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Yoshitomo Nara, Midnight Truth, 2017, acrylic on canvas, 89-1/2" × 71-9/16" (227.3 cm × 181.8 cm) © Yoshitomo Nara

Yoshitomo Nara

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b. 1959, Hirosaki, Aomori, Japan

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Yoshitomo Nara is a pioneering figure in contemporary art whose signature style—which expresses children in a range of emotional complexities from resistance and rebellion to quietude and contemplation—celebrates the introspective freedom of the imagination and the individual.

Yoshitomo Nara graduated from Aichi University of the Arts with a master’s degree in 1987, completing further studies at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, from 1988 to 1993, before settling in Cologne in 1994. This period of time was a pivotal influence on Nara, during which he began synthesizing Japanese and Western popular culture, as seen in Nachtwandern (1994), and when he arrived at his mature style, as seen in Pony Tail (1995) and Haze Days (1998). Nara’s paintings enact a fleeting presence between the figure and the ground—a result of several layers of paint in subtly varied if subdued pigments that he applies throughout the painting process—in which the figure pops out of or floats in a space that appears to exist outside the constraints of time.

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Yoshitomo Nara, 1.2.3.4., Change the History, 2007, acrylic on wood, 74-7/16" × 55-1/2" × 3-1/8" (189.1 cm × 141 cm × 7.9 cm) © Yoshitomo Nara

A year after Nara’s return to Japan in 2000, his seminal solo exhibition titled I DON’T MIND, IF YOU FORGET ME was mounted at the Yokohama Museum of Art and displayed Nara’s extensive multidisciplinary approach to artmaking. In addition to stuffed animals, sculptures, paintings, and drawings, the artist presented Fountain of Life (2001), a ceramic sculpture featuring running water, and Time of My Life (2001), his “drawing room” installation built out of plywood, lit with bare lightbulbs, and filled with drawings on paper and various ephemera. This installation would anticipate a series of collaborations with the design collective graf, such as Yoshitomo Nara + graf: Torre de Málaga (2007), a site-specific installation at the Centro de Arte Contemporáneo de Málaga in Spain. Torre de Málaga, a towering house, was built out of industrial and waste materials collected from the city and included the work 1.2.3.4, Change the History (2007), which Nara painted on site and mounted onto the tower. Evoking Nara’s spirit of collaboration and existential introspection, the exhibition carried an implicit criticism of the effects of industrialization and globalization.

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Yoshitomo Nara, Miss Forest / Thinker, 2016, urethane on bronze, 16' 5" × 55" × 62-1/2" (500.4 cm × 139.7 cm × 158.8 cm) © Yoshitomo Nara

For Nara, the type of institution or the size of a space matters less than how connected he feels with its environment and his approach to art is similarly dependent on his sense of connection with its making. In 2011, the Great East Japan Earthquake and Tsunami greatly affected Nara’s worldview and impacted the work he made after that time. Still bearing the style he had developed throughout his oeuvre, this later work marked a thoughtfulness and pathos that seemed to reflect on themes such as impermanence, temporality, beauty, and the present. In the Milky Lake/Thinking One (2011), the first painting he made after the disaster, exudes the meditative and thoughtful figures that marked a shift in his practice and could be seen in Thinker (2017), at Pace in New York, and Ceramic Works And… (2018), at Pace in Hong Kong.

Nara’s work spans painting, drawing, photography, large-scale installations, and sculpture in ceramic, bronze, and fiber-reinforced plastic. Influenced by popular music, memories of childhood, and current events, he filters these references through an exploratory realm of feelings, loneliness and rebelliousness especially, which span autobiographical as well as broader cultural sensibilities.

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Yoshitomo Nara, Sleepless Night Sitting, 1997, Acrylic on canvas, 47 1/8 x 43 1/8" (119.7 x 109.5 cm) © Yoshitomo Nara

"Picture books tell many stories with one picture, so this kind of system, narratives emerging from a single picture, has had a much stronger influence on my work, particularly my early work..."

Yoshitomo Nara

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Yoshitomo Nara, Missing in Action, 1999, Acrylic on canvas, 70 7/8 x 57 1/16" (180 x 144.9 cm) © Yoshitomo Nara

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Yoshitomo Nara, Light My Fire, 2001, Acrylic, fabric, and wood, 186.7 x 67 x 113 cm © Yoshitomo Nara

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Yoshitomo Nara, Blankey, 2012, acrylic on canvas, 76 3/8 x 63 3/4" (194 x 162 cm) © Yoshitomo Nara

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Yoshitomo Nara, eight stars, 2014, Acrylic on jute mounted on wood, 71-1/16" x 63-3/16" x 1-7/8" (180.5 cm x 160.5 cm x 4.8 cm) © Yoshitomo Nara

"I don’t paint when I am happy. I only paint when I am angry, lonely, sad, when I am able to talk to the work."

Yoshitomo Nara

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Yoshitomo Nara, WILD ONE, 2016, ballpoint pen on paper, 11-11/16" × 8-1/4" (29.7 cm × 21 cm) © Yoshitomo Nara

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Yoshitomo Nara, Death or Glory, 2017, pencil on paper, 25-9/16" × 19-11/16" (64.9 cm × 50 cm) © Yoshitomo Nara