16 September – 31 October 2015
Johnen Galerie is pleased to present Yoshitomo Nara’s sixth solo exhibition with the gallery. The exhibition will include new paintings on canvas, on wood and on cardboard and a number of drawings. It is the artist’s first exhibition in Germany since 2008.
Best known for his images of large-eyed children, often melancholy, mischievous and/ or roguish, against an ostensibly uniform background, Nara’s representations are neither realistic nor entirely cartoonish. Despite the misleadingly simple array of distinguishing marks—disproportionally large head, simplified, often elongated limbs, a face with enormous eyes, a smallish mouth and the suggestion of a snub nose—the figures register as individuals with distinct personalities (even if these remain elusive).
Nara’s influences are far-reaching, encompassing apart from Western and Japanese modern art, children’s picture books, literature, graphics, record jackets, photography, and music. Chief among them are children’s books and fairy-tales from his youth, both classics such as Hans Christian Anderson, Brother’s Grimm or Aesop’s fables, as well as Japanese fairy-stories form the 1940s and 1950s.
Another major influence on the development of his oeuvre has been the artist’s fascination with music, especially folk music, but also Rock Music and Punk. The punk movement’s celebration of the non-professional, rough and unpolished has had a lasting influence on Nara’s practice. References to lyrics from these sources recur in his works.
While the imagery has sometimes been associated with biographical aspects of the artist’s life—having grown up in postwar Japan in the first generation of so-called latchkey kids—the solitary figures are to be understood as allegorical representations: symbols of the dynamic of childhood, the workings of children’s minds, their imagination, immediacy and depth of feeling. As embodiments the figures evoke an emotional response and often also a narrative subtext.
Nara’s work is infused by a belief in the universality of popular cultures and by the desire to create a new, living popular art, akin to a “folk” art for today, inspired by contemporary everyday life.
In addition, the format of Nara’s paintings and its emotional evocativeness have been compared to religious imagery and devotional pictures.
Luminously painted, the works appear deceptively plain in reproduction. Many layered, the paintings are created in a dialogue between the painter and his subject, interrogating his motif.
Yoshitomo Nara, born in Hirosaki City, Aomori Prefecture, in 1959. Completed Master's Degree Program at Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music in 1987. Moved to Germany in 1988 to study at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and attained the title "Meisterschüler" (master pupil) under A.R. Penck. Lived and worked in Cologne from 1994 to 2000. Taught at University of California, Los Angeles, for three months as a visiting professor in 1998. Lived and worked in Tokyo after returning to Japan in 2000, and moved to Tochigi in 2005.
Major exhibitions after 2000 include I DON’T MIND IF YOU FORGET ME. (Yokohama Museum of Art, 2001; toured to five other museums in Japan in 2001 and 2002); Nothing Ever Happens (Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland, 2003; toured to five other museums in the U.S. between 2003 and 2005); From the Depth of My Drawer (Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, 2004; toured to five other museums in Japan and Korea in 2004 and 2005); Yoshitomo Nara + graf A to Z (Yoshii Brick Brewhouse, Hirosaki, 2006); Moonlight Serenade (21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, 2006); ceramic works (Tomio Koyama Gallery, Tokyo, 2010); Nobody’s Fool (Asia Society Museum, New York, 2010–11); a bit like you and me... (Yokohama Museum of Art, 2012; Aomori Museum of Art, 2012–13; Contemporary Art Museum, Kumamoto, 2013); The Little Little House in The Blue Woods (Towada Art Center, 2012). Life is Only One: Yoshitomo Nara, (Asia Society Hong Kong Center, Hong Kong, 2015)
He has also been publishing photo work that captures his day-to-day creative practice, landscape and people as seen through his eyes. Photo monographs: the good, the bad, the average…and unique (Little More, 2003); Yoshitomo Nara Photo Book, 2003-2013 (Kodansha, 2013)