Yayoi Kusama was born in Matsumoto, Japan in 1929. She had little formal training, studying traditional Japanese painting only briefly (1948–49) at the Kyōto City Specialist School of Arts. She came to the United States in 1957 and lived in New York City for sixteen years, establishing herself as an avant-garde artist and becoming a major figure in performance, happenings, and Pop Art and Minimalist art movements, along with her peers and friends, Andy Warhol, Frank Stella, Joseph Cornell, and Donald Judd. She was particularly well known at that time for her infinity net paintings and “dots,” which continue to infiltrate her canvases, sculptures, prints, and clothing, and have even spread beyond into performance and installation. She returned to Japan in 1973, and in 1975 was voluntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital in Tokyo, where she still lives today, making work in the hospital and in various studio spaces she maintains in the neighborhood. Much of the inspiration for her artwork comes from a rather dark and difficult place: her mental health problems, beginning in her childhood and continuing through today. In her words:
My art originates from hallucinations only I can see. I translate the hallucinations and obsessional images that plague me into sculptures and paintings. All my works in pastels are the products of obsessional neurosis and are therefore inextricably connected to my disease. I create pieces even when I don’t see hallucinations, though.
An early hallucination manifested itself as a field of dots, and instead of becoming incapacitated by her illness, she turned to the arts as a creative treatment and solution. Her use of dots and their repetition have also become an obsession, numbering in the hundreds of thousands for some large-scale works of art. As she has said, “Our earth is only one polka dot among a million stars in the cosmos. Polka dots are a way to infinity.”
Yayoi Kusama (草間 彌生, Kusama Yayoi, born 22 March 1929) is a Japanese contemporary artist who works primarily in sculpture and installation, and is also active in painting, performance, video art, fashion, poetry, fiction, and other arts. Her work is based in conceptual art and shows some attributes of feminism, minimalism, surrealism, Art Brut, pop art, and abstract expressionism, and is infused with autobiographical, psychological, and sexual content. She has been acknowledged as one of the most important living artists to come out of Japan, the world's top-selling female artist, and the world's most successful living artist. Her work influenced that of her contemporaries, including Andy Warhol and Claes Oldenburg.
Kusama was raised in Matsumoto, and trained at the Kyoto City University of Arts for a year in a traditional Japanese painting style called nihonga. She was inspired by American Abstract impressionism. She moved to New York City in 1958 and was a part of the New York avant-garde scene throughout the 1960s, especially in the pop-art movement. Embracing the rise of the hippie counterculture of the late 1960s, she came to public attention when she organized a series of happenings in which naked participants were painted with brightly coloured polka dots. She experienced a period in the 70s during which her work was largely forgotten, but a revival of interest in the 1980s brought her art back into public view. Kusama has continued to create art in various museums around the world, from the 1950s through the 2020s.Kusama has been open about her mental health and has resided since the 1970s in a mental health facility which she leaves daily to walk to her nearby studio to work. She says that art has become her way to express her mental problems. "I fight pain, anxiety, and fear every day, and the only method I have found that relieved my illness is to keep creating art," she told an interviewer in 2012. "I followed the thread of art and somehow discovered a path that would allow me to live."