings, yet it’s apparent the artist assigns equal importance in their creation and presentation. Drawing has always played a key role in Nara’s creative process, with a number of these serving as the artist’s visual diaries. Rendered in pencil, acrylic, and coloured pencil, the drawings are composed on a variety of paper, such as found envelopes, stationery, and inexpensive lined sheets. Offering an unprecedented insight into the artist’s personal archive, these drawings combine Japanese visual traditions and Western modernism.
Another highlight of the exhibition includes a series of Nara’s large-scale bronze sculptures. Although a relatively new medium for the artist, which he began to use in 2011, the sculptures’ subjects of childlike heads and busts are familiar motifs that have continuously run throughout his career. The casts were produced from clay models Nara sculpted, giving their surfaces a rough, textured appearance.
This exhibition is generously supported by the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation, the Japan Foundation and the Embassy of Japan in the UK.
The exhibition will tour to ARKEN Museum of Modern Art, Ishøj, Denmark in October 2015.