Yoshitomo Nara, an artist whose works featuring sharp-eyed people and animals as motifs have attracted fans worldwide, is not only showcased in domestic art museums but also has artworks housed in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York and the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles. Currently, art enthusiasts are immersed in the profound journey of Nara's creative evolution at the Albertina Modern in Vienna, where his exhibition, "Yoshitomo Nara: All My Little Words," unfolds its beauty until November 1, 2023. At Gen de Art, we were privileged to engage in an enlightening conversation with Nara himself in Vienna, exploring about his formative experiences, music, travel, and the relationship between his hometown and his creative process.
Work for Picture Book “Lonesome Puppy”, 1999 Acrylic and colored pencil on paper, 26 × 52 cm
Collection of the artist
Photo/The Albertina Museum, Vienna
European Exhibition: Yoshitomo Nara's 40-Year Journey
"Yoshitomo Nara: All My Little Words" at the prestigious Albertina Modern is a profound exhibition of Yoshitomo Nara's work in Europe, held for the first time in over a decade. This grand showcase gracefully charts the artistic odyssey of Nara, spanning a remarkable of nearly four decades, with a primary emphasis on his evocative drawings.
Within this immersive exhibition, a rich tapestry of Nara's creative legacy unfolds, ranging from his early forays into experimental works on paper to a captivating array of paintings, sculptures, and a meticulously curated installation titled "My Drawing Room 2008 Bedroom included".
Angela Stief, the director of the Albertina Modern, offers insights into Nara's creative process, stating, "Nara-san sometimes draws improvisational drawings on scraps of paper, old envelopes, packaging materials, flyers, and more. These works display a direct influence from subcultures such as rock music. They serve as expressions of the artists' social concerns and reflect societal values, norms, and ideals."
Journey and Melodies: Inspiration for Creation
Nara believes that traveling has an exceptional capacity to enhance and elevate one's sensitivity. He says, "I don't think that going on a journey has a significant impact on creativity. However, it refines the way I think and perceive emotions. It allows me to become more sensitive. The reasons for traveling are diverse. For example, my grandfather worked as a coal miner when he was young. I desire to visit the coal mines in Hokkaido and Sakhalin where he used to work. I want to see the landscapes he saw. Additionally, I'm interested in Taiwan, which is geographically opposite to Sakhalin. I would like to visit places where I can observe the lives of ethnic minorities and indigenous people. Although what I see during these travels may not be directly depicted in my artworks, it undoubtedly enhances my sensitivity and senses."
The fact that Nara engages in creative activities while listening to music is widely known among fans, but Nara has harbored a deep affection for music since childhood. "Many people mistakenly believe that music is important only during the process of creating artwork, but in truth, music has always held significance for me even before the act of creation. From the moment I first heard music playing on the radio as a very young child, I remember that sensation and have loved music ever since. I never had the thought of wanting to draw or become an artist while listening to music; it was simply a constant presence in my life. Consequently, when I draw, I also listen to music, but it's not as if I listen to music specifically for the purpose of drawing."
My Drawing Room 2008, bedroom included
© Yoshitomo Nara
Photo/ © Sandro E. E. Zanzinger
The Artist's Identity and True Self
While Nara basks in global acclaim as a distinguished contemporary artist, he honestly expresses that the label of an artist is merely a facet of his true identity. "I may be recognized by many as an artist, but that is just a part of my true self. Perhaps only about 20% of who I am is the artist within, while the remaining 80% is unknown and unknowable to others—that is my authentic self. To convey this, I make use of social media platforms such as Instagram and Twitter. Through these channels, I share glimpses of my everyday life as a person. As a result, it may appear that I am constantly traveling or simply having fun, but that too is a part of who I am. In the future, I will continue to make posts that make you wonder, 'When does this person find time to paint?' However, I would be delighted if these posts provide you with some understanding not only of me as an artist but also as a person."
Returning to the Origin: Passion for Aomori and the Autumn Exhibition in 2023
Nara, who grew up in Aomori Prefecture, speaks about the profound influence that his beloved hometown has imprinted upon his artistic journey. "I was born and raised in Aomori Prefecture, and I spent the majority of my teenage years there. This autumn, I have plans to hold a large-scale exhibition in Aomori. For the exhibition, rather than showcasing new works, I aim to create an exhibition that allows an understanding of my sensibilities and growth process. I wish to display books I read during my childhood and items related to my personal development. During high school, I even collaborated with older peers to establish a rock café. I consider such experiences, where we created our own small community, as the beginning of my life—not as an artist, but as a person. I intend to recreate those experiences within the exhibition."