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Yoshitomo Nara’s portraits of big-eyed, mysterious girls are instantly recognizable. And so are the rest of his artworks, surrounded by a special aura of naivety, beauty and spirituality. To celebrate the Japanese artist’s career, which spans more than three decades, Phaidon has published the most comprehensive book to date about his work, which includes almost four hundred illustrations – many of them, never seen before. 

“Though he is now best-known for his complicated kawaii girls, the monograph also gives a detailed account of Mr Nara’s other artistic ventures. An astonishing assemblage of sculptures, sketches, installations, ceramics, collaborations and photography, its pages reveal Mr Nara’s extraordinary range and prolific output,” giant online retailer Mr Porter writes in its review. The Japanese artist rose to prominence in the mid-1990s after graduating from Fine Arts in Japan and then from the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in Germany, and throughout the years, he’s become one of the most famous artists in the world.

A star in a generation of avant-garde Japanese artists associated with the neo-Pop ‘Superflat’ movement – originally ‘founded’ by Takashi Murakami, and including other artists like Chiho Aoshima, Aya Takano and Mahomi Kunikata –, Yoshitomo’s style has grown to become unique and more and more spiritual. Art historian and university professor Yeewan Koon, the author of Phaidon’s book, explores Nara’s quest for beauty and the sublime, and researches his relationship with music, sculpture, photography, ceramics, and drawing in the 330-pages volume.

The monograph comes out coinciding with Yoshitomo Nara’s massive exhibition at LACMA, which has been postponed due to the global pandemic and generalized lockdown. As the Los Angeles-based museum states, “His widely recognizable portraits of menacing figures reflect the artist’s raw encounters with his inner self. A peripatetic traveller, Nara’s oeuvre takes inspiration from a wide range of resources – memories of his childhood, music, literature, studying and living in Germany (1988–2000), exploring his roots in Japan, Sakhalin, and Asia, and modern art from Europe and Japan.”

Furthermore, it explains that the exhibition spans over thirty years (from 1987 to 2020) and that it “views the artist’s work through the lens of his longtime passion – music. Featuring album covers Nara began collecting as an adolescent, paintings, drawings, sculpture, ceramics, an installation that recreates his drawing studio, and never-before-exhibited idea sketches that reflect the artist’s empathic eye, this exhibition shines a light on Nara’s conceptual process.”

While we wait for everything to go back to normal, or as people are putting it, the ‘new normal,’ you can just find Phaidon’s new book here and immerse yourself in the piercing eyes of Nara’s protagonists.

Words
David Valero

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