Graphic novel faithfully adapts the unusual and fascinating life story of the artist Yayoi Kusama

Unlike pop phenomenon Yayoi Kusama’s own artwork, with its bright, familiar colors that add to its almost universal popularity, Elisa Macellari’s new graphic biography of Kusama uses mostly cool, hard-to-name, unsaturated colors (plus a bright amaranth red.) These The relatively low-key palette makes sense and allows the reader to patiently focus on Kusama’s unusual and dramatic life story, as if through stylish welding goggles.

The book’s bibliography contains only five points, only two of which are important: Kusama’s autobiography Infinity network and the documentation Kusama – infinity. This makes it easy to compare the stories Macellari tells with their source material. This graphic biography (biography in graphic novel format) adapts these sources fairly faithfully. It hits all the main themes: the artist’s youthful rebellion against her family and her conservative homeland; her persistent problems with hallucinations, sex phobia, and anxiety; their willingness to suffer poverty rather than abandon or compromise their ambitious artistic calling; their amazing artistic productivity; their interactions with other famous artists; her worldwide fame in the 1960s as an organizer of naked protests (“Happenings”); her most characteristic artistic ideas (infinity nets, polka dots, soft phallic sculptures and mirrored infinity spaces); their slide into depression and oblivion from the 1970s onwards; and her celebrated rediscovery and ultimate triumph while she was still alive and creating endless art.

Mental health problems are an inescapable subject when discussing Kusama’s work, much of which she created as a form of escape to “annihilate” itself and “return to the natural universe.” As Macellari says in the introduction, “I feel tremendously sorry for her suffering and find the transformation of her mental disorders into a form of self-medication extraordinary as she reaches such beautiful heights.” Kusama’s art was driven and shaped by mental health problems, but its power comes from her rare artistic genius, recognized early on (if not by her mother).

The most distinctive features of Macellari’s cartoons of Kusama are their slanting eyes – which are also shared by the other Japanese characters in this story – and bangs. (Macellari’s own background is Italian and Thai.) She does not draw the dazzlingly bright and incongruous red-and-orange wig that Kusama adopted as her trademark after becoming an old woman.

Most of the characters in this gutterless comic spend most of their time upright in stately postures. The gay orgy on page 74, which Kusama staged for German television in 1967, also looks like the caption: “like a moving sculpture”.

Some details from Kusama’s life that appear enigmatic, incomplete, and unreliable in her autobiography remain puzzling in this graphic biography. The graphic novel mentions on page 36 that when Kusama left for Seattle and America in 1957, “had a million yen dollars sewn into the lining of her clothing to circumvent restrictions on local currency exports,” and so on 60 carried kimonos and 2,000 drawings and paintings for sale. Kusama’s autobiography states: “To cover my travel expenses, I exchanged a million yen for dollars at the Tokyo office of an American company called Continental Brothers. That was of course illegal. Back then, one million yen was enough to build several houses. I smuggled those few thousand dollars out of the country by sewing some of the bills into my dress and stuffing others into the tips of my shoes. ”A million yen was much more than“ thousands ”of dollars. How was it reduced to eating fish heads out of dumpsters in an unheated studio in New York City just a year later?

Many Seattle residents remember the hugely successful exhibition of Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors at the Seattle Art Museum in 2017. Kusama’s first exhibition in the United States was in 1957 at Zoe Dusanne’s Gallery in Seattle (a one-man show that even attracted attention) in Oklahoma City, over 1,500 miles away, in a news article entitled “Japanese Paintings Stir Seattle Critics.” space, more of the story of the short time Kusama spent in Seattle en route to New York City.

Over the past few decades, graphic biographies of famous artists (usually dead artists) have become a popular genre in Europe. Macellari’s graphic biography of Kusama is the third in the Laurence King Publishing series, which includes a graphic biography of the American painter Jackson Pollock by the Bologna-based caricaturist Onofrio Catacchio and a graphic biography of the American painter Jean-Michel Basquiat of the Florence-based caricaturist Paolo. are preceded by Paris. Elisa Macellari, who lives in Milan, discovered the work of Yayoi Kusama in Madrid in 2011 and was fascinated by it. In 2012 she began her own busy professional career as an artist / illustrator.

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