Cristina Ruiz: Two artists connect the dots

For Hirst, spots are happy things. He made the spot paintings, he says, in an attempt to create paintings “without angst”.

A walk-in spot painting: Yayoi Kusama’s current exhibition at the Gallery of Modern Art in Brisbane includes “The Obliteration Room” which begins its life as a room in which every item is painted white. Every child who enters is given a coloured spot sticker and the room is gradually transformed into an explosion of colour. © Yayoi Kusama, Yayoi Kusama Studio Inc / Photograph: Mark Sherwood

Not so for the other artist who has made a career out of painting spots, Yayoi Kusama. Kusama, who turns 83 this year, has chosen to spend most of her life living voluntarily in a Japanese psychiatric ward and has explained numerous times that she paints the visions that come to her in hallucinations.

Next month, her work is the subject of a major show at Tate Modern in London, which will run simultaneously with the museum’s upcoming Damien Hirst retrospective.

The two artists are more closely connected than we think, says museum director Chris Dercon, who recalls an interview Hirst conducted with Kusama in 1998 for a catalogue published to accompany an exhibition entitled “Yayoi Kusama: Now” at the Robert Miller Gallery in New York.

The short, sad interview, kindly sent to us by the Robert Miller Gallery, proves just how different the meaning of the spots is for the two artists:

Damien Hirst: There seems to be so much happiness in your work, yet so much sadness in your writings.

Yayoi Kusama: I don’t think my work projects happiness as you suggested in your question. I have been able somehow to live to this day without committing suicide simply because I have used my art as a shield against my illness. As for my writings, I write crying, my heart filled with feelings of frustration. It is the aesthetics of tragedy.

Damien Hirst: Do you feel lonely being an artist?

Yayoi Kusama: I am very lonely being an artist and in my own life. It is almost unbearable, especially when I hear the sound of tree leaves trembling in a wind storm. When I go to the roof top of a high-rise building, I feel an urge to die by jumping from it. My passion for art is what has prevented me from doing that.

Published Mon, 16 Jan 2012 19:29:00 GMT

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Cristina Ruiz

Over the next six weeks, Cristina Ruiz, our editor-at-large, has taken up the challenge to try to visit all 11 Gagosian galleries showing Damien Hirst’s spot paintings. Follow her as she blogs about her travels here.