Summary of Yoshitomo Nara
Nara is a central figure within contemporary Japanese art. He is associated specifically with the rise of Superflat art; a term coined by Nara's compatriot Takashi Murakami to describe a movement that blends a two-dimensional (flat) graphic design with the more contemplative interests of fine art. Nara's deceptively simple art uses cartoon-like imagery to express conflicting childhood emotions and anxieties within a single figure. His children are typically shown in a mood of resistance and rebellion or, sometimes, in a more tranquil or contemplative state. Given his nationality, and the illustrative quality of his art, Nara has often been associated with the traditions of Japanese manga and anime but Nara's work draws on a much wider range of influences ranging through Western Punk Rock and fairy tales to Eastern religion and philosophy. In the later, more introspective, phase of his career, Nara has turned his attentions to sculpture and installation art, but it is through his enduring "Romana" portraits that he remains most readily associated.
- Superflat art is now considered a staple of postmodern art. It is based on Japan's post World War II obsession with anime and manga comic books but Nara's more outward looking worldview has done much to promote the reputation of the so-called Japanese "Pop art" in mainstream Western culture.
- Many of Nara's works are inspired by Punk music and the ethos of rebellion and defiance. His work takes the traditional Japanese theater character of Otafuku, a figure who represents joy and who is always depicted with full cheeks and cheerful eyes, and turns her into a mischievous, brooding "punk" child. These works have even helped overturn the perception of Japan as an inflexible society governed by ancient social conventions.
- Nara's cartoon-based approached has sometimes been compared to the work of Keith Haring. However, Nara's figures are more archetypal and play around much more with the Japanese tradition of the kawaii: the idea that we might feel empathy with feeble and helpless creatures. Like Haring, however, his work has managed to captivate at once the imagination of serious art collectors and critics, and the rebellious youth who consume his art through numerous items of mass reproduction.
- Nara's work often incorporates words or short phrases. In an attempt to reduce his art to a single, simple, idea or concept, his use of words are intended to overcome any ambiguities in the artist's intentions and to enable his viewer to identify specifically with Nara's point of view. In a postmodern context where artists usually prefer meaning to remain ambiguous, Nara offered a more reductive way of looking at his art.
- As a direct result of the fallout from the Fukushima earthquake and the death of his father, Nara's mature works took on a more existential focus. The artist becomes more introspective and philosophical, encouraging, through his art, his audience to come to a higher level of consciousness. In his Midnight series, for instance, Nara brought a Buddhist sensibility to his work that invited comparisons with the transcendental aims of Mark Rothko.
Biography of Yoshitomo Nara
The youngest of three boys, Yoshitomo Nara grew up in a rural community near the city of Hirosaki, in the northern Japanese prefecture of Aomori. His father and grandfather were both Shinto priests, and later in his career, Nara would draw inspiration of his own from the spiritual teachings of Shinto.