By Chen Guang and Claire Li Yingxue
Dressed in a Felix cat shirt, Yoshitomo Nara, one of the most renowned Japanese artists, brought his provocative girls and snow-white puppies to Hong Kong audience in his first major solo at the Asia Society Hong Kong Center.
The title of the exhibition Life is only comes from the painting Life is Only One!, which depicts an innocent-looking girl, holding a human skull. The philosophy of life and death is always a tricky subject for artists. If you have only one life, there will be a kind of reincarnation?
For Nara his sister was still alive. In his imagination she was always affecting his way of work. When Nara was twenty-two years old, he heard from his mother, that she was pregnant with a baby girl, who was unfortunately stillborn two years before his birth.
He realized to be different from other boys. He loved flowers and enchanted to other beautiful objects in his childhood. When his mother told him about his sister, his female side makes more sense to him.
The exhibition reviews his best artworks over twenty years as the essence of his work”, reflected by the range of sketches, photos and mixed media installations. Three new paintings, seventeen new drawings and some puppy sculptures, are made specially for this show.
When the market is dying to know what’s new, Nara indicated how difficult and precious to just be his “old self”. After witnessing the aftermath of the Japan earthquake and tsunami of 2011, he took four photos of it. Too shocked by what he has seen, he couldn’t continue his life as an artist. At the same time his father was dying. That pushed him out of life. Strong doubts came over him.
“Maybe I enjoyed too much freedom,” Nara said. “I used to do whatever my emotion drove me to do and I realized that how self-centered I was.”
During the summer of 2011, Nara visited the university he used to study, working with students in the studio. It gave him a new sense of life. “All the sceneries, things I saw were those I’m familiar with. It’s like I did a time travel and went back to the old days. Basically, I didn’t have my current self, I became my old self.”
Now in the age of 55 Nara feels that half of his life was over. On one side he wished to enjoy his days and on the other side he was looking for a more meaningful life, sharing something with others.
Recalling his childhood in the north of Japan, Nara was deeply captured by the pure and complicated white. “During the wintertime everything is covered in snow. Everywhere white, so fare the eye can look. Yet beneath the pure white lied those beautiful, dirty, ugly things.” So his last words.