My Tokyo: Yayoi Kusama

My Tokyo: Yayoi Kusama

Bright colors and polka dots have always concealed the deep -- and sometimes tragic -- emotions at the heart of this legendary artist's career
Yayoi Kusama

Famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama may often be misunderstood, but her work is rarely mistaken for anyone else's. An entire room in red with white polka dots; outsized flowers atop huge stems, petals covered with polka dots; rain in a mirrored room; silver spheres floating on a lake.

Born in 1929 in Nagano Prefecture, Kusama was severely physically abused as a young child by her mother and has experienced hallucinations and obsessive thoughts and behavior ever since.

The 80-year-old icon traces her earliest artistic endeavors to the age of 10, when she began experimenting with mesh and polka dots -- staples that have contributed to a lifelong motif she calls 'infinity nets' -- to create fantastic, swirling paintings in oil, pastel and watercolor.

CNNGo: You had a powerful exhibit this past summer in New York. How was it received?

Yayoi Kusama: My exhibitions at the Gagosian Gallery, both in New York and in Beverley Hills, were a great success. They were exhibitions of my new works with the latest ideas presented for the first time. The images those new pieces projected were the most splendorous ever in my creative career. Now our Earth is swarmed with issues such as life, death, illness, wars, economic crises and many others. It is time that we sing out loud the message, 'Love forever.'

CNNGo: What is the difference between exhibiting in New York and Tokyo?

Kusama: I think New York is one of the greatest places in the world to show works of art. Contemporary art in Japan, in my view, has yet to reach the levels of its Western counterparts.

CNNGo: As it did in your early years, does your art remain closely linked to your mental health?

Kusama: I have been struggling with mental illness and emptiness throughout my life. Now I want people to understand my glorious quest for the truth. Working on paintings is a process toward my artistic creation. It is a new spiritual theme of my whole philosophy for pursuing the truth. Each painting represents a process in all of my art.

CNNGo: Do most people understand your work?

Kusama: I have a large number of enthusiastic admirers of my art. And they all sing a hymn in praise from the bottom of their hearts for my art.

CNNGo: Do you read reviews of your work?

Kusama: Yes, I read the art reviews of my work. Some critics understand my art correctly, while some don't. I simply ignore the reviews written by the latter.

CNNGo: This year marks your 80th birthday. How much art do you have left inside of you?

Kusama: I have a lot left inside. I believe my art will last 500 years, 1,000 years and forever. For me, art is everything. I will strive to create works of art until I die, in the hope that my work will continue to touch the hearts of people even after I have died.

For more on Kusama, visit www.yayoi-kusama.jp.