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b. 1959, Japan

Yoshitomo Nara Biography

Yoshitomo Nara is a leading global contemporary artist whose practice first came to the fore in the context of Japan's influential Pop art movement. He is best known for sculptures, drawing, and paintings of cute children and animals that on closer inspection appear menacing. The style of his artwork is often associated with popular culture, from manga and anime to the graphics on music album covers, but it equally engages with Japanese visual traditions and Western Modernism.

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Nara was born in 1959 in Hirosaki, a rural town in northern Japan. It was at school taking a figure drawing class that he first became interested in art. From 1979 to 1981, he took art classes at the Musashino Art University. He then went on to study at the Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music in Nagakute, Japan, earning his BFA in 1985 and his MFA in 1987. He subsequently moved to Germany, graduating in 1993 from the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf and setting up his studio in Köln. After serving as a Guest Professor for a graduate course in painting at the University of California, Los Angeles in 1998, Nara returned to Tokyo from Germany in 2000.

It was in Germany that Nara began to craft a visual vocabulary influenced by his fascination with Neo-Expressionism and punk rock. During this time, he also painted his first portraits of the child that has become the most recognisable motif in his practice. The child, who Nara noted in an interview with Ocula Magazine is neither boy nor girl, usually appears as a sole figure against a plain background, dressed simply. While the figure's cartoon-like features can give it an innocent and 'cute' appearance, its actions often suggest an underlying subversiveness; Nara has painted the figure smoking a cigarette, brandishing a knife or crucifix, sporting vampire fangs, and simply staring directly and insolently at the viewer, amongst other scenarios.

Nara's portraits present a fusion of old and new traditions. The child's facial features—widely spaced eyes, stubby nose, slit mouth—are adopted from traditional Japanese Otafuku and Okame theatrical masks, while the poses are associated with anime and manga, and the overall compositions are reminiscent of Edo period ukiyo-e woodblock prints. The artist's sculptures, which for the most part present the child in three-dimensional form, are often coated in a liquid metal that cracks like the glaze on Song dynasty Chinese ceramics.

In 2001, Nara's figures achieved global acclaim and recognition with I Don't Mind, If You Forget Me, his first solo exhibition in a public museum, co-organised by the Yokohama Museum of Art, Ashiya city Museum Of Art & History, Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Hokkaido Asahikawa Museum of Art, and Hirosaki's Yoshii Brick Brewhouse. This exhibition galvanised the artist's large fan following and also attracted critical attention from the art world. Around this time the artist came to be loosely associated with an avantgarde group of Japanese artists who gathered together under a newly coined art term: superflat. Other superflat artists include Takashi Murakami and Chiho Aoshima. Superflat came to be associated with the use of bright colours, patterns, Japanese cartoon motifs, and a critique of the country's hyper-consumerist culture. However, Nara has always distanced his work from political or moral purpose, noting it remains first and foremost an expression of his inner feelings.

In 2010, the Asia Society Museum presented Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody's Fool, the first major New York exhibition of Nara's work, featuring more than 100 pieces, ranging from his early career in the 1980s to his most recent paintings, drawings, sculptures, ceramics, and large-scale installations. The Museum of Modern Art acquired a number of the artist's artworks and now holds over 130 of his pieces in its collection. In 2011, deeply affected by the Fukushima earthquake and its aftermath, the artist found himself temporarily unable to work. He subsequently did return to work, and in 2016 the Asia Society recognised the artist by awarding him one of three prestigious Asia Arts Game Changer awards. On the occasion of receiving this award, Nara spoke to Ocula Magazine about his work and the award, noting that 'I know the general public like me but I was always unsure if professionals in the art world appreciate what I do.'

Since 2005, Nara has been based in Tochigi Prefecture in Japan, where he feels that, isolated away from urban life, he is better able to focus on his practice.

Anna Dickie | Ocula | 2019

Yoshitomo Nara Featured Artworks

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Banging the Drum by Yoshitomo Nara contemporary artwork
Yoshitomo NaraBanging the Drum, 2020Offset lithograph
86.6 x 43.2 cm
Dellasposa Gallery Contact Gallery
Marching on a butterbur leaf by Yoshitomo Nara contemporary artwork
Yoshitomo NaraMarching on a butterbur leaf, 2019Offset lithograph
61 x 45.7 cm
Dellasposa Gallery Contact Gallery
Real One by Yoshitomo Nara contemporary artwork
Yoshitomo NaraReal One, 2020Offset lithograph
63.5 x 73.7 cm
Dellasposa Gallery Contact Gallery
Mori Girl by Yoshitomo Nara contemporary artwork
Yoshitomo NaraMori Girl, 2012Mixed media
29 x 19 x 15 cm
Sold
Gin Huang Gallery
TAIWAN by Yoshitomo Nara contemporary artwork
Yoshitomo NaraTAIWAN, 2016Pigment print
42 x 56 cm
Taka Ishii Gallery Contact Gallery
Untitled by Yoshitomo Nara contemporary artwork
Yoshitomo NaraUntitled, 2018Charcoal on canvas
28 3/4 x 23 15/16 inches
Sold
Blum & Poe
TAIWAN by Yoshitomo Nara contemporary artwork
Yoshitomo NaraTAIWAN, 2016/2018Pigment print
Taka Ishii Gallery Contact Gallery
days 2014-2018 by Yoshitomo Nara contemporary artwork
Yoshitomo Naradays 2014-2018, 201855 pigment prints, wooden table
180 x 90 x 76.5 cm
Taka Ishii Gallery Contact Gallery

Yoshitomo Nara Recent Exhibitions

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Contemporary art exhibition, Group Exhibition, 5,471 miles at Blum & Poe, Tokyo
Closed
21 July–8 August 2020 Group Exhibition 5,471 miles Blum & PoeTokyo
Contemporary art exhibition, Yoshitomo Nara, Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone—Take your time, it won’t be long now at Taka Ishii Gallery Photography / Film, Photography / Film, Tokyo
Closed
7 July–10 August 2018 Yoshitomo Nara Sixteen springs and sixteen summers gone—Take your time, it won’t be long now Taka Ishii Gallery Photography / FilmPhotography / Film, Tokyo
Contemporary art exhibition, Yoshitomo Nara, Shallow Puddles at Blum & Poe, Tokyo
Closed
2 October–14 November 2015 Yoshitomo Nara Shallow Puddles Blum & PoeTokyo

Yoshitomo Nara Represented By

Blum & Poe contemporary art gallery in Tokyo, Japan Blum & Poe Los Angeles, New York, Tokyo
Gin Huang Gallery contemporary art gallery in Taichung City, Taiwan Gin Huang Gallery Taichung City
MEYER KAINER contemporary art gallery in Vienna, Austria MEYER KAINER Vienna
Pace Gallery contemporary art gallery in 540 West 25th Street, New York, USA Pace Gallery New York, London, Geneva, Palo Alto, Hong Kong, Seoul

Yoshitomo Nara In Ocula Magazine

Yoshitomo Nara at LACMA, Los Angeles Ocula Photolog Yoshitomo Nara at LACMA, Los Angeles

Yoshitomo Nara presents the artist's work spanning over 30 years, including never-before-exhibited sketches and Nara's collection of album covers, reflecting the artist's long-term inspiration from music.

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Coronavirus Forces Sotheby’s to Relocate Hong Kong Auctions Ocula News Coronavirus Forces Sotheby’s to Relocate Hong Kong Auctions Hong Kong, 24 February 2020

The modern and contemporary art auctions have been delayed and moved to the other side of the world.

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Yoshitomo Nara Ocula Conversation Yoshitomo Nara By Catherine Shaw, Hong Kong

Basically my approach is that it doesn't matter if there is an audience out there. Even if I knew there would be no one out there to look at my work, I would still make the exact same thing.

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Yoshitomo Nara In Related Press

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Yoshitomo Nara Becomes Most Expensive Japanese Artist as His 'Knife Behind Back' Sells for Record-Smashing HK$195m Related Press Yoshitomo Nara Becomes Most Expensive Japanese Artist as His 'Knife Behind Back' Sells for Record-Smashing HK$195m 14 October 2020, The Value

Yoshitomo Nara takes centre stage on the second day of Hong Kong auction week as his records were broken shortly one after another today. His installation art _Not Everything but/ Green House _was sold for a new record price of HK$40.12m (US$5.12m) this afternoon at Poly Auction Hong Kong.

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Yoshitomo Nara’s Lessons in Clay Related Press Yoshitomo Nara’s Lessons in Clay 17 August 2018, Elephant Magazine

Yoshitomo Nara loves mountains—a lingering fixation stemming from his birthplace in mountainous northern Japan. But it is at his own gallery space, N's YARD in Nasushiobara, where I meet with the artist after an hour-long train ride from Tokyo back in April. Built with locally sourced materials, N's YARD is cradled by beautiful trees that...

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Hong Kong's Art Central Fair Won't Shy Away From Controversial Commentary Related Press Hong Kong's Art Central Fair Won't Shy Away From Controversial Commentary 28 February 2018, Forbes

Donald Trump will make an appearance of sorts at this year’s Art Central fair in Hong Kong. Visitors will find him in a 1930s-style living room hidden among the gallery booths filled with abstract paintings and polished sculptures. When people enter the homely space, they'll be asked to sit down, make themselves comfortable and turn on the vintage...

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ARTISTS ‘I Was Really Unthinking Before’: Yoshitomo Nara on His Recent Work and His Show at Pace Gallery in New York Related Press ARTISTS ‘I Was Really Unthinking Before’: Yoshitomo Nara on His Recent Work and His Show at Pace Gallery in New York 14 April 2017, ARTNEWS

The cartoonish children and animals featured in Yoshitomo Nara's drawings, paintings, and sculptures enjoy widespread appeal because of their very adult bad attitudes. Whether the characters wield guitars or outsize knives, they have made Nara a genuine crossover artist, taken seriously by the commercial, critical, and academic branches of the art...

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