The most highly paid living artist lives in a psyche ward in Tokyo. When she stops painting or creating, she becomes suicidal. Her art therapy began while undergoing treatment for her mental illness. She has had visual hallucinations since she was a child and has been painting them ever since.
Her recent exhibit in Washington DC., drew record crowds and caused lotteries, scalping and endless lines. Extra staff was added to accommodate the extra large crowds and the show took two years to plan and execute.
At 88, she entered into the reality of creating a new museum in Japan. It has now opened and Ms. Kusama claims she is only getting started-rare words for an octogenarian.
She has just signed yet another clothing deal. Her daily regime includes leaving the confines of a mental institution to walk to a nearby artist’s studio where she paints every day from 9am to 5pm. She then returns to her room in the hospital where her status is referred to as ‘fragile.’
In her twenties, Kusama wrote to Georgia O’Keefe and sent some of her paintings. To her surprise, O’Keefe responded. Kusama then decided to leave her homeland of Japan to avoid her family’s expectation of marrying a designated man. That is the decision that brought her to America where she landed in New York City.
In Kusama’s initial work, she painted huge works called “Infinity Nets.” Her repetition of pattern was manic. She attempted to paint polka dots on everything from people to food as well as thousands of canvases. From the early years until today, Kusama strives toward ‘self-obliteration’ through painting.
As a contemporary Japanese artist, she visits a variety of media with her work-painting, sculpture, film and installation. Her body of work shows strong repetition and densely patterned motifs. She exploits the use of repetition. She explores infinity and she is obsessively negating the self.
She returned to Japan from the states in the ’70s where she has lived in a mental hospital ever since. After falling into obscurity for decades, her talent received heightened recognition after a memorable showing in the 1993 Venice Biennale.
As fragile as she is, her work ethic has carried with her throughout the years. And still today, she describes having constant hallucinations. When she talks about her work, she claims she feels as excited as a child and filled with ‘mountains of energy.’
Today when she attends exhibits, she always has an exit strategy. If her mood changes or she gets confused, her assistants quickly whisk her away and back to the safety of the hospital.
Doctors have tried to medicate her but she does not like to alter her natural imaging of things. She might be the first artist to accurately capture an hallucination. Or maybe she is one herself.